- December 1, 2014: Vol. 8, Number 11

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To be a pilgrim: What comes next for contrarians?

by Richard Fleming

The 1906 version of John Bunyan’s rousing hymn “To Be a Pilgrim,” also commonly known as “He who Would Valiant Be,” contains a number of phrases that a contrarian might recognise — “’gainst all disaster,” “no foes shall stay his might,” “I’ll fear not what men say” and “I’ll labour night and day.” A contrarian certainly has to work at it, both at the strategy and at placating doubters.

It is a truism that those who consider themselves to be contrarians generally don’t work for institutional investors or investment managers who are the pillar of the establishment. It is recognised, though, that some form of early-mover positioning can be an effective way of producing long-term alpha. In terms of investment behaviour, however, the image for a contrarian is one of an unconventional, against-the-herd maverick, someone prepared to entertain business, reputational or career risk — or all three! — in pursuit of an outperformance strategy. If a

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