The US stock market has delivered an average annual return of around 10% since 1926. But short-term results may vary, and in any given period stock returns can be positive, negative, or flat. When setting expectations, it’s helpful to see the range of outcomes experienced by investors historically. For example, how often have the stock market’s annual returns actually aligned with its long-term average?
Exhibit 1 shows calendar year returns for the S&P 500 Index since 1926. The shaded band marks the historical average of 10%, plus or minus 2 percentage points. The S&P 500 Index had a return within this range in only six of the past 93 calendar years. In most years, the index’s return was outside of the range—often above or below by a wide margin—with no obvious pattern. For investors, the data highlight the importance of looking beyond average returns and being aware of the range of potential outcomes.
TUNING IN TO DIFFERENT FREQUENCIES
Despite the year-to-year volatility, investors can potentially increase their chances of having a positive outcome by maintaining a long-term focus. Exhibit 2 documents the historical frequency of positive returns over rolling periods of one, five, and 10 years in the US market. The data show that, while positive performance is never assured, investors’ odds improve over longer time horizons.
REACTING IMPACTS PERFORMANCE
If one was to try and time the market in order to avoid the potential losses associated with periods of increased volatility, would this help or hinder long-term performance? If current market prices aggregate the information and expectations of market participants, stock mispricing cannot be systematically exploited through market timing. In other words, it is unlikely that investors can successfully time the market, and if they do manage it, it may be a result of luck rather than skill. Further complicating the prospect of market timing being additive to portfolio performance is the fact that a substantial proportion of the total return of stocks over long periods comes from just a handful of days. Since investors are unlikely to be able to identify in advance which days will have strong returns and which will not, the prudent course is likely to remain invested during periods of volatility rather than jump in and out of stocks. Otherwise, an investor runs the risk of being on the sidelines on days when returns happen to be strongly positive.
Exhibit 3 helps illustrate this point. It shows the annualized compound return of the S&P 500 Index going back to 1990 and illustrates the impact of missing out on just a few days of strong returns. The bars represent the hypothetical growth of $1,000 over the period and show what happened if you missed the best single day during the period and what happened if you missed a handful of the best single days. The data shows that being on the sidelines for only a few of the best single days in the market would have resulted in substantially lower returns than the total period had to offer.
While some investors might find it easy to stay the course in years with above average returns, periods of disappointing results may test an investor’s faith in equity markets. Being aware of the range of potential outcomes can help investors remain disciplined, which in the long term can increase the odds of a successful investment experience. What can help investors endure the ups and downs? While there is no silver bullet, understanding how markets work and trusting market prices are good starting points. An asset allocation that aligns with personal risk tolerances and investment goals is also valuable. By thoughtfully considering these and other issues, investors may be better prepared to stay focused on their long-term goals during different market environments.
Equity markets around the globe posted positive returns for the quarter. Looking at broad market indices, US equities outperformed non-US developed and emerging markets during the quarter.
Value stocks outperformed growth stocks in emerging markets but underperformed in developed markets, including the US. Small caps underperformed large caps in all regions.
REIT indices underperformed equity market indices in both the US and non-US developed markets.
Long-term Market Summary
World Asset Classes
SECOND QUARTER 2019 INDEX RETURNS (%)
Impact of Diversification
SECOND QUARTER 2019 INDEX RETURNS
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Diversification does not eliminate the risk of market loss. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Indices are not available for direct investment. Index performance does not reflect expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio. Asset allocations and the hypothetical index portfolio returns are for illustrative purposes only and do not represent actual performance. Global Stocks represented by MSCI All Country World Index (gross div.) and Treasury Bills represented by US One-Month Treasury Bills. Globally diversified allocations rebalanced monthly, no withdrawals. Data © MSCI 2019, all rights reserved. Treasury bills © Stocks, Bonds, Bills, and Inflation YearbookTM, Ibbotson Associates, Chicago (annually updated work by Roger G. Ibbotson and Rex A. Sinquefield).
This information is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not to be considered advice. Information is derived from sources which are believed to be reliable, but are not independently audited. Views and opinions are subject to change at any time based on market and other conditions.