Death of the

31st August 2012

The 1990s proved such a golden decade for equity investors that, as the new millennium began, people were giving up their jobs to become day-traders and the prevailing wisdom was that any portfolio should be full of equities and those equities should be held for the long term.

12 years on and the picture is rather different as headlines mourn the twin deaths of equities and the ‘buy-and-hold' strategy. The so-called ‘lost decade' has led investors to shut up shop and truncate their timeliness. This refusal to buy stocks for the long run has in turn brought such economic volatility that the market moves daily on daily newsflow – even though most of that is nothing but ‘noise'.

New data from the US should therefore offer pause for thought. According to investment firm Richard Bernstein Advisors, the probability of making a loss on an investment in the S&P 500 if you hold it for one day is 47%. That drops to 44% if the holding period moves up to one week, to 42% for one month, to 39% for three months, 33% for one year; 23% for three years and 11% for 10 years.

So people may say buy-and-hold is dead, but in fact this approach is your best chance of not been led astray by short-term data. Economies change slowly over time rather than day by day so looking to position your portfolio on a daily basis is asking for trouble.

Many people have looked at the ‘lost decade' and, as many people are prone to do, they have learned the wrong lessons. They saw equity markets performing poorly over 10 years and concluded equities were dead and holding stocks for longer time periods was a mistake. The right lessons, however, were the long time horizon was fine and equities fared badly from 2000 because they were overvalued.

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