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Information overload risks obscuring the blindingly obvious

Wow – what a week that was.

Shergar's body was found under a Leicester car park and Richard III turned up in a ready-made lasagne.

Or was it the other way round? Anyway, it should be no surprise that I am confused.

The constant stream of information we are now exposed to is getting out of hand. As well as the TV news channels battling for our attention, we now have a myriad websites competing for our clicks.

This need to be informed all of the time means more and more drivel is put in front of us and it becomes harder to differentiate between the items that matter and the ones we can safely discard.

This is definitely the case when it comes to investing. Everyone knows that owning shares, or funds that invest in them, is a long-term strategy.

However, our actions appear to be at odds with this, as the average length of time investors hold a share is now down to six months compared to more than eight years in the 1960s.

This short-termism leads to volatility, and unjustified movements in share prices on the smallest piece of news.

For example, in the US, companies report their earnings quarterly. Now anyone who has owned or managed a business will know how ludicrous this is but, even so, any company that reports earnings of nine cents per share rather than the 10 cents predicted can expect to see a significant fall in their share price.

A couple of weeks ago I had a meeting with Tom Dobell, the manager of the M&G Recovery Fund.

As the name suggests, the fund invests in companies that have fallen out of favour and are experiencing problems, but which also exhibit recovery potential.

These shares are held through the different stages of the recovery cycle until their turnaround is complete. On average. this takes between four to five years. So, year on year, there is little change in the make-up of the fund, other than the companies within it being at different stages in the cycle.

This approach does mean some years the fund will underperform compared to its peers, but anyone investing in the fund should be aware of this and, as long as there is not a fundamental change of strategy, investors should really not be that concerned.

Last year was one such year, but the fund experienced far more in the way of investor movement than it had in the past. My guess is that investors looked at the short-term numbers and decided to move elsewhere.

However, approximately 70% of the companies the fund holds are at the early stage in the recovery cycle and their share prices have not yet benefited from their progress. So those who decided to chase short-term returns are probably going to miss out on the fruits of Tom's labours.

I should point out that the fund is the very epitome of long-term investing, having been launched in 1969 and having had a total of only four different managers in that time!

This shows that sometimes the answer cannot be found by looking at the finance websites, Twitter or Facebook, and by willingly allowing ourselves to be bombarded by instant information we are in real danger of not being able to see the wood for the trees.

I read that one of the growing developments in the psychiatric world is dealing with information addicts who cannot cope without having access to their smartphone, tablet or laptop and that retreats are being built that will allow them to detox.

Judging by the teenagers I see these days, that looks like a business with great long-term potential!

Steven Forbes is managing director of Alan Steel Asset Management

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