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How Returns Happen

It's been one heck of a June so far...

Historical Returns for the S&P 500 (since 1926)

Average Return / Year


Average Return / Month


Average Return / Week


Average Return / Trading Day


Actual Return Over Last 12 Trading Days


How did we possibly realize 6+ month's worth of expected returns in just a couple weeks?

In investing, small hinges swing big doors.

The current value of a company reflects investors' assessments of the company's future profits, discounted back to the present day.

Consider that IBM is 112 years old. Coca-Cola is 137 years old. Citigroup is 210 years old.

If companies can live this long, and make profits for this many years, don't overlook how bonkers actual analyst models are for stock valuations. They must find a way to account for potential profits that are decades into the future.

When opinions about small things change, they change for all future years. Even if we assume some new technology or piece of news will marginally improve a company by say only might be 1% for many decades. It can have an overwhelming impact.

News of AI's potential to improve efficiencies for nearly all businesses, and the Federal Reserve (seemingly) currently succeeding in taming inflation, are good current examples. The market's recent jolt upward reflects investor opinions quickly recalibrating.

Prices are brutish, irreverent, and unsympathetic to investors putzing about on the sidelines.

Consider just some of the historical 1-day returns of the S&P 500:

  • March 15, 1933: +16.61%

  • October 13, 2008: +11.58%

  • March 24, 2020: +9.38%

Of course many of these followed really bad days. But if we don't know which days will be good and which days will be bad, and the stock market goes up over time, the recipe for success is obvious.

We need to give ourselves the highest probability of capturing periods like the last couple weeks.

Back on March 20, 2020, amidst the Covid-19 chaos, Ben Carlson advised his readers:

Just make sure you don't become addicted to your dry powder.

As I've written before — markets are whippy, and will frequently be accommodating to people who zig and zag with their portfolio. Even if it's a rubbish approach, simply because of inherent volatility, market-timers will often find themselves momentarily better off for having actively traded their portfolio based on illogical whims.

But at some point the music stops, and stocks never look back again.

Don't avoid market timing because it can't work, avoid it because if it doesn't work, the results are unnecessarily catastrophic. When and how will you justify to yourself to get back in? Why would you willingly sign up for an agonizing investment experience?

March 9, 2009 is the day we bottomed out during the Great Financial Crisis — and never looked back. The day that clowned anyone who said "Well, I'll just step to the sidelines for a little while. After the market goes down more, I'll get back in. Just wait this out for a bit."

The S&P 500 is up 765% since then.

The average annual return of the S&P 500 is 10.1% per year. It's perspective on a long term average, but it's mostly useless otherwise. Of course markets don't know what a calendar is, nor concern themselves with accommodating our expectations and hopes.

Instead, markets whip, stall, and doddle. They rise, fall, crash, burn, recover, and then, almost some point...they rip higher.

Without ever telling us when it's about to occur.

That's how returns happen.



My blog posts are informational only and should not be construed as personalized investment advice. There is no guarantee that the views and opinions expressed in my posts will come to pass. They are not intended to supply tax or legal advice and there is no solicitation to buy or sell securities or engage in a particular investment strategy.

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