In the academic finance world, it’s fairly common to find comparisons of investors to gamblers and certain types of stocks have been referred to as ‘lottery tickets.’ I’ve found that this comparison is actually quite important. There is an odd paradox between the assumption that investors are rational when it comes to investing, yet still spend an awful lot of money playing the lottery. When we speak of “lottery ticket” investments, we are talking about investments that have a small probability of a big “win” and a large probability of a modest “loss.” And this is precisely the situation with lotteries.
The reality is that people spend considerable sums of money on lottery tickets, a money gamble that has a negative expected value. This same appeal (big, low-probability win, modest high-probability loss) also seems to motivate some investors. Continue reading