In the whirlwind of stock market fluctuations, many investors feel the urge to act quickly, often contemplating exiting the market during steep declines. It’s a natural response to protect years of hard-earned savings from what appears to be a perilous situation. However, history and financial studies suggest that trying to time the market is not only challenging but could also significantly hinder your long-term financial goals.
The Temptation to Time the Market
When the market experiences a sudden drop, it’s common for investors to consider following the herd and selling their stocks. This instinctive reaction stems from a fear of further losses. However, this approach overlooks a critical aspect of investing: the best market days often follow the worst ones.
Sometimes the best thing to do during market volatility is to do nothing. Don’t open your IRA, 401(k), or taxable brokerage account.
Historical Perspective on Market Timing
Looking back at the stock market’s performance over the past two decades, including tumultuous periods like the 2008 financial crisis and the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, we observe a pattern. Notably, seven of the ten highest-returning market days occurred within two weeks of the market’s largest one-day declines.
Case Study: The 2008 Financial Crisis
During the 2008 financial crisis, the S&P 500 index plummeted by 38% from September 2008 to March 2009. Yet, within this period, seven out of ten of the market’s best days also transpired. If an investor had sold their stocks on September 29, 2008, following an 8% market fall, they would have missed out on significant recovery days.
Covid-19 Market Downturn
Similarly, in 2020, during the Covid-19 market downturn, the market experienced its two largest drops in twenty years. However, it also boasted three of its best days in the same period.
The Cost of Missing the Best Market Days
It’s tempting to think that missing a few good market days wouldn’t make much of a difference. Yet, those days are crucial for achieving superior returns. According to JP Morgan Asset Management research, an investment of $10,000 in the S&P 500 index in January 2002 would have grown to over $60,000 by January 2022, averaging a 9.52% annual return.
However, if an investor had pulled out during rough periods and missed just ten of the market’s best days between 2002 and 2022, their return would shrink dramatically. For instance, missing these key days would have resulted in less than $30,000, a mere 5.33% average annual return.
The Long-term Impact of Market Timing
The difference in long-term gains between an investor who stays invested and one who tries to time the market is stark. Consider two investors, each starting with $163,000 in January 2002. By January 2022, the investor who remained in the market would have amassed over $1,000,000, while the one who missed just ten top market days would have only about $460,500.
The Bottom Line: Time in the Market Matters
History shows that success in investing doesn’t come from timing the market, but from time spent in the market. This principle is particularly relevant for investors with a long horizon until retirement. While market dips can be unsettling, staying the course and maintaining a long-term perspective are key to achieving your financial goals.
Staying Brave in Choppy Waters
It’s important to stay focused on the long term and not get swayed by the sensational news of the day. Market fluctuations are a normal part of the investing journey. By understanding the risks of market timing and the benefits of staying invested, you can navigate these choppy waters more confidently.
The stock market isn’t rigged against the individual investor, nor is it a game where only the quick and nimble win. Instead, it rewards patience, consistency, and a long-term perspective. For most investors, especially those with a decade or more until retirement, the best strategy is to stay invested, ride out the market’s highs and lows, and reap the rewards of compound growth over time.
*Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice. Always consult with a financial professional to ensure that any strategy fits your individual investment objectives and financial situation.