Nine Reasons Why Stock Valuations Make a BIG Difference in the Long Run

Beyond Buy-and-Hold #58

The only difference between Buy-and-Holders and Valuation-Informed Indexers is that Buy-and-Holders say that there is no need to engage in market timing and Valuation-Informed Indexers say that those who fail to engage in long-term timing will sooner or later see their risk profiles go wildly out of whack (because the riskiness of stocks changes with changes in valuation levels). Is it really that big a deal?

This article sets forth nine reasons why I think it is a big deal.

1) Those who engage in long-term timing obtain far higher returns.

The most likely annualized 10-year return for stocks when selling sat the price that applied in 2000 is a negative 1 percent real. IBonds were available at the time paying a return of 4 percent real. Earning 5 percentage points less on your retirement money each year for 10 years running makes a big difference.

2) The return differential compounds over time.

The difference in return is actually the small thing in dollars-and-cents terms. The compounding returns phenomenon causes that differential to grow dramatically over the years. I have runs comparisons in which the Valuation-Informed Indexing portfolio grows to more than double the size of the Buy-and-Hold portfolio in 30 years.

3) Taking valuations into consideration reduces the risk of stock investing by 80 percent.

Stocks have never performed poorly for the long-term investor starting from a time of low or moderate prices. Stocks have never performed well for the long-term investor starting from a time of super-high prices. The risk of stock investing is concentrated. It kills those who invest heavily in stocks at times of high prices. It rarely has much effect on those willing to lower their stock allocations at times when prices go off the rails.

4) Buy-and-Hold causes economic crises.

It?s not just that Buy-and-Holders see much of their accumulated savings of a lifetime disappear in stock crashes. Those stock crashes bring on economic crises that cause the value of their houses to crash and that threaten to cause them to suffer job losses. When the Buy-and-Hold bubble bursts, Buy-and-Holders often need to endure multiple financial hits all at the same time.

5) It?s impossible for Buy-and-Holders to plan their financial affairs effectively.

Stocks were priced at three times fair value in 2000. That means that the investor with a portfolio nominally priced at $300,000 possessed $100,000 of lasting wealth. Valuation-Informed Indexers discount their portfolios to reflect their true value. Buy-and-Holders do not. So Buy-and-Holders had no way of knowing whether they really could afford to buy bigger houses or newer cars or to go on longer vacations.

6) Buy-and-Holders don?t know where the market or the economy is headed.

All the experts I know who advocate valuation-informed investing strategies predicted the 2008 stock crash years in advance. Buy-and-Holders were surprised.

7) Valuation-Informed Indexers enjoy emotional calm.

When you know where things are headed, you are able to prepare yourself for future twists and turns. The 2008 crash did not worry me personally because I was going with a zero stock allocation at the time (I was of course concerned about the damage that was being done to our economic system). There is a benefit to not experiencing feelings of regret and confusion and panic.

8 ) Valuation-Informed Indexers are able to lock in good returns from non-stock asset classes when they become available.

IBonds were paying 4 percent real in 2000. Valuation-Informed Indexers took advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to obtain a solid long-term return from a risk-free asset class. Buy-and-Holders took a pass because they didn?t see the need to invest in a non-stock asset class. After the crash, many looked into other asset classes but found that the super returns available in earlier days no longer applied.

9) Valuation-Informed Indexers are better positioned to invest heavily in stocks when they are available at good prices.

The market provides most of its returns in those time-periods following the years in which stocks are selling at low prices. The next stock crash will provide an opportunity to buy stocks at prices at which they are likely to provide an annualized 10-year return of 15 percent real or more. Investors who have not suffered losses from 2000 forward will have more funds to invest in stocks at those prices and will feel better emotionally suited to invest in stocks as well.

Rob Bennett writes about how much to save at his web site. Rob?s bio is here.


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( Photo from Flickr by Helico )

9 Responses to Nine Reasons Why Stock Valuations Make a BIG Difference in the Long Run

  1. Hi Rob–Regarding #6, “Buy-and-Holders don?t know where the market or the economy is headed”–this is really the foundation of buy-and-hold. It’s where the rose colored glasses that keep the whole strategy afloat come into play. Without those glasses, it isn’t even a strategy. It basically ignores long term direction!

    Knowing where the market or the economy are headed isn’t a concern because the strategy is always to be in the market no matter what. Things will always be better in the future–that’s the angle. The ups and downs of the next few months or years don’t matter, hold onto your positions, add to them by dollar cost averaging, and in the end it will all come up in your favor.

    That’s a very simple, highly user-friendly directive, and it’s the reason why buy-and-hold endures. It’s a road to wealth without having to do anything or to make critical decisions. And who doesn’t want that?

    The one fly in the oinment…it doesn’t work!

  2. It’s a half-truth.

    Stocks really do always do well after 30 years. But when you buy at the sorts of prices that have applied from 1996 forward, you are virtually certain to be earning very low or even negative returns for 20 years or more. Following a Buy-and-Hold strategy will delay your retirement by many years, in some cases by decades. It’s a marketing gimmick.

    We should be telling people the realities. Stocks are sometimes an awesome deal, sometimes a very good deal, and sometimes an absolutely horrible deal. It depends on the price you pay. There is no asset class on the face of Planet Earth that offers a good deal at any possible price. It is a logical impossibility that there ever could be one.


  3. Insightful reasons. I really liked your point about buy and holders getting surprised and getting hit from different economic angles at the same time. Most buy and holders don’t have a clue and stick their heads in the sand. This worked decades ago, but having gone through two bubbles recently, it’s no longer effective. Be informed, adapt to the times, and retire comfortably!

  4. Thanks for your kind words, Buck.

    I would add that it is the promotion of Buy-and-Hold that caused those bubbles. The only way to stop a bubble is for investors to lower their stock allocations once prices reach dangerous levels. Buy-and-Holders are told that there is no need to do so! Telling investors that there is no need to consider price when setting their stock allocations is like taking the brakes off a race car. It’s asking for trouble.

    I don’t entirely agree that Buy-and-Holders don’t have a clue. My experience is that lots of Buy-and-Holders feel worried about the strategy. The problem is that they rarely see the dangers of this strategy discussed (it brings in hundreds of millions to The Stock-Selling Industry). Humans are social creatures. When we don’t hear anyone telling the other side of the story, we assume that there is no other side. I think that those of us who are aware of the dangers of Buy-and-Hold need to make more of an effort to get the word out to other investors about how poorly it has performed for the long-term investor throughout the entire history of stock investing.


  5. You’re right. I was being overly dramatic about buy and holders not having a clue. Good point about not knowing the other side of the story. So what you’re proposing is a more proactive asset allocation approach? Easier said than done. I think a lot of people like buy and hold because it worked well before, it’s easy, you can set it and forget it, low stress due to being oblivious, and people don’t like to change. Guess it’s up to us to spread the word that there are alternatives!

  6. Guess it?s up to us to spread the word that there are alternatives!


    I’ve been talking to people about this stuff on the internet for nine years now, Buck. Lots of people get it. Thousands! The trouble is — they are afraid to speak up.

    The majority follows some version of Buy-and-Hold. That’s always true when prices are high. By definition. If people were selling in response to high prices, prices wouldn’t still be high. So when valuations are most important, most people don’t see it and those who do are taking a little bit of a risk in speaking up.

    Too bad, you know? That’s the job. That’s my take.

    If you want to help people invest effectively, you need to be willing to help them with valuations/emotions. That means letting them know when they get caught up in Get RIch Quick/Buy-and-Hold thinking. Lots of people are not willing to do this because it’s easier to make a buck playing to people’s emotional weaknesses. Fine. It’s a free country. But anyone who fails to point out the dangers of Buy-and-Hold has a lot of nerve referring to himself as an expert. Huh? Buy-and-Hold never works in the long term. So the only thing that people who advocate Buy-and-Hold are truly expert in is in selling junk, so far as I can tell.

    Buy-and-Hold is not simple. It always causes a wipeout sooner or later. And suffering a wipeout of one’s accumulated wealth of a lifetime causes a lot of stress. Feeling huge amounts of stress complicates life. Buy-and-Hold is the most complex approach imaginable. It is the emotions that cause complexity. And the idea that there is no need to consider price when buying stocks is the most emotional “idea” anyone in this field ever came up with.

    Anyway, that’s my rant. I love the idea of using the academic research as a guide and the Buy-and-Holders push that all the time. I love them for that. What I find hard to swallow is the way they ignore the 30 years of research showing that failing to take valuations into account when setting your stock allocation is the worst mistake you can make. I think we should be telling people always to consider price, when buying stocks or anything else. I like to think that I am the most severe critic of Buy-and-Hold alive on Planet Earth today.

    Yowsa! You got me going there, Buck!


  7. Rob and Buck–I think you’re both dancing around the fact that buy-and-hold has really become the investor’s default strategy setting. Most people don’t really have a deep understanding of how the stock market works, but we have warm memories from the 80s and 90s (and the 50s and 60s for older folks) when a person with little or no market sense could dump a bunch of money into the market, wait a few years and watch their money double or even triple. In that kind of market, everyone looks smarter than they really are–and that makes us feel REALLY good!

    That’s really how the real estate market worked at the very same time, and people are similarly addicted to buy-and-hold there. Like notions of life being the house in the suburbs with the white picket fence, people don’t let go of such notions easily, even if they aren’t true anymore. That’s really the obstacle here.

    I think the stock selling industry is aware both that the average investor has little investment knowledge, and that he or she also craves the supposed success, simplicity and ego boost of yesterday. That’s a potent marketing combination, but as you’ve said in the past Rob, investing is mostly about emotion.

    Is it even possible to make an intellectual argument against that???

  8. Excellent article, found a lot of useful information. I’ve only recently started to invest and grateful for any help.

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