Do you know the difference between top-down and bottom-up investing? Choosing the right strategy is an important decision for securing your future, and making the wrong decisions can be harmful to your investment portfolio. Let’s look at what top-down and bottom-up mean, the pros and cons of the two approaches, and how to determine which is more suitable for your investment goals.
What is Top-Down Investing?
A top-down analysis involves making decisions based on the state of the economy and various markets. A top-down investor might start with a broad, birds-eye type view that includes crucial factors. This is also known as the macro or macroeconomic approach, as a top-down investor is focused on broad factors and issues such as national and world events.
Current interest rates, which are set by the United States Federal Reserve, represent a key economic indicator that impact many areas. A few things to keep in mind:
- When interest rates are cut, individuals and businesses can more easily find loans to start new businesses and purchase real estate.
- Lower rates can stimulate stocks, including bank stocks and those investing in real estate.
- Rising rates are often associated with higher unemployment and slower economic growth.
- When the Fed cuts rates, it can motivate spending on large purchases such as cars.
Paying attention to interest rates is thus extremely important to investment decisions and ensuring you are maximizing your portfolio.
Interest rates are only one factor that influences the stock market and others such as bonds, commodities, and currencies. An investor might also analyze oil prices and other important spaces. With a top-down approach, you don’t spend much time with investment analysis of an individual company. Rather, you look at the big picture and make decisions based on current news, issues, and trends. In addition to broad economic indicators, an investor may look at the performance of particular industries, such as oil, real estate, retail, or healthcare.
You can invest in different parts of the world based on current conditions. You might look at not only the American stocks, for example, but also in Europe, Asia, and other regions. Top-down investors like to identify emerging markets so they can benefit from rising prices and pull out when prices are likely to fall.
Pros and Cons of the Top-down Strategy
There are advantages as well as drawbacks to top-down strategies.
- You learn more about economic policies and indicators, making you a more sophisticated investor.
- The process helps you identify opportunities in industries and regions you might not have otherwise considered.
- The approach can make an investor overlook important differences between companies and investments. Not every business flourishes when certain industries are doing well, for example.
- Markets don’t always behave predictably. Indicators may suggest a certain result but this isn’t always accurate.
- The space requires a great deal of study. There are numerous and complex macro factors that are constantly changing.
Your best bet is to speak with a wealth manager to get advice on an industry or sector before deciding which top-down investment is right for you.
What is Bottom-Up Investing?
A bottom-up analysis is less concerned with the overall economy and market conditions. Instead, the focus is on individual companies, stocks, funds, and other investments. Bottom-up investors hone in on the fundamental qualities of a business, stock, or investment opportunity. This approach requires investors to pay attention to micro factors.
Evaluating the value and financial health of a company includes an analysis of:
- Revenue, growth, prices of stocks, dividend yield, and projected future earnings.
- Price-to-earnings ratio (PE). The PE is a crucial metric that measures the current share price to earnings-per-share.
Working with analysts to understand a company’s funds will help ensure you are looking into the right opportunities.
Ownership and Management Team
The track record of key figures in a company such as the founder, CEO, and others in leadership positions is important in understanding its current status or where it might go in the future. Do they have experience building other successful businesses? Does the company have a clear vision, or is it being pulled in different directions? All of this impacts whether a company will thrive or whither in an industry or sector.
Products and Competition
This includes the reputation of the company’s products and services. You also want to consider market share and market dominance. How are they performing relative to the competition?
Pros and Cons of the Bottom-up Strategy
There are also pros and cons to the bottom-up investment approach.
- The process helps you identify companies that are outperforming the market. An outstanding company can grow even when general conditions are unfavorable.
- It forces you to look at every aspect of an investment and spot potential flaws.
- It is good for short-term opportunities. Companies may perform well even when their long-term outlook is limited.
- Bottom-up investors may overlook important macroeconomic factors that can impact a company.
- It can be risky. Trying to identify individual companies that will grow or stocks that will rise in one sector is tricky compared to looking at larger trends.
How to Choose the Right Investing Approach
Most investors have a style that favors a top-down or bottom-up bias. Let’s look at the characteristics that make you a better candidate for one or the other investment strategy.
Qualities of Top-Down Investors
If the following applies to you, consider talking to your money manager or wealth manager about a top-down approach to your investment strategy.
- You have a strong interest in world conditions, economics, and maybe politics.
- You favor a conservative, low-risk approach.
- You have limited investment experience.
Qualities of Bottom-Up Investors
Here are some indications you should consider a bottom-up approach.
- You have little interest in spending time on sites such as Investopedia studying the economy or market trends.
- You have a certain degree of risk tolerance.
- You’re an experienced investor who’s comfortable with short-term investments.
History of the Top-Down investing and Bottom-Up Approach
Like many things in business, both the top-down and the bottom-up approaches came about from business experimentation. Businesses are always looking for ways to achieve success.
The two business styles or models, top-down vs bottom-up, are completely different. They have worked in different situations and helped businesses achieve success.
That success can mean more business revenue and employee happiness.
Let’s take a closer look at the top-down vs bottom-up approach and how they came to be.
History of the Top-Down Approach
IBM researchers, Harlan Mills and Niklaus Wirth came up with the top-down approach in the 1970s. The top-down approach got utilized in the software development field.
Mills worked to build a structured program that would help IBM create a computer program. Mills then went on to test his process with success. His goal Create a method to automate the New York Times morgue index.
Wirth also contributed to the concept of the top-down approach. He developed a programming language called Pascal that would use the top-down approach to structure a system.
Worth is highly regarded for publishing a paper on his top-down approach theories. The paper, titled “Program Development by Stepwise Refinement,” discussed the benefits of the top-down approach. In his paper, he focused on how in software development this method was effective.
Both Mills and Wirth are regarded as the fathers of the top-down management system.
History of the Bottom-Up Approach
While the bottom-up approach is considered a more modern business model, it was actually developed concurrently. Its foundation came from a focus on Industrial and Organizational Psychology (I/O).
First, you need to understand the fundamentals of I/O. The American Psychological Association explains the study of human behaviors, specifically in the workplace and in organizations.
As more businesses became acquainted with I/O, a better understanding and usage of the bottom-up management style was used.
In I/O employers should place their value on the employees who work on behalf of the company. This helps to make their contributions on behalf of the company more of a priority.
In doing this, upper management loosened their grip on their power to make all decisions. The model encourages upper management, instead to seek the opinions and ideas of lower-ranking employees. This allows them to contribute and help with the decision-making.
As early as 1924, the Hawthorne Experiments gave some employees bright lights at their work station. Others got more dim lighting. The experiment found that the employees with bright lights were more productive for the company.
In the experiment, it was suggested that the employees who felt valued and important to the company were better contributors than those who didn’t feel that way.
Elton Mayo was another advocate of the I/O movement and the bottom-up approach. He suggested that when the workplace had better social aspects for employees then the company would benefit.
It’s believed his ideas were instrumental in the creation of human resource departments. They became focused on employee engagement and how they could employees invest in the company.
Historically, each of these contributed to the fundamental ideas of the bottom-up approach used in business today.
Industries Using the Top-Down and Bottom-Up Approaches
The top-down and bottom-up approaches get used in a variety of businesses and have become more popular over time.
It’s understandable that some businesses will prosper more effectively with a highly authoritative upper management where tasks are delegated.
Other types of businesses see real benefits in the bottom-down approach with lots of employee involvement in decision-making.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the industries that use these different business models.
Interestingly, the nanotechnology sector is known to use both top-down and bottom-up approaches. They’re used at different times and for different purposes.
When developing molecular manufacturing strategies, the top-down approach is used. The bottom-up approach is used when this industry looks to develop manufacturing strategies.
It’s a smart business approach, to understand which model will work best at certain times and to use it then.
Investing and Banking
Banking commonly uses the top-down approach. Factors from the economy drive stocks and the market. Then the bankers make business decisions from that.
Other times bankers and investors use the bottom-up approach when they use big data to help drive their decision-making. They get a large amount of data and then use it to make decisions that impact the whole company.
The public health sector often practices the top-down approach. When the federal government or a government agency makes health decisions that impact millions, it is top-down.
Covid vaccines and smallpox eradication are examples of when the federal government has used public health policy in a top-down approach.
Public health officials might use the bottom-up approach when addressing local issues. It makes sense to seek the input of community members to address issues within the community.
Neuroscience & Psychology
Both the top-down and bottom-up approaches relate to how people will process information.
Using the bottom-up approach an employee might take in sensory input to help them make decisions and contribute. The top-down approach uses a higher cognitive process that doesn’t involve outside input or influence.
The design element of architecture can use both the top-down and bottom-up approaches in design.
The top-down approach happens with an architect starting with a basic drawing or design. Then goes on to outline the project from start to finish.
The bottom-up approach is used when the architect is one member of a design team working towards a finished product.
Maintain a Balanced Approach
While it’s useful to look at the different investment styles, you don’t have to invest in a style that’s 100% top- or bottom-focused. A few facts:
- Most investment experts recommend a mixture of approaches.
- Even if you have a mainly top-down approach, you still want to look at the fundamentals before investing in a stock or other investment.
- Conversely, investors with a bottom-up approach should still consider broad economic indicators.
- Whichever style you favor, it’s good to maintain a certain balance when making any investment decision.
Whatever your preferred style of investing, getting expert advice can help you identify the most suitable investment opportunities for your portfolio. For example, you might find that a commingled fund, which pools assets from multiple investors, helps you minimize risk while diversifying your portfolio.
Contact Bogart Wealth today to speak with an expert about any investing questions you might have.