Author Topic: Are stock indexes a good investment?  (Read 8184 times)

FIRE47

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Are stock indexes a good investment?
« on: September 22, 2015, 02:32:55 PM »
I have been looking at some historical charts (I have only been in the market for around 3 years in any real capacity) and it would seem to me that outside the US that equities have not been a good investment unless you have been invested for 10-15+ years, am I missing something?

Even then would you not have to account for the very high level of volatility during that period when comparing to other investment alternatives?

I am from Canada and am referring to the TSX, the Nikkei, the FTSE, the CAC 40, the ASX 200, emerging markets etc. Feel free to point out any other indexes.

What I am wondering is can we objectively say index investing is a sound strategy given the past 10-15 years of results in many markets and is requiring 10+ years really a reasonable time horizon?

I am not arguing one way or another I am hoping some of the people here can point me in the right direction I am at an impasse as far as what to do with my investments going forward.

« Last Edit: September 22, 2015, 02:34:49 PM by FIRE47 »

iamlindoro

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #1 on: September 22, 2015, 02:50:26 PM »
To be fair, the general advice here involves being weighted heavily on the US indexes, given their long term record of reasonably great returns, even when including recessions, depressions, and market crashes.  The advice is definitely more nuanced than "pick any index."  That said, I and many others feel good about holding a smaller proportion of our equity index funds in international funds, which by definition would include the non-US markets.  Reason being that despite some stagnant developed economies, there is huge opportunity for growth in many of the developing ones.

As to whether a 10+ year minimum time horizon is reasonable, I guess I'd ask you how long you intend to live.  If it's over ten years, and bearing in mind we are investing to support our expenses for the rest of our lives, I'd say 10+ years is eminently reasonable.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2015, 02:52:21 PM by iamlindoro »

Aphalite

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2015, 02:53:44 PM »
10-15+ years should be the minimum time period that you are looking at. You can pick up multiple 10+ year periods in the US equity market where performance has been poor, then all of a sudden, shot way up, the result of which is all of the shares you had been accumulating for 10 years have shot up with it. Anything less than a five year time frame is just noise that a long term investor should ignore

Secondly, don't confuse volatility with risk. Just because a price goes up and down doesn't tell you anything, you need to know the REASON for it. Did prices go down because they were unreasonable to begin with (aka US in the mid 1960s and in 2000, Nikkei in the late 80s) or because of widespread fear (2009)?

When you look at a chart, geometric returns means that it's easy to disregard actual performance in the decades before ~20 years ago because the human eye cannot distinguish very easily between 10x scales, but those were real returns, look at http://financeandinvestments.blogspot.com/2012/06/historical-annual-returns-for-s-500.html (first table link I could find on google) vs a historical chart and you'll see what I mean. Additionally, look at the variance between one year performances vs 15 year performances, and then look at the variance between 15 year and 25 year performances. As you go up in time periods, the total compounded return smoothes out. This is why people consistently preach long term mind sets when investing in equities, and to ignore the noise in the short run. No matter if you're an index investor or an individual stock picker.

LAGuy

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2015, 02:58:10 PM »
You're probably missing dividends if you're just looking at price performance charts. International stocks often pay more in dividends as well.

ynotme

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #4 on: September 22, 2015, 03:36:16 PM »
You're right , here in Australia, the index is pretty much where it was 3 years ago. I have been buying into an index ETF primarily for the dividends (currently ~4.5% plus tax benefits) as it is higher than interest on cash. I am generally ok with volatility and believe we are at fair value.

The only capital gains I have made in the last few years are from my US ETF which has had capital growth and gains with the US dollar getting stronger, translating into higher returns in AUD.

I don't think investing primarily in the Australian sharemarket has paid off in the last few years however I'm investing for the long term. Historically, there have been decades where the sharemarket has had no capital gain and unfortunately you really only realise in hindsight. The sharemarket follows the economic cycle and this could be 10-15 years.

I'll continue to invest but not aggressively and will probably keep more cash.
« Last Edit: September 22, 2015, 03:56:12 PM by ynotme »

nereo

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #5 on: September 22, 2015, 03:50:30 PM »
#1 - for a buy-and-hold strategy I'd say a decade is about the shortest period you should be looking at.
#2 - dividends account for a lot of the gains, especially in non-US markets (as LA guy pointed out). Never underestimate (or ignore) dividends when looking at long-term gains.
#3 - 2008/09 was pretty craptastic across the globe, so you're including one of the biggest global downturns in 80 years.  To be fair you could look at a whole bunch of 3, 5, and 10 year periods throughout history in the index of your choice.
#4 - comparing emerging markets to developed economies isn't a fair comparison.  It's not the same ballpark, it's not even the same sport.

Telecaster

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #6 on: September 22, 2015, 04:11:35 PM »
What I am wondering is can we objectively say index investing is a sound strategy given the past 10-15 years of results in many markets and is requiring 10+ years really a reasonable time horizon?

I think you answered your own question.   Markets can often be whacky (in either direction!) for periods of 10-ish years or so.   Back in the 1970s, Japanese stocks were going gangbusters and US stocks were dead in the water.   So all the smart money managers were writing off the US and pointing to Japan for future growth.  Well, starting in the early 1980s US stocks were going gangbusters and Japanese stocks were dead in the water.  So don't worry much about periods less than 10 years.   


Indexer

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #7 on: September 22, 2015, 05:25:00 PM »
I have been looking at some historical charts (I have only been in the market for around 3 years in any real capacity) and it would seem to me that outside the US that equities have not been a good investment unless you have been invested for 10-15+ years, am I missing something?

Yup, you are missing a lot.... all the previous decades to be exact.

US VS International outperformance is not constant either way. It changes over time. Sometimes you will see a 5-10 year trend, but those tend to reverse just when everyone assumes they will continue forever.


Heckler

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #8 on: September 22, 2015, 05:43:54 PM »
One index, no way.

A balanced mix of global indices with low, low costs, for sure!

Google "Asset Class Performance Charts".  Here's one example.

http://topforeignstocks.com/2011/04/06/another-take-on-why-diversification-is-important/


« Last Edit: September 22, 2015, 05:48:54 PM by Heckler »

Scandium

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #9 on: September 22, 2015, 06:20:44 PM »
Since international had done poorly wouldn't that mean they are "due" to do well now?!

This isn't actually a reasonable argument, but no less so than yours..

k9

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #10 on: September 23, 2015, 09:14:51 AM »
My 2 cents: stocks indexes are a good investment as long as you don't only rely on them. Even on a >10y period, they can perform poorly  or amazingly well, depending on factors you have no control over. I don't like lack of control.

nereo

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #11 on: September 23, 2015, 09:21:10 AM »
My 2 cents: stocks indexes are a good investment as long as you don't only rely on them. Even on a >10y period, they can perform poorly  or amazingly well, depending on factors you have no control over. I don't like lack of control.
To further this discussion, what do you suggest for long-term investments that you would have more control over?  Real-estate (landlording) is one block in our portfolio

FIRE47

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #12 on: September 23, 2015, 12:41:41 PM »
My 2 cents: stocks indexes are a good investment as long as you don't only rely on them. Even on a >10y period, they can perform poorly  or amazingly well, depending on factors you have no control over. I don't like lack of control.

That's primarily the issue I am having right now though, if not index funds then what? This is the inflection point I have reached.  The issue is for those of us here we need a reasonable return both to accumulate and subsist off the balance later. All of the talk is about the end of the great bull and a bubble, if this is a bull then for those of us in most of the world we certainly don't need a bear.






nereo

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #13 on: September 23, 2015, 12:48:09 PM »


That's primarily the issue I am having right now though, if not index funds then what? This is the inflection point I have reached.  The issue is for those of us here we need a reasonable return both to accumulate and subsist off the balance later. All of the talk is about the end of the great bull and a bubble, if this is a bull then for those of us in most of the world we certainly don't need a bear.

A bear market is excellent for those of us who are in the accumulation phase (i.e. still working and still investing).
Regarding the "end of the great bull/bubble" - if you are investing for the long term it really doesn't matter.  We'll have more drops in the market, more recessions, more wars and more economic bubbles pop.  But over long periods the market persists and grows.  Even if you start withdrawing and we hit a bear market it doesn't matter if your WR is sensible and if you maintain some common-sense flexibility.  That's why 4% WR is so popular even though on average markets have gone up just over 7% after inflation; 4% has allowed almost all portfolios to persist even after horrible economic conditions.

LAGuy

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #14 on: September 23, 2015, 01:12:36 PM »
My 2 cents: stocks indexes are a good investment as long as you don't only rely on them. Even on a >10y period, they can perform poorly  or amazingly well, depending on factors you have no control over. I don't like lack of control.

That's primarily the issue I am having right now though, if not index funds then what? This is the inflection point I have reached.  The issue is for those of us here we need a reasonable return both to accumulate and subsist off the balance later. All of the talk is about the end of the great bull and a bubble, if this is a bull then for those of us in most of the world we certainly don't need a bear.

It's not just you in this position. It's really the macro issue that's been driving the world investment community these past few years. Central banks across the world have really made it so that only stocks are a worthwhile investment at this time. I hate to say it, but don't fight the Fed.

Look at it this way. International stock funds haven't done a whole lot for years in the price department. However, they're paying dividends of nearly 3%. That compares pretty darn favorably to long term bonds which is basically the highest "safe" yield you can get right now. If you can just ignore the price fluctuations, you're basically getting paid to wait for the price run up whenever it happens. But you need a long term horizon.

k9

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #15 on: September 24, 2015, 02:47:20 PM »
My 2 cents: stocks indexes are a good investment as long as you don't only rely on them. Even on a >10y period, they can perform poorly  or amazingly well, depending on factors you have no control over. I don't like lack of control.
To further this discussion, what do you suggest for long-term investments that you would have more control over?  Real-estate (landlording) is one block in our portfolio

By "lack of control", I mean stock indexing investment shines as much as the market wants it to shine. If Mr. Market gets depressed, you (temporarily) lose money, even if he's wrong and investments are actually sound. Anything that mainly depends on speculation incurs a lack of control, by definition.

There are a few investment strategies that give you a little more control, in the sense that you don't only depend on what other think your investments are worth :

- landlording, as you mentioned it. Whether the market believes RE is booming or busting, whether your building's market value goes up or down, rents keep coming. If they stop coming, that's because your investment was bad, not because the market thought it was bad.

- dividend investing, or even dividend growth investing. That's quite the same as landlording : your businesses keep producing and giving you cash, no matter what other investors feel.

- High yield bonds work quite the same, too.

- Massive diversification across asset classes also kinda works. In this league, I like the permanent portfolio a lot. When you only (or mainly) own stock indexes, you need the economic context to be favorable to stock markets (i.e overall prosperity, whether real, perceived or anticipated). If you own at the same time stocks, govt bonds, gold, and/or a few other things, you know at any time, some of your investment will produce money: when investors on the stock market panic, they "fly to safety" (treasuries and/or gold, depending on the context). This way, you're not a victim of speculation and volatility: you make a profit from it. I like this strategy, although it is not for everyone.

Tyler

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #16 on: September 25, 2015, 11:58:02 AM »
- Massive diversification across asset classes also kinda works. In this league, I like the permanent portfolio a lot. When you only (or mainly) own stock indexes, you need the economic context to be favorable to stock markets (i.e overall prosperity, whether real, perceived or anticipated). If you own at the same time stocks, govt bonds, gold, and/or a few other things, you know at any time, some of your investment will produce money: when investors on the stock market panic, they "fly to safety" (treasuries and/or gold, depending on the context). This way, you're not a victim of speculation and volatility: you make a profit from it. I like this strategy, although it is not for everyone.

I also like the Permanent Portfolio.  Diverse index investing beyond traditional "stocks" and "bonds" opens up a whole new world of options with a lot more variety in returns vs. volatility than most people are used to.  The portfolio collection here has a wide variety of options to compare. 

FIRE47

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #17 on: September 25, 2015, 01:04:27 PM »
- Massive diversification across asset classes also kinda works. In this league, I like the permanent portfolio a lot. When you only (or mainly) own stock indexes, you need the economic context to be favorable to stock markets (i.e overall prosperity, whether real, perceived or anticipated). If you own at the same time stocks, govt bonds, gold, and/or a few other things, you know at any time, some of your investment will produce money: when investors on the stock market panic, they "fly to safety" (treasuries and/or gold, depending on the context). This way, you're not a victim of speculation and volatility: you make a profit from it. I like this strategy, although it is not for everyone.

I also like the Permanent Portfolio.  Diverse index investing beyond traditional "stocks" and "bonds" opens up a whole new world of options with a lot more variety in returns vs. volatility than most people are used to.  The portfolio collection here has a wide variety of options to compare.

Very interesting site - I dare say just the answer I was looking for:

This article hits the nail on the head:

http://portfoliocharts.com/2015/08/24/avoiding-the-volatility-trap/

k9

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #18 on: September 26, 2015, 03:53:22 PM »
I agree Tyler's site is great. Lots of great blog posts and a bunch of very useful tools. Tyler, I especially like your (apparently recent) butterfly portfolio. I happened to implement something very close to that allocation myself (because I feel the PP has too much bonds and too little stocks for my particular situation).

Tyler

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #19 on: September 26, 2015, 05:24:07 PM »
Thanks!  I'm glad that people find it helpful.

Yeah, one of the fun things about starting a website is that it gives you a forum to talk about new ideas.  The Golden Butterfly builds on the solid foundation of others, and I think it's a good example of how smart asset allocation can create a result that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Hopefully it will inspire a few people to research index investing in more depth. 
« Last Edit: September 26, 2015, 06:14:36 PM by Tyler »

milesdividendmd

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #20 on: September 26, 2015, 08:37:01 PM »
Yes indexes are a good investment.

A global asset allocation (allocating to assets based on world capitalization) has performed consistently well for the past century. Better than real estate. Better than commodities. Not as well as world stocks alone, but with less volatility.

Your point about individual markets doing poorly highlights the dangers of short term-ism and home field bias/market picking. Not a problem with indexing as a strategy per Se.

Long term investing in a diversified low cost cap weighted portfolio is as close to a sure thing as one can find.

FIRE47

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #21 on: September 28, 2015, 11:48:20 AM »
I agree Tyler's site is great. Lots of great blog posts and a bunch of very useful tools. Tyler, I especially like your (apparently recent) butterfly portfolio. I happened to implement something very close to that allocation myself (because I feel the PP has too much bonds and too little stocks for my particular situation).

I am leaning towards doing something such as this myself at this point, the question I have is how would you go about implementing this?

I am currently 100% stocks - around 40% CDN (about 20 Ind stocks), 30% Int (ETF) and 30% (ETF) US - should I just pull the band-aid off and do all of the necessary transactions at once? My concern is I will miss a fairly large recovery and only be 40% stocks at that point and that this is a knee jerk reaction.

Although I am more sure I have learned my true risk tolerance at this point which is not 100% stocks and I am glad it happened now and not in a few years when I'll have way more invested, I am just wondering how best to implement at this point.

Tyler

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #22 on: September 28, 2015, 01:58:24 PM »
You definitely don't want to knee jerk with any investment decision.  I personally would never make a significant portfolio change without sleeping on it for at least a month.  Maybe longer.  Treat it like a tattoo.  Even while it's technically possible to remove a bad one in the future (at great expense) or tattoo over it into something better, the effect of the original decision can never be 100% erased.  So be smart about it and resist the urge to act impulsively. 

If you've found a new portfolio that sounds good, one suggestion is to track it for a while.  Watch how it performs over time to make sure the experience is right for you and to give yourself time to feel confident in your decision.  Once you're ready, a method that many people find helpful is to methodically transition over time.  Write out a transition plan.  That will help ease the timing fear, and also potentially help you with tax efficiency if it's in a taxable account. 

ynotme

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #23 on: September 28, 2015, 02:31:03 PM »
I agree you shouldn't make any major changes right now. It's human nature to question an investment strategy when conditions may not be favouring your current one. The current correction may give you insight into how much volatility you are comfortable with and also maybe reset your expectations on the likely results in the short term. I'd just start building up cash instead of investing more into stocks as you work through the asset allocation right for you.

milesdividendmd

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #24 on: September 28, 2015, 02:31:08 PM »
I agree Tyler's site is great. Lots of great blog posts and a bunch of very useful tools. Tyler, I especially like your (apparently recent) butterfly portfolio. I happened to implement something very close to that allocation myself (because I feel the PP has too much bonds and too little stocks for my particular situation).

I am leaning towards doing something such as this myself at this point, the question I have is how would you go about implementing this?

I am currently 100% stocks - around 40% CDN (about 20 Ind stocks), 30% Int (ETF) and 30% (ETF) US - should I just pull the band-aid off and do all of the necessary transactions at once? My concern is I will miss a fairly large recovery and only be 40% stocks at that point and that this is a knee jerk reaction.

Although I am more sure I have learned my true risk tolerance at this point which is not 100% stocks and I am glad it happened now and not in a few years when I'll have way more invested, I am just wondering how best to implement at this point.

This is sentiment is exactly why almost  investors underperform the market.  If you think you were too aggressive in your risk tolerance, this is a common thing.  The market may go way down from here of course, but your entire investment was predicated on the belief that it will eventually go back up.

I would recommend taking your lumps with this market cycle and decreasing your equity exposure next time we reach a new high (which could be years from now of course.)

FIRE47

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #25 on: September 28, 2015, 03:20:33 PM »
I agree Tyler's site is great. Lots of great blog posts and a bunch of very useful tools. Tyler, I especially like your (apparently recent) butterfly portfolio. I happened to implement something very close to that allocation myself (because I feel the PP has too much bonds and too little stocks for my particular situation).

I am leaning towards doing something such as this myself at this point, the question I have is how would you go about implementing this?

I am currently 100% stocks - around 40% CDN (about 20 Ind stocks), 30% Int (ETF) and 30% (ETF) US - should I just pull the band-aid off and do all of the necessary transactions at once? My concern is I will miss a fairly large recovery and only be 40% stocks at that point and that this is a knee jerk reaction.

Although I am more sure I have learned my true risk tolerance at this point which is not 100% stocks and I am glad it happened now and not in a few years when I'll have way more invested, I am just wondering how best to implement at this point.

This is sentiment is exactly why almost  investors underperform the market.  If you think you were too aggressive in your risk tolerance, this is a common thing.  The market may go way down from here of course, but your entire investment was predicated on the belief that it will eventually go back up.

I would recommend taking your lumps with this market cycle and decreasing your equity exposure next time we reach a new high (which could be years from now of course.)

Yea, that was my initial thought - I stopped investing my cash from savings about 4-5 months ago when it became clear to me my asset mix was no longer suitable for me.

I'm thinking in the mean time I will start adding any future investments to the new desired mix though.




FIRE47

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #26 on: September 28, 2015, 03:22:03 PM »
I agree Tyler's site is great. Lots of great blog posts and a bunch of very useful tools. Tyler, I especially like your (apparently recent) butterfly portfolio. I happened to implement something very close to that allocation myself (because I feel the PP has too much bonds and too little stocks for my particular situation).

I am leaning towards doing something such as this myself at this point, the question I have is how would you go about implementing this?

I am currently 100% stocks - around 40% CDN (about 20 Ind stocks), 30% Int (ETF) and 30% (ETF) US - should I just pull the band-aid off and do all of the necessary transactions at once? My concern is I will miss a fairly large recovery and only be 40% stocks at that point and that this is a knee jerk reaction.

Although I am more sure I have learned my true risk tolerance at this point which is not 100% stocks and I am glad it happened now and not in a few years when I'll have way more invested, I am just wondering how best to implement at this point.

This is sentiment is exactly why almost  investors underperform the market.  If you think you were too aggressive in your risk tolerance, this is a common thing.  The market may go way down from here of course, but your entire investment was predicated on the belief that it will eventually go back up.

I would recommend taking your lumps with this market cycle and decreasing your equity exposure next time we reach a new high (which could be years from now of course.)


Yea, that was my initial thought - I stopped investing my cash from savings about 4-5 months ago when it became clear to me my asset mix was no longer suitable for me.

I'm thinking in the mean time I will start adding any future investments to begin slowly achieving the desired mix though.

milesdividendmd

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #27 on: September 28, 2015, 03:37:11 PM »
Nothing wrong with that approach.

k9

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #28 on: September 30, 2015, 02:49:38 PM »
I agree Tyler's site is great. Lots of great blog posts and a bunch of very useful tools. Tyler, I especially like your (apparently recent) butterfly portfolio. I happened to implement something very close to that allocation myself (because I feel the PP has too much bonds and too little stocks for my particular situation).

I am leaning towards doing something such as this myself at this point, the question I have is how would you go about implementing this?

I am currently 100% stocks - around 40% CDN (about 20 Ind stocks), 30% Int (ETF) and 30% (ETF) US - should I just pull the band-aid off and do all of the necessary transactions at once? My concern is I will miss a fairly large recovery and only be 40% stocks at that point and that this is a knee jerk reaction.

Although I am more sure I have learned my true risk tolerance at this point which is not 100% stocks and I am glad it happened now and not in a few years when I'll have way more invested, I am just wondering how best to implement at this point.
Strong gyrations from one asset allocation to another is probably a bad idea. But, if you feel bad about your AA after a small bear market, a 100% stock AA does certainly not feet your temperament. Once you find one that fits you well (Tyler's website is great for that, I think), switch to it progressively.

Easye418

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Re: Are stock indexes a good investment?
« Reply #29 on: September 30, 2015, 09:03:25 PM »
Yes. I'm 100% Stock. (20% Int).  Most Vanguard Admiral.