By Trent Derrick, CMT®
With all the market volatility of the past year, chances are you have either considered or actually attempted to time the market to avoid a loss. It’s human nature to try to predict market trends and capitalize on them. But the truth is that trying to time the market hardly ever works, and there are more productive ways to approach investment management.
Let’s look at why timing the market doesn’t work well, and what to do instead.
Market Timing Is Consistently Inconsistent
Timing the market usually involves attempting to “buy low and sell high” by analyzing current market trends for inefficiencies or volatility indicators. This strategy may work sometimes, but it is far from perfect. Not only do you have to guess when to buy in, but you then have to guess when to sell. That means for every gain, you have to be right twice to make timing the market worth it. Unfortunately, market bottoms can only be truly spotted in hindsight, and timing the market is often closer to playing the lottery than it is to an educated guess.
Timing the Market Is Expensive
Timing the market can also be expensive. Depending on your account type, asset class, and where you are executing your trades, you will likely be charged for every purchase and sale you make, and that’s on top of any taxes owed on gains. The more frequently you trade, the higher your transaction costs will be.
If you held the assets for less than a year, your gain will be taxed as ordinary income at your marginal tax rate, which can be as high as 37% for high-income earners. Long-term gains are taxed at a preferential rate. Regardless of your tax rate, your market timing must still be right more often than not just to cover the cost of your guess.
You Will Miss Out on Compound Growth & Market Rebounds
A recent study by Schwab Center for Financial Research found that bad market timing is worse than investing immediately, regardless of the market conditions at the time of investing. This indicates that even in market downturns, or just before a downturn, investors who invest immediately and remain invested will be better off than those who stay on the sidelines or attempt to time the market.
Take a look at Schwab’s graph below, which shows just how much more a fully invested portfolio earns over the course of 19 years. It would earn approximately $14,000 more in growth than a portfolio with bad market timing, and $91,000 more than a portfolio that stays in cash. The only investor who performs better is the one with perfect timing—but since we already know that perfect timing is impossible, investing immediately is the next best strategy.
What’s more, over time that extra $14,000 or $91,000 will have the opportunity to grow even more thanks to compounded interest. Even if the market fluctuates in the short term, the odds are high that a solid investment strategy will grow over time.
Another graph by Hartford Funds and Morningstar shows what happens if you miss the best days in the market, which often closely follow a major downturn and can be just as difficult to predict. An investor who missed the 10 best days in the market between 1992 and 2021 would have earned 54% less than someone who was fully invested during the same time period.
Someone who missed the 30 best market days would have earned a whopping $172,000 (83%) less than their fully invested counterpart. The research is based on a $10,000 initial investment, but these numbers would be much more dramatic if you were dealing with a $100,000 or even a $1,000,000 portfolio.
The time value of money tells us that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow, and this is certainly the case when it comes to investing. The longer you are invested, the more likely you are to ride out the day-to-day market fluctuations and experience growth instead.
Are You Missing Out on Opportunities for Growth?
Don’t cheat yourself out of opportunities for growth by prematurely timing the market. Instead, approach investment management as just one piece of your overall financial picture, and work with an advisor who understands your short- and long-term goals.
As a comprehensive financial advisor, I take pride in helping my clients make the most out of their portfolios and feel confident in their long-term financial decisions. To learn more about how I can help you navigate market volatility and questions about market timing, book a consultation with me here or email me at email@example.com.
Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.
Trent Derrick is a financial advisor and Chief Market Technician at Legacy Wealth Management. Trent is passionate about the value small businesses bring to their communities and specializes in serving small business owners by providing seamless financial advisory services tailored to their financial needs, including tax planning, cash flow management, retirement planning, and bookkeeping. Trent has a bachelor’s degree from the College of Charleston and studied economics at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. He is a Chartered Market Technician® (CMT®) professional. Trent serves as a guest lecturer for the College of Charleston’s MBA program and acts as chairman of the Market Technician Association’s Charleston chapter. When he’s not working, Trent, a proud Eagle Scout, enjoys volunteering with the Charleston Animal Shelter’s outreach program. Trent and his wife love to cook international cuisines and host dinner parties with their friends. To learn more about Trent, connect with him on LinkedIn.