We are smack dab in the middle of cold and flu season, to say nothing of Covid, RSV, etc. Naturally people are reaching for products that will help them relieve nasal congestion and hopefully feel the problem. The problem is that the hundreds of products that contain phenylephrine aren’t proven to work when taken orally. Jared S. Hopkins in the Wall Street Journal writes:

Versions of Benadryl, Mucinex and Tylenol, which more people are taking now as reports of respiratory infections increase, are among dozens of over-the-counter pills, syrups and liquids that rely on an ingredient called phenylephrine to clear up stuffy noses. The ingredient has proven safe, but at least four studies have found the medicines don’t relieve congestion.

There is no evidence is that these products do harm. It’s simply that they don’t work.* There is a good chance that you have one (or more) of these products in your medicine cabinet. So millions of Americans are wasting billions of dollars each year on products that don’t do what they say they do.

Whatever industry you are in you can probably think of things that people do that are ineffective, at best. We can’t always do controlled trials to show what things are effective. Even if a product or service is ineffective, and benign, it still comes as a cost. A financial cost AND an opportunity cost. People with nasal congestion can maybe be doing something else that will help help them feel better.

The field of investment management is awash in products that are, at best, ineffective. You can likely think of investment products or strategies that don’t anything to provide value to end users. In fact, the vast majority of products fall into this gray zone of ineffectiveness.

The new year is a common time for people to make resolutions. It is also a good time to revisit things that don’t serve you well. Eliminating the time/cost/effort of ineffective tactics is as valuable, maybe even more, than adopting a new habit hoping that it will stick.

*Phenylephrine is apparently effective when taken by nasal spray.