Getting off the Market Timing Treadmill
Most investors have been stuck on the financial treadmill of the 2000s and have nothing to show for it, other than battle scars from the 2008-2009 financial crisis. A lot of running, sweating, and jumping has produced effectively no results. Most media outlets continue to focus on the “lost decade” (see other Lost Decade story) in which investors have earned nothing in the equity markets. After a decade of excess in the 1990s should the majority of investors be surprised? Investing is no different than dieting and exercise – those topics are easy to understand but difficult to execute.
Where are the Billionaire Market Timers?
The financial industry oversimplifies investing and sells market timing as an effortless path to riches – even in tough times. In the search of the financial Holy Grail, the industry constantly crams new software bells and whistles and so-called “can’t lose” strategies down the throats of individual investors. Sadly, there is no miracle system, wonder algorithm, or get rich scheme that can sustainably last the test of time. Sure, a minority of speculators can get lucky and make money by following a risky strategy in the short-run, but as the global economic disaster caused by LTCM (Long Term Capital Management) taught us, even certain successful trading strategies or computer algorithms can stop working in a heartbeat and lead to a widespread bloodbath.
Are you still a believer in market timing? If so, then where are all the billionaire market timers? Famed growth manager, Peter Lynch astutely noted:
“I can’t recall ever once having seen the name of a market timer on Forbes‘ annual list of the richest people in the world. If it were truly possible to predict corrections, you’d think somebody would have made billions by doing it.”
Certainly, there are some hedge fund managers that have hit home runs with amazing market calls, but time will be the arbiter in determining whether they can stay on top.
Sage Speak on Market Timing
If you don’t believe me about market timing, then listen to what knowledgeable investors and thought leaders have to say on the subject. Larry Swedroe, a principal at Buckingham Asset Management, compiled a list including the following quotes:
- Warren Buffett (Investor extraordinaire): “We continue to make more money when snoring than when active.” He adds, “The only value of stock forecasters is to make fortune-tellers look good.”
- Jason Zweig (Columnist): “Whenever some analyst seems to know what he’s talking about, remember that pigs will fly before he’ll ever release a full list of his past forecasts, including the bloopers.” (See also Peter Schiff and Meredith Whitney stories)
- Bernard Baruch (Financier): “Only liars manage to always be out during bad times and in during good times.”
- Jonathan Clements (Columnist): “What to do when the market goes down? Read the opinions of the investment gurus who are quoted in the WSJ. And, as you read, laugh. We all know that the pundits can’t predict short-term market movements. Yet there they are, desperately trying to sound intelligent when they really haven’t got a clue.”
- David L. Babson (Investment Manager): “It must be apparent to intelligent investors that if anyone possessed the ability to do so [forecast the immediate trend of stock prices] consistently and accurately he would become a billionaire so quickly he would not find it necessary to sell his stock market guesses to the general public.”
- Peter Lynch (Retired Growth Manager): “Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.”
Market Timing Road Rules
Rather than make guesses regarding the direction of the market, here are some investment rules to follow:
- Rule #1: Do not attempt to market time. Statistically it is a certainty that a minority of the millions of investors can time the market in the short-run – the problem is that very few, if any, can time the market for sustainable periods of time. Don’t try to be the hero, because often you will become the goat.
- Rule #2: Patiently make good investments, regardless of the economic conditions. It is best to assume the market will go nowhere and invest accordingly. Paying attention to a hot or cold economy leads to investors chasing their tails. Good investments should outperform in the long-run, regardless of the macroeconomic environment.
- Rule #3: Diversify. In the midst of the crisis, diversification didn’t cure simultaneous drops in most asset classes, however ownership of government Treasuries, cash, and certain commodities provided a cushion from the economic blows. Longer-term, the benefits of diversification become more apparent – it makes absolute sense to spread your risk around.
In some respects, there is always an aspect of timing to investing, but as referenced by some of the intelligent professionals previously, the driving force behind an investment decision should not be, “I think the market is going up,” or “I think the market is going down” – those thought processes are recipes for disaster. I strongly believe an investment process that includes patience, discipline, diversification, valuation sensitivity, and low-cost/ tax-efficient products and strategies will get you off the financial treadmill and move you closer to reaching your financial goals.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at time of publishing had no direct positions in BRKA or any other security mentioned. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.