When overconfidence backfires

Andrew Robbens, client portfolio manager, uses the example of two companies in the same sector to look at the impact an overconfident management team can have on a company.

Go to the profile of Andrew Robbens
Nov 13, 2017

Making investment decisions on the basis of fickle emotions—rather than cold, hard fact—has always been a risky business. In this article, we take a look at overconfidence and an example of how it has had a direct impact on the share prices of two companies in the same sector.


The overconfidence effect, where individuals have excessively rosy perceptions of their own abilities, has been described as “perhaps the most robust finding in the psychology of judgement.”[1] Individuals tend to be overconfident in their abilities across a wide range of fields.[2] Perhaps the most celebrated of these findings is Svenson’s (1981) observation that 93% of American drivers believe they are better than average.

Company management teams can often demonstrate overconfidence and lead to overestimating their ability and performance. This can lead to bias towards best-case scenarios for any decision they make, whether this relates to a change in direction for their business or, indeed, to guidance they give to investors.

The perils of overconfidence

“Athleisurewear”, the trend for people to wear sports shoes purely as a fashion statement, provides a striking demonstration of what can happen when companies let overconfidence divert their focus away from product quality. Rival UK sports retailers JD Sports and Sports Direct that should both have been well positioned to benefit from the athleisurewear trend. JD Sports—the self-proclaimed “king of trainers” —realised that both the supplier and the consumer were critical to maximising the potential of this trend.

Targeting the supplier, they revamped their stores to showcase the products to maximum effect and kept premium pricing levels. In return, suppliers like Nike and Adidas gave JD Sports their new-release trainers: this created a virtuous circle by attracting consumers into the store to buy the trainers at full price and keeping the suppliers happy in the process. This has created a situation where consumers are prepared to camp overnight outside stores to ensure that they are the first to own a new style of trainers. Indeed, this year, there were reports of teenagers in Dublin queuing for three days outside a JD Sports store to be the first to buy a new style of trainer.

Now let’s take a look at Sports Direct. Newsflow for this company and its management team has not been entirely favourable over the last couple of years to say the least. In 2016, the company suffered negative press relating to employment conditions and then, this year, boss Mike Ashley found himself facing a court case, which he won, but the press coverage that came with the case has nevertheless been damaging.

Sports Direct opted for a different approach to JD Sports. Once the largest sports retailer in the UK, the company believed it was bigger than its suppliers and could therefore do without them. The company used the heavyweight brand appeal of Nike shoes to drive footfall into its stores, but positioned them right next to Dunlop shoes—its own brand—which it then sold to customers at a 50% discount. Nike, unwilling to have its prices undercut by an own-brand shoe, responded unequivocally by simply cutting off Sports Direct.

In the end, Sports Direct had comprehensively alienated both its suppliers and its consumers. As a result, customers switched allegiance to JD Sports, driving a dramatic downward spiral in the share price of Sports Direct that has seen the company significantly underperform its competitor since 2014.

At J.P. Morgan Asset Management, we believe these behavioural biases, such as overconfidence, create anomalies in the market. Our European Equity Behavioural Finance Team has developed a disciplined investment process which aims to objectively select stocks and manage risks while seeking to avoiding the same emotional biases that we try to  exploit.

The JPM UK Equity Core Fund

Specially designed to capitalise on the market inefficiencies created by behavioural bias, our UK Equity Core Fund is built on a proprietary, bottom-up investment approach.

Find out more about the JPM UK Equity Core Fund here

[1] DeBondt and Thaler (1995).

[2] Psychologists (Oskamp, 1965), physicians and nurses (Christensen-Szalanski and Bushyhead, 1981), entrepreneurs (Cooper, Woo and Dunkelberg, 1988), managers (Russo and Schoemaker, 1992) and, alas, market professionals (Ahlers and Lakonishok, 1983).  

For Professional Clients only – not for Retail use or distribution

This is a promotional document and as such the views contained herein are not to be taken as an advice or recommendation to buy or sell any investment or interest thereto. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Any research in this document has been obtained and may have been acted upon by J.P. Morgan Asset Management for its own purpose. The results of such research are being made available as additional information and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.P. Morgan Asset Management. Any forecasts, figures, opinions, statements of financial market trends or investment techniques and strategies expressed are unless otherwise stated, J.P. Morgan Asset Management’s own at the date of this document. They are considered to be reliable at the time of writing, may not necessarily be all-inclusive and are not guaranteed as to accuracy. They may be subject to change without reference or notification to you. It should be noted that the value of investments and the income from them may fluctuate in accordance with market conditions and taxation agreements and investors may not get back the full amount invested. Changes in exchange rates may have an adverse effect on the value, price or income of the product(s) or underlying overseas investments. Both past performance and yield may not be a reliable guide to current and future performance. There is no guarantee that any forecast made will come to pass. Furthermore, whilst it is the intention to achieve the investment objective of the investment product(s), there can be no assurance that those objectives will be met.

J.P. Morgan Asset Management is the brand name for the asset management business of JPMorgan Chase & Co and its affiliates worldwide. You should note that if you contact J.P. Morgan Asset Management by telephone those lines may be recorded and monitored for legal, security and training purposes. You should also take note that information and data from communications with you will be collected, stored and processed by J.P. Morgan Asset Management in accordance with the EMEA Privacy Policy which can be accessed through the following website http://www.jpmorgan.com/pages/privacy.

Investment is subject to documentation which is comprised of the Prospectus, Key Investor Information (KIID) and either the Supplementary Information Document (SID) or Key Features/Terms and Condition, copies of which can be obtained free of charge from JPMorgan Asset Management Marketing Limited. Issued by JPMorgan Asset Management Marketing Limited which is authorised and regulated in the UK by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England No: 288553. Registered address: 25 Bank St, Canary Wharf, London E14 5JP. 5550cfe0-b993-11e7-95a0-005056960c8a

Go to the profile of Andrew Robbens

Andrew Robbens

Investment Specialist, UK Equity Group, J.P. Morgan Asset Management

Andrew Robbens is an Investment Specialist within the J.P. Morgan Asset Management UK Equity Group.


Go to the profile of John
John 6 months ago