Market timing is the act of moving money in and out of the financial markets or switching between fund asset classes, while trying to predict the future direction of the market. In other words, it involves making a series of decisions based on an endless cycle of fickle market and economic conditions.
Before giving in to the lure of market timing, here are some of the important factors to consider:
Of course, the financial media is designed to pander to emotional biases – otherwise no-one would read or watch any of the predictions they report on. It’s understandable that volatility in the market often tests the resolve of investors, and the more volatile the market the more likely investors will experience emotions like fear and even panic when it comes to their investments. But keep this in mind:
The impact of being out of the market for a short time can be profound, as shown by a hypothetical investment in the stocks that make up the S&P/ASX 300 Index .
In the example below[iv], a hypothetical $1,000 investment made in 2000 turns into $4,932 for the 22-year period ending 30 June 2022. Over that 22-year period, miss the S&P/ASX 300’s best week, which ended 30 March 2020, and the value shrinks to $4,328. Miss the best three months, which ended 23 June 2020, and the total return falls to $3,742.
[iv] Chart courtesy of Dimensional Fund Advisors. See https://my.dimensional.com/one-pagers/the-cost-of-trying-to-time-the-market for details on dates and disclaimers.
Now the one major disclaimer that these sorts of charts never mention is that the opposite is also true – if you miss the worst week, worst month, etc then your returns are way better than just staying invested. But how do you miss the worst periods without also risking missing the best periods? Staying invested and focused on the long term helps to ensure that you are in a position to capture what the market has to offer.
Another study from DALBAR[i] entitled “Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior” shows the impact of market timing. This study out of the US shows that average investors consistently fail to achieve returns that are even close to matching the performance of broader market indices.
The chart below is from the 2022 study[ii] and shows how market timing behaviours in the US have contributed to performance. $100,000 invested 30 years ago would have grown to $2,082,296 had a US investor just left their money in the S&P 500 index. However, due to behavioural characteristics, the average equity fund investor missed out on nearly $1.3 million in value because their emotions took control and they tried to time the market.
[i] For information on Dalbar Inc and their QAIB report see https://www.ifa.com/articles/dalbar_2016_qaib_investors_still_their_worst_enemy
[ii] Source: Dalbar QAIB 2022 study, chart courtesy of Index Fund Advisors https://www.ifa.com
There is plenty of evidence – both anecdotal and empirical – on why market timing just doesn’t work. It’s something that requires repeated miracles and plain old good luck to get it right. And to do it continuously requires a lot of miracles and a lot of luck.
A better approach is to always remember that stock market investing needs a long-term approach, and an ability to tune out the noise from the financial media. If you are considering moving your funds, move them strategically in a way that is consistent with the asset allocation that fits your long term investing objectives and risk tolerance.
Article prepared by Investment Committee Chair Dr Steve Garth.
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