The classic “timing vs. time in” debate

timing Quite frequently I get asked how I think about potentially investing at the top of the market with an inevitable market crash (ala GFC) around the corner. The one thing I agree with is that a market crash is inevitable, but that’s about it. I didn’t bother calculating historically how many all-time highs the market achieved as the point would be moot given we know how the market has evolved and grown in the long-term.

It’s true that if you did invest at the peak of the market, it’s possible you’ll suffer poor returns for a significant period of time. For example, if you invested $1000 in the market index in 1929, you would not have broken-even until 1955. Timing the market is difficult, and I believe it can be quite costly. So how do you mitigate such a scenario? The benefit of asset allocation and stock diversification is well preached, but often forgotten is the element of time diversification. There is no better example of time diversification than with a pure, disciplined dollar cost averaging strategy – that is, you continuously invest a fixed sum each month into the market, whether it goes up or down.

So to bring the point home, let’s assume our investment journey began in January 2007 – a full 18 months before the GFC went into full force. To put some context around January 2007:

  • S&P500 was up a healthy 13.6% in 2006 and trading at 15x forward P/E
  • GDP came in at 2.7% growth for the full year of 2006
  • US unemployment rate was 4.60% as a 1 Jan 2007

Here’s the chart of what a dollar cost averaging strategy on a range of stocks (from high growth to defensive staples) would yield over the next 5 years (can you spot the GFC?). As a comparison point, I’ve overlayed cash invested at 2%p.a. interest compounding monthly.

DCA chart.JPG

 

The key takeaways are:

  1. If you have the luxury of investing with a long-term horizon, use it
  2. If you can’t predict the next crash then you should time-diversify with a consistent, disciplined approach
  3. Buying quality companies with sound future prospects is more important than picking the bottom

 

M&M update (Jan 2018)

1200px-Plain-M&Ms-Pile

To us M&M’s are a real pain in the butt – and we are referring to macro & market questions not the chocolate snacks leading to adorable love handles. We get asked M&M questions all the time but have never come across a coherent framework that would really allow anybody to make reliable predictions. Here are a couple of conclusions that we are quite certain of when it comes to M&M forecasts. First, they have as much predictive power as a coin toss. Second, they do not make a material difference to long-term, secular investment themes that we are focused on. Finally, most investors, i.e. Mr Market, still pay attention.

The latter fact should not even come as surprise when we remind ourselves that Mr Market is not an imaginary higher being but humans (mostly institutional investors) like you and me, who have to answer to their bosses. And many bosses like to ask questions that come up on the short-term horizon… impact of Brexit… timing of QE tapering and rate increases… Trump… NAFTA and the wall… China hard-landing. We don’t agree that time is well spent trying to quantify the short-term impact of those events, but we can relate to the dilemma faced by all the market lemmings out there.

Hence a honest disclaimer: By disregarding our M&M updates, you will not miss out on any useful insights for being a high-conviction, long-term investor. But we’ll nevertheless put in some work to provide you with our thoughts on an ongoing basis. Continue reading “M&M update (Jan 2018)”