A brave new world for investors

In the long run, financial advisers point out, investing in the stock market is the "safest" move.

In the long run, financial advisers point out, investing in the stock market is the "safest" move, as returns from stock purchases are almost always higher over time than savings or bond purchases. It's the short run that's the killer. Every year, there's a brisk business in new books and newsletter subscriptions full of promises to turn stock market dabblers into overnight millionaires with this secret formula or that one. The lure of easy money, apparently, is just too powerful for some to resist. No matter how many times they fail to manage "the big swing," some investors keep buying and selling compulsively, certain that their fortune lies just around the next opening bell. Trading stocks, experts say, can easily become an addiction. "There may not be much awareness in this country of trading addiction as a gambling problem, because investing is legal and socially acceptable," says Dr. Pinhas Dannon, a senior lecturer on addiction at Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine. "But I know for a fact that it is a problem, and a large problem in Israel." Orit Dror, head of the Efshar Center for Victims of Alcohol and Gambling Abuse in Tel Aviv, confirms this. "People come to us quite often, and unfortunately they come once it's too late," she says. "These are people who accept that they have a problem only after they have lost a lot of money, or even their property. Often, their family finds out about the addiction too late." Trading addiction, says Dannon, tends to affect men over 30 who have sizable liquid assets. Other than that, though, the addiction is like any other. "When I first started to work on this, in the 1990s, I stumbled upon a group that was gambling on the stock market. We would find them sitting in front of computer screens in banks all day long. Even more than the money, they were in it for the thrill. They needed the excitement." The sums involved may be different but, Dannon says, trading addiction is just like "all other manner of gambling. For many older people, shopping channels act the same way. Of course, we already recognize cellphone and the Internet addiction. These things can be worse than more conventional addictions because they are interactive." An even greater danger, he says, lurks in the state-run lottery. In fact, by running the Mifal Hapayis lottery commission, the government has a hand in encouraging addictive behavior. "It's against the law to advertise addictive items, such as cigarettes and alcohol, and for good reason. Yet Mifal Hapayis can freely advertise its scratch cards and sports gambling products. Why? "It's all about selling the dream of winning in a moment. There's no big difference between this and gambling in the stock market - except that, with the lottery, your chances of winning are actually much lower than your chances of making a profit in the stock market." As for the stock market, those compelled to try their luck, but who don't have the cash to bankroll a portfolio, can try one of several virtual stock market games available on-line. Doing so could even help the local economy: At least one local company runs an on-line stock market game in which, for only a few dollars, "investors" can win real money for make-believe stock picks. If that, too, becomes an addiction, there is always therapy. "The first step to recovery," says Dror, "is to admit there is a problem." The Efshar Center can be reached at (03) 673-3228.