Fortune Teller

Thoughts on Time Picking

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Fortune Teller

There seems to be universal agreement among investment experts that time picking is futile. Even so, it is not unusual for these same experts to actively tout its merits. Wall Street brokerage firms publish stock picking, time picking, money manager picking, and style picking studies to encourage existing and potential clients to change their investment strategies in midstream, which dumps more sales commissions into the pockets of these firms.

Time pickers usually charge clients an annual fee of two to three percent of the value of their investment portfolios. These timers are nothing more than highly paid gamblers who bet with your money. Some investors who time markets invest in market timing mutual funds, which often produce high trading costs. The funds also generate short-term taxable capital gains due to the liquidation of fund stock positions to pay off departing shareholders. Investors can avoid cost-generating, tax-creating moves made by managers and shareholders of active mutual funds by remaining fully invested in index funds at all times, especially with mutual fund companies that restrict their shareholders to those who understand how the market works. Dimensional Fund Advisors is a firm that restricts access to their funds. Only large institutional investors and clients of pre-approved investment advisors are allowed to invest in the funds. You might call it a group of really smart investors.

In addition, when an investor moves in and out of investments, they create the possibility of paying a huge portion of their gains in taxes. For short-term gains, federal and state taxes can approach 50% in some states. Even when time pickers are lucky enough to win, the taxes significantly reduce their return.

The bottom line is this: the right time to be in the market is when an investor has money, and the right time to get out of the market is when an investor needs the money. The longer an investor can stay invested, the better. The investor who stays fully invested throughout the market swings experiences gains about two-thirds of the time. There is no reason to believe that professional market timers can correctly guess every two out of three favorable market periods over the long run.

Even though a buy-and-hold investor most likely experiences losses about one out of every three years over the long run, the losses of these fewer down years are far outweighed by the gains of the more numerous up years. From January 1, 1928 to October 31, 2013, the S&P 500 had an annualized return of 9.73% with a range of plus or minus 19.13% two thirds of the time. This would have grown $1,000 to $2,882,134.83 over that 85 years and 10 months.

An investor who remains fully invested in down markets enjoys other advantages. The investor who remains in the market avoids exiting in a down market, thus avoiding locking in losses on stock mutual fund shares. Hefty trading commissions or taxes on any realized capital gains are also deflected. An investor can also benefit by never again paying high market timing advisory fees.

Investors build real wealth only by maintaining a constant presence in the asset classes in which they are invested during the good times and the bad times. This not only gives long-term investors an immediate advantage each time the market goes back up after it has declined, it also allows them to participate in the market's climb in value over the long run. This makes them better stock pickers than the professionals who dart in and out of markets in unattainable attempts to anticipate where they will be heading in the future.

In summary, the goal of a time picker (also referred to as a market timer) is to obtain the upswings of the market and avoid the downswings. In other words, the goal is to get return without risk. Risk is the source of returns; therefore, investors must subject their capital to risk. It is only a question of how much risk is right for each investor.

Time picking is beneficial only to financial firms who make money trading shares and selling advice. The firms who charge top dollar for the best advice available in the world ironically end up with sub-market returns. Market strategists, even those considered successful have fallen away from the limelight. History has shown that market strategists, or any financial analysts for that matter, are right unless they are proven to be wrong. The industry has created a world in which complicated ratios and mathematical formulas are paraded in front of the public in hopes of impressing investors with superior knowledge and skills. This elevates the analysts in the public’s eye and ultimately influences investors’ decisions on which firm to choose to handle their investments.

The stock market has experienced a healthy upward climb in value over the long run, which is precisely what makes time picking so unnecessary. The best way for an investor to maximize advantage of these returns is to remain fully invested at all times, holding a globally diversified portfolio of index funds.

In Burton Malkiel's book, A Random Walk Down Wall Street, John C. Bogle is quoted as saying, "In 30 years in this business, I do not know anybody who has done it successfully and consistently, nor anybody who knows anybody who has done it successfully and consistently. Indeed, my impression is that trying to do market timing is likely not only not to add value to your investment program, but to be counterproductive."

In the end, time pickers have two critical decisions to make: when to get in the market and when to get out. The data is now conclusive that there is no reliable timing method to help with either decision. It is time, not timing, that determines an investor's return.