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Long-term investing: the destination is better than the journey

The old adage ‘time in the market, not timing the market’ is frequently used in articles like this one, with good reason – it often holds true. One of the key elements of successful investing is patience, as a long-term mindset is required to achieve investment goals. Returns in the short-term can be unpredictable and volatile, so investing with a short-term focus produces difficulties and can be counterproductive. It is easy to be fixated on the daily market movements and become distracted from long-term investment goals. It is often better to take a step back and allow investments to grow steadily over time.

Returns over different time horizons

To highlight the merits of having a long-term perspective, we assessed the historical returns after fees and tax of a ‘balanced’ superannuation strategy over three distinct time intervals: rolling one-month, rolling one-year, and rolling 10-years.

Exhibit 1 shows the rolling one-month returns or the portfolio's individual month-to-month performance. The green bars above the x-axis represent positive performance and a gain in the portfolio's value. A red bar below the x-axis represents negative performance and a loss in the portfolio's value.

PG Exhibit1 w title

PG Exhibit1 w title

There are no clear patterns or sequence to the returns. In the short-term, even a well-diversified portfolio exhibits volatile and unstable returns.

Exhibit 2 illustrates the rolling one-year returns, so each bar includes 12 months of performance.

PG Exhibit2 w titleHere we observe smoother and more persistent positive returns over time, with less frequent periods of negative performance.

Exhibit 3 depicts the balanced portfolio's returns over rolling 10-year periods and each bar accounts for 10 years of performance. The benefits of long-term investing become apparent, with two important takeaways:

  • In this period, there are no periods of negative returns, which means that no matter what 10-year period an individual was invested over, the portfolio delivered positive performance. This is because the well-diversified balanced strategy recovered from any losses or periods of underperformance within each 10-year window.
  • The returns are significantly smoother and considerably less volatile compared to shorter time horizons. Investors can see past the haze of short-term market movements and focus on achieving long-term investment goals.

PG Exhibit3 w title

Peter Gee is Research Products Manager with Morningstar Australasia. Information provided is for general information only, and individuals should seek personal advice before making investment decisions. The objectives of any individual have not been considered in this article.

8 Comments
Phil Bamback
January 04, 2016

Well said Terry... even though nothing more needs to be said I felt this was needed :)

Terry McMaster
December 12, 2015

This article shows that there can be an inverse relationship between the number of words, very low, and both the quality and quantity of information, very high.

The graphics tell the tale beautifully.

In summary, investing in shares and property is a long term exercise and if you are not prepared or able to take a long term view, ie at least ten years, then you should not invest in shares or property.

Nothing more needs to be said.

Peter Vann
December 11, 2015

Hi Brian S

1) Another way to address your desire for more research is in

http://ccfs.net.au/cvs/content/Impact_of_Investment_Risk_onRetirement_Income.pdf

In this white paper the authors** derive sustainable retirement income estimates as a function of the aggressiveness of their asset allocation for three specific cases. These calculations account for investment (and inflation) volatility (for the technical it uses a stochastic analysis not the simple but misleading deterministic analysis) .

Whilst these are only 3 specific cases, the nature of the conclusion seen on page one applies for many general cases.

2) Sure, Peter Gee's analysis is based on history, whereas in reality we all need to undertake forward looking analysis. But forward looking analysis uses history as a guide, plus current market conditions and expectations (not in the statistical sense) of future return generating parameters. Hence Peter's work provides useful insights for that forward looking process.

Peter Vann

Peter

** Chris Condon and myself.

Brian S
December 10, 2015

There is nothing new here and for those in the superannuation accumulation phase it should be reassuring. For those of us in the pension phase with drawdowns of 5% per annum or more a "balanced" portfolio may be too agressive but there is little published material showing how our investments would perform over various time spans and with different asset allocations.

David
December 10, 2015

Why on earth would any investor be in commodity stocks, just as one example, over the last 3 years?

Jon B
December 10, 2015

The trouble is institutionalised laziness and the insistence that tracking error is more important than negative returns. Constructing actively managed, diversified portfolios from managers that hate to lose investors money makes a monstrous difference to investor performance. All the above article proves is that there are "lies, damned lies, and statistics".

Jerome Lander
December 10, 2015

Unfortunately, this is a simplistic view of markets based on looking in the rear view mirror, and with no elucidation of what the drivers of the returns have been, and how these might have changed and be different in future.
I would hate for anyone to rely upon this sort of analysis to invest their money, as depending upon the starting point they could easily have a very disappointing result.
Would you consider the following a good investment result:
Return: 5% per annum (over 10 years)
Risk: Biggest draw down 30-40%
Most people wouldn't, and nor should they! Alas, this is the sort of result they could achieve if they started today, and didn't lose their nerve in the meantime...

Gary M
December 10, 2015

“Patience” is fine if you are happy you have bought great businesses at great prices and are not worried that maybe you haven’t; and if you have great confidence that your existing investments will definitely achieve your goals when you need to them to; and if you know for sure that you won’t panic when your passive portfolio falls 50% or more. For everybody else (99% of investors) there is little reason to be patient.

 

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