S&P 500
August 31, 1976 to December 13, 2016


U.S. stocks are at an all-time high.  With Donald Trump heading for the White House, we’re facing unpredictable times. Oh my goodness, just have a look at that chart. 

Since August 1976, the S&P 500 has gained 6,400 percent. You might consider selling.  But hear me out first.

I started to invest at a market peak.  It was 1989.  The S&P 500 had never been higher.  It had gained more than 30 percent that year.

If I had known that, I might have done something foolish.  Forecasters said stocks might jitter when U.S. troops invaded Panama. 

It was an unpredictable time. They said the same thing when the U.S. shot down two Libyan fighters over the Mediterranean Sea. 

It was an unpredictable time. Nobody told me that the massacre at The Tiananmen Square might hurt my portfolio. It was an unpredictable time. 

But no point in history has ever been predictable.

Stocks will crash.  Bonds will fall.  Stocks will rise.  Bonds will soar.  That’s what markets do.

Many pull out of the markets when fear and greed trip them up. 

Some sell after a strong market run or an Armageddon fear.

Others sell after a market dip.

But when it comes to investing, just cover your eyes and ears.  Someone investing $10,000 a year into an S&P 500 index fund from January 1989 to November 30, 2016 would have grown that money to $1.38 million–if they ignored market headlines.

I invested $3,000 in 1989.  I was nineteen.  I added money every month. I still do that today.

In 1991, stocks hit another all-time high.  In 1992, they went even higher.  In the 28 years that I’ve been investing, the S&P 500, including dividends, has hit all-time highs during 17 different calendar years. 

Y2K was an unpredictable time.  The financial crisis was an unpredictable time. 

Every year, in between, was an unpredictable time.  Memories are short.  Every year, somebody forecasts stock or bond market terror.  I wish you could see those headlines.

I’m now 46 years old.  Since 1970, U.S. stocks have hit all-time highs during 29 calendar years. 

But don’t worry about market peaks.  Even more important, don’t jump out of the market (or fail to get in) if you expect stocks to fall. 

Speculation will kick your butt.

Between 1963 and 1993 the stock market was open during 7,802 days.  University of Michigan Professor H. Nejat Seyhun found that during that period, 95 percent of the stock market’s gains came from just 90 of those 7,802 days.

That was pretty normal. The S&P 500 averaged 9.85 percent per year between January 1995 and December 31, 2014.  That would have turned $10,000 into $65,475. 

Investors who missed the best five stock market days would have averaged just 7.62 percent per year.  Instead of seeing their money grow to $65,475, they would have ended up with $43,435.

By missing the best 20 days, this money would have grown to just $20,360.  Investors unlucky enough to be out of the markets for the best 40 days would have lost money.  Their initial $10,000 would have shrunk to $9,143.

Could you hire someone to help you predict the best and worst days? 

Warren Buffett says no.  He says market forecasters exist to make fortune tellers look good.

A study by CXO Advisory echoes that as well. They collected 6,582 expert stock market forecasts for U.S. stocks between 2005 and 2012.  On average, a Golden Retriever might have beaten them.

Instead of speculating, investors should maintain a diversified portfolio of low cost index funds.  

It will rise.  It will fall.  But over your lifetime, the portfolio should excel if you can keep it invested.

And if you’re working, keep adding money.