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Contrarian Investing: Definition, Strategies, Example, Advantages & Limitations          

Contrarian Investing: Definition, Strategies, Example, Advantages & Limitations

Contrarian Investing: Definition, Strategies, Example, Advantages & Limitations
By Arjun Arjun Remesh | Reviewed by Shivam Shivam Gaba | Updated on April 30, 2024

Contrarian investing stands in contrast to the conventional wisdom of following the prevailing trend. Contrarian investing involves thorough analysis to identify deviations between current market sentiment and underlying company fundamentals. Contrarians often discern potential for risk and choose stocks based on their own research. 

Contrarian investors adhere to strategic approaches even when unpopular. They accumulate equities displaying anomalies such as low price-to-earnings multiples or temporarily depressed industries poised for a rebound.  Though going against market trends demands courage and patience, renowned practitioners like Warren Buffett achieved extraordinary returns over decades through contrarian bets.

What is contrarian investing?

Contrarian investing is a trading strategy where the traders act opposite to the current trends. Contrarian investors buy assets that are currently out of favour and sell assets that are popular and have performed well recently, betting that the trends will eventually reverse.

What are the top contrarian strategies?

Top contrarian strategies include value Investing, short selling, market timing, sentiment investing, sector rotation, event driven and mean reversion. Below are more details.

Value investing

Value investing is one of the most established and widely practiced contrarian strategies. As documented in the context, value investors seek to identify stocks that are trading below their intrinsic value due to being overlooked or underrated by the broader market. They conduct a thorough fundamental analysis of financial statements, cash flows, earnings quality and other metrics to determine a company’s intrinsic value and estimate how much of a discount the current stock price represents. By buying stocks with strong fundamentals at a discounted price, value investors aim to benefit as the market eventually recognizes the company’s true worth. Some of the key metrics value investors analyze include price-to-earnings ratios, price-to-book ratios and dividend yields to identify attractively valued opportunities.

Short selling

Another contrarian strategy is short selling, which involves borrowing and selling shares of a stock with the belief that its price will decline. Short sellers analyze various valuation metrics and indicators to identify potentially overvalued stocks, such as those exhibiting high price-to-earnings multiples, unsustainable growth or excessive hype. By shorting these overpriced stocks, traders aim to profit as share prices correct downward to properly reflect companies’ fundamentals. Short selling can be a risky approach, however, as losses are theoretically unlimited compared to long positions. It requires accurately predicting price declines and having the risk tolerance for short positions.

Timing the market

Market timing is a contrarian strategy that analyzes economic cycles, trends and historical data to identify turning points in the broader market or within specific sectors. The goal is to anticipate declines or upswings and position investments accordingly through tactical asset allocation shifts. For example, a market timer may reduce equity exposure at points where indicators signal an overvalued, overextended or overheated market is vulnerable to a correction. Or they may increase allocations to cyclical stocks or commodity sectors when signs point to an economic recovery. While successful market timing can boost returns, it is a difficult strategy to implement precisely due to the complexity of predicting macroeconomic and behavioral trends.

Sentiment based analysis

Contrarian sentiment-based investing scrutinizes prevailing market psychology and looks to take the opposite view of consensus expectations. Traders adopting this approach closely monitor sentiment polls, asset flows, media coverage themes and other behavioral indicators to identify potential trend changes. The premise is that sentiment often becomes too bullish at market tops or too bearish after steep declines, laying the groundwork for a trend reversal. By buying assets when fear dominates or shorting when euphoria builds, sentiment contrarians aim to exploit the tendency for emotions to overshoot reasonable levels. Applying this strategy well requires accurately gauging extremes in crowd psychology.

Sector rotation

Sector rotation is a contrarian investment tactic that focuses on rotating into out-of-favor industries expected to rebound or benefit from emerging themes. When certain economic sectors decline sharply due to macroeconomic conditions or negative sentiment, contrarian traders will research the long-term prospects and identify reasons why the selloff seems overdone based on fundamentals. They then invest in the most attractively valued names, betting that the rotation will reverse as the narrative changes. For instance, following the 2008 crisis energy stocks plunged but were subsequently attractive from a contrarian standpoint given expectations for economic recovery. Rotating tactics demand strong conviction and a longer-term view.

Event driven

Event-driven investing capitalizes on market overreactions to specific news announcements through meticulous analysis of underlying impacts. When companies experience negative events like lawsuits, scandals, M&A deals or regulatory issues, share prices can temporarily decline disproportionately due to alarmist reactions before calming upon closer inspection. By rigorously studying events, their implications and a stock’s fundamentals, contrarian traders may recognize attractive entry points to counter emotional selling with a more rational long-term view. As with other contrarian strategies, the approach hinges on accurately gauging the true effects of disruptive news versus an irrational market response.

Mean reversion

Mean reversion trading strategizes likewise require a contrarian mindset. Whether applied to stock prices, earnings, volatility or other financial variables, the principle holds that extended periods of divergence from a long-term average will eventually see values shift back towards their mean. For example, equity indexes may become overbought after a sustained rally, leaving them statistically primed for a pullback. Or high-flying stocks exhibiting extraordinary growth are unlikely to maintain that pace indefinitely. By identifying positions or indicators deeply removed from baseline levels, mean reversion strategies open doors for contrarian bets anticipating a return to norms. The approach assumes history ultimately repeats, at least in broad terms.

Maintaining a long-term outlook and countering crowd psychology make strategies offer a framework for capturing potential mispricings created by short-term sentiment shifts.

What is an example of contrarian investing?

An example of contrarian investing is what happened to Adani Enterprises Ltd. in January 2024. The company was going bearish after Hindenburg reported claiming scams in the company. But after the initial dip due to alleged short selling, the stocks started to climb, making the company bearish. Below is a chart depicting the same. 

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Who are the famous contrarian investors?

The famous contrarian investors include Warren Buffett, David Einhorn, John Paulson, Howard Marks, and Michael Burry, who are among the best stock market traders in history.

Warren Buffett became one of the richest people in the world by taking contrarian positions and holding for the long-term. David Einhorn often makes contrarian bets by shorting overvalued stocks that others are bullish on.

John Paulson profited enormously by taking a contrarian view and shorting subprime mortgages before the 2008 financial crisis. Howard Marks is known for his memos advocating contrarian thinking and warning about market excesses driven by short-term enthusiasm. Michael Burry gained fame by being a contrarian in shorting the housing bubble and profiting from the 2008 crash described in The Big Short.

What are the advantages of contrarian investing?

The biggest advantage of contrarian investing is that such traders often end up buying undervalued stocks. They are often able to capitalize on market overreactions and the tendency of prices to revert to the mean over time. 

Contrarian investing allows one to profit from the emotions and biases of other investors. When fear drives the market down too far, the contrarian sees an opportunity. Taking a contrarian stance forces investors to think independently and develop their own well-researched understanding of value. This prevents getting caught up in irrational exuberance.

Successful contrarian trades that pay off boost returns beyond benchmarks and reward the patience required for such trades. The risks are also usually lower if the timing and analysis are right.

What are the limitations of contrarian investing?

The most evident limitation of contrarian investing is that such investors often take up extra risk by going against technical and fundamental market suggestions. Another major limitation of contrarian investing is that it relies heavily on the investor’s own analysis and judgment, which may be flawed or suffer from cognitive biases. Contrarian investors end up buying fundamentally weak assets or companies just because they are undervalued and out of favour, underestimating the risks. Going against the prevailing market sentiment increases the likelihood that a contrarian investor’s thesis is incorrect and losses will be suffered.

Is contrarian investing profitable?

Yes, contrarian investing is sometimes profitable if the investor accurately determines when an asset is undervalued and the market eventually recognizes its worth. However, incorrectly timing the market or assets rebounding can lead to losses.

Is contrarian investing risky?

Yes, contrarian investing tends to be riskier than following the crowd since investors are purposefully going against prevailing market sentiment that could persist. It requires skill to discern when the crowd is wrong and have the patience to wait for sentiment to shift.

What is the difference between contrarian investing & value investing?

Value investing focuses on buying undervalued assets based on financial metrics like low price-to-earnings ratios. Contrarian investing more broadly looks for assets out of favor with the mainstream, which may or may not be cheap based on traditional value metrics. Both aim to profit when sentiment improves.

Arjun Remesh

Head of Content

Arjun is a seasoned stock market content expert with over 7 years of experience in stock market, technical & fundamental analysis. Since 2020, he has been a key contributor to Strike platform. Arjun is an active stock market investor with his in-depth stock market analysis knowledge. Arjun is also an certified stock market researcher from Indiacharts, mentored by Rohit Srivastava.

Shivam Gaba

Reviewer of Content

Shivam is a stock market content expert with CFTe certification. He is been trading from last 8 years in indian stock market. He has a vast knowledge in technical analysis, financial market education, product management, risk assessment, derivatives trading & market Research. He won Zerodha 60-Day Challenge thrice in a row. He is being mentored by Rohit Srivastava, Indiacharts.

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