House of Cards (on Netflix at an internet connection near you) is about the fictitious rise to power of ruthless politico Frank Underwood and his wife, Claire. Money doesn't play a central role in House of Cards (though its sibling, power, is the main character). Even though this TV series isn't about investing, Frank, Claire and company can teach us some important lessons about the world of money. Here are three.
1. Play the Long Game
In investing and life -- and in House of Cards -- you can improve the chances that you'll achieve your goals dramatically if you know what you're striving for, and if you view short-term setbacks as simply part of a bigger journey.
Frank and Claire (except when she's not) are laser-focused on their big-picture objectives. Although they tirelessly maneuver for short-term political advantage, they never lose sight of their long-term goals, the most important of which, it seems, is amassing more power and holding on to it for as long as possible. They're discouraged by setbacks -- whether it's a bullet or an epic scandal or a picture-perfect presidential opponent -- but they quickly move on to the next challenge.
We've talked before about the folly of the "long term" in investing. Most professional money managers say they're "long-term investors," but the reality is that their investment ideas are "long term" only until they stop working. And often it's smart to (see below) cut your losses.
But in investing, you have to know what you want. Otherwise, you won't know when you've arrived. You need to keep in mind your goal (whether it's paying off the mortgage, buying a Maserati, or shipping 10,000 elephants somewhere) -- and have a plan to get there. And, most importantly, you have to stick with the plan, and be prepared to live with occasional losses on your way there.
2. Don't Let Your Emotions Get the Best of You
Frank gets plenty emotional. House of Cards is full of raised voices and temper tantrums. But Frank is a master at staying on message, and at using emotion to achieve a specific effect or impact rather than allowing his emotions to take charge. Some of Frank's actions are driven by something other than pragmatism and are downright reckless (like his murder of reporter Zoe Barnes). But once Frank gets his emotions in check, he does what he needs to do without pause. Meanwhile, Claire -- especially in the most recent season of the show -- has ice water coursing through her veins as she manipulates the puppet master himself, Frank.
We often talk about how important, and difficult, it is for investors to keep their emotions in check. Humans are biologically wired to be driven by their emotions. Studies have found that the brain activity of an investor whose portfolio is making money is similar to that of a person who is getting high on alcohol, cocaine or heroin. It won't be long before professional traders will have their physical vitals monitored in real time, to help prevent catastrophic trading losses. In theory, psychopaths should be great investors.
(We've put together a free report about how to limit the impact of emotions on your investing, It which includes examples of how even some of the world's best investors have failed at this. Click here to download your copy.)
3. Cut Your Losses
Frank and Claire view other people purely in terms of how they can be used to further their own aims. As soon as someone is no longer useful to them, they cut that person loose. And the moment that a former asset becomes a liability, they're disposed of as quickly as possible, sometimes with extreme prejudice. Remember Peter Russo, the useful and later inconvenient tool of the Underwoods?.
Beyond making emotional decisions, investors sometimes form emotional bonds with their assets. Maybe it's a beach house that's a money pit but has such a nice view, or a stock with a great "story" -- even if it's down 50%. Frank and Claire's cold and calculating approach to relationships is one that you'd do well to apply to your portfolio. For example, stick with your stop-loss levels.
House of Cards is a terrible manual for life. But there are some very useful lessons for managing your money.
(We've written a report about the investment implications for Asia of the possibility that a non-fiction candidate for president, Donald Trump, moves into the Oval Office. Click here to download your copy.)
Kim Iskyan is the founder of Truewealth Publishing, an independent investment research company based in Singapore. Click here to sign up to receive the Truewealth Asian Investment Daily in your inbox every day, for free.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the investments mentioned.