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Try to Time the Market at Your Peril

 

The following sentiment was written by David Booth, Executive Chairman and Founder, Dimensional Fund Advisors, and adapted for this post.

Think back to December 2019. The economy was humming. Unemployment, interest rates, and inflation were at historically low levels. But then what happened?

  • A global pandemic hit. By the end of March 2020, the S&P 500 had dropped nearly 20% in value.1
  • Later that year, scientists announced that they’d developed a vaccine, and markets roared back.
  • FAANG stocks soared … before giving up a lot of gains over the subsequent two years.2
  • Meme stocks shot way up … and fell back down.
  • Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies reached record highs … and then crashed in 2022.
  • Inflation spiked to the highest levels most of us have ever experienced.3
  • And Russia invaded Ukraine, sparking a humanitarian crisis and geopolitical uncertainty.

I don’t know anyone who predicted all of that back in December 2019. But what if someone had? What would you have done?

Next question: What if that person told you that, despite all that news, the Russell 3000 would average a return of 10% a year over the next three years?4 Would you have believed them? Would you have stayed in the market?

Because that’s what happened. A yearly return of 10%! That’s pretty darn close to the stock market’s historical average over the past century.5

The conclusion I hope you reach is that it’s unrealistic to think you can outguess markets. You’re probably better off expecting that markets do their job of capturing the human ingenuity taking place every day across thousands of publicly traded companies around the world.

What do I mean by markets doing their job? When news of the pandemic hit, markets adjusted and prices went down. In other words, when uncertainty peaked around March 2020, investors demanded a higher return to jump into the market. Then, when news of a vaccine spread, the market adjusted its expectations accordingly. In the short term, there are often wild swings up or down. Making a change during either can be dangerous.

The past three years were a good test of whether or not you had an investment plan that was sensible to stick with. So take a moment to think about why you did what you did, and prepare for next time — because the next three years may be just as uncertain:

  1. Make sure your investment plan is rational and based on financial science.
  2. Confirm your financial plan is realistic for you and your own unique situation. Even the greatest plan is no good if you can’t stick with it during tough times.
  3. Invest in markets in whatever asset mix is right for you. If you’re not sure, talk with a financial advisor who can help you.

I don’t make predictions, but I do believe in the power of human ingenuity to fix problems big and small, innovating the whole way. What has stayed constant throughout my life is the power of people to make progress in the face of challenges.

We’ve seen it in the fight against COVID-19, where vaccines developed at lightning speed are now being administered around the world. We’ve seen it in the continued progress of gene therapy, which is revolutionizing the treatment of multiple diseases. So as we start 2023, let’s remember the lessons of the past three years. Let’s develop—and stick to—a financial plan that takes us through the short-term ups and downs of market fluctuations, so we can capture the long-term benefits of human ingenuity.

Footnotes

  1. S&P data © 2022 S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a division of S&P Global. All rights reserved. Indices are not available for direct investment. Index returns are not representative of actual portfolios and do not reflect costs and fees associated with an actual investment. Decrease of 19.6% was from Jan. 1, 2020–March 31, 2020.
  2. Facebook-parent Meta, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google’s parent, Alphabet.
  3. Gwynn Guilford, “U.S. Inflation Hit 7% in December, Fastest Pace Since 1982,” Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2022.
  4. In US dollars. Russell 3000 Index annual returns December 2019–November 2022. Copyright © FTSE Russell. All rights reserved.
  5. In US dollars. S&P 500 Index annual returns 1926–2021. S&P data © 2022 S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a division of S&P Global. All rights reserved. Indices are not available for direct investment; therefore, their performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio.

Disclosures

The information in this material is intended for the recipient’s background information and use only. It is provided in good faith and without any warranty or representation as to accuracy or completeness. Information and opinions presented in this material have been obtained or derived from sources believed by Dimensional to be reliable, and Dimensional has reasonable grounds to believe that all factual information herein is true as of the date of this material. It does not constitute investment advice, a recommendation, or an offer of any services or products for sale and is not intended to provide a sufficient basis on which to make an investment decision. Before acting on any information in this document, you should consider whether it is appropriate for your particular circumstances and, if appropriate, seek professional advice. It is the responsibility of any persons wishing to make a purchase to inform themselves of and observe all applicable laws and regulations. Unauthorized reproduction or transmission of this material is strictly prohibited. Dimensional accepts no responsibility for loss arising from the use of the information contained herein.

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“Dimensional” refers to the Dimensional separate but affiliated entities generally, rather than to one particular entity. These entities are Dimensional Fund Advisors LP, Dimensional Fund Advisors Ltd., Dimensional Ireland Limited, DFA Australia Limited, Dimensional Fund Advisors Canada ULC, Dimensional Fund Advisors Pte. Ltd., Dimensional Japan Ltd. and Dimensional Hong Kong Limited. Dimensional Hong Kong Limited is licensed by the Securities and Futures Commission to conduct Type 1 (dealing in securities) regulated activities only and does not provide asset management services.

Investments involve risks. The investment return and principal value of an investment may fluctuate so that an investor’s shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original value. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. There is no guarantee that these strategies will be successful.

 

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