Source: Dalbar Associates. Returns from 1st January 1987 to 31st December 2016, in US dollars.
This study was reinforced by findings reported in the Winter 2016 edition of The Journal of Portfolio Management.1 By comparing actual investor time weighted returns to reported ‘buy and hold’ mutual fund performance, their analysis showed meaningful shortfalls, which is predominantly attributed to poor market timing.
The deficit was apparent across all mutual fund styles (-1.92% difference), but interestingly it was particularly evident across index funds (-2.72% difference). Perhaps this suggests, paradoxically, that while index fund investors acknowledge the evidence that active managers struggle to persistently outperform their benchmark after fees2, they themselves believe they can ‘time the market.’
The lesson, again, is to stay invested for significantly higher returns over time.
How biases serve to heighten our losses
We’re not cut out to consistently make accurate predictions about the market. Various psychological biases mean we tend to place a greater importance on our instincts, instead of the facts – even if we are not aware that we do so.
For example, loss aversion, a tendency first identified by the behavioural economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979, proposed that the pain of losing is psychologically about twice as powerful as the potential pleasure of a gain. This bias, therefore, may cause us to sell assets too early. Overconfidence, on the other hand, is where confidence in our ability is greater than the impartial accuracy of our judgements. It’s not surprising, then, that we may take a decision to act without supporting data to corroborate our views.
Another notable example is herd behaviour, where we thoughtlessly follow the actions of others – it is common to witness an irrational selling spree if poor economic or company news emerges.
Don’t just do something, stay invested
The case against moving in and out of the market – commonly known as trying to ‘time the market’ is clear. The numbers don’t add up.
Our role as a discretionary wealth manager is to navigate client assets through uncertain times as well as when conditions are calmer. We look for diversification when building client portfolios to protect against uncertainties, because every investment will probably go through a period when it underperforms.
Further, our clients have the best chance of meeting their investment goals when we take a longer-term attitude with their capital and avoid hasty reactions to events.
1 The Journal of Portfolio Management by Hsu et al – “Timing Poorly: A Guide to Generating Poor Returns While Investing in Successful Strategies” http://jpm.iijournals.com/content/42/2/90
2 Fleeting Alpha: Evidence From the SPIVA and Persistence Scorecards https://us.spindices.com/documents/research/research-fleeting-alpha-evidence-from-the-spiva-and-persistence-scorecards.pdf
Please remember that when investing your capital is at risk.