How to damage your wealth in three easy steps! – Part 1

Part 1 – Market Timing

Each and every year, academic studies are conducted to compare the performance and returns achieved by ‘actively managed’ and ‘passive’ funds. Each and every year the studies confirm that ‘active’ managers rarely out-perform their ‘passive’ counterparts.

An active fund manager purchases specific stocks in the belief that, by selectively buying within the market, it is possible to out-perform the market as a whole.

By contrast, passive managers believe that it is impossible to predict which individual stocks or section of the market will perform better than others. Passive managers will therefore aim to provide market rates of return for their respective asset class.

At BRB Wealth Management, we firmly believe passive investment to be the cheaper, more systematic and more disciplined manner in which to invest.

There are three main ways in which an adviser and/or fund manager can seek to add value on an ‘active’ basis.

– Market timing
– Tactical asset allocation
– Stock selection

This article is going to concentrate on market timing and the next two articles in this series will deal with the two remaining topics.

‘To time or not to time?’ – That is the question

Some financial advisers will contact their clients from time to time in order to advise that, in their opinion, markets are about to fall and therefore their clients should encash their investments and switch into cash deposits or other secure investments.

The adviser will then contact their clients again when they feel that it is the right time to get back into the market and benefit from the recovery that they are predicting.

Whilst this may appear to be a logical way to invest money, the odds of getting this right on a consistent basis are very long.

What is absolutely clear is that the economy is a complex system made up of many variable factors. Even at times of significant market optimism or pessimism, it is difficult (if not impossible) to predict the future direction of a market with any accuracy or consistency. A market ‘bubble’ can last for many years before prices collapse and, likewise, a ‘crash’ can persist for an extended period.

The following chart illustrates the impact of missing the best days in the UK stock market due to being ‘out of the market’ as part of a market timing strategy.

Performance of the FTSE All-Share Index
January 1986–December 2010

market timing

The harsh reality illustrated by the above chart does not stop speculators and other traders from trying to predict the future. On paper, market timing offers a seductive prospect, i.e. by predicting market direction ahead of time, a trader might capture only the best performing days and avoid the worst.

This chart tells the other side of that story. Large gains may come in quick, unpredictable surges. A trader who misinterprets events may leave the market at the wrong time. Missing only a small fraction of days, especially the best days, can defeat a market timer’s strategy.

For example, over a 25 year period (1986 to 2010), missing the best 25 trading days would have cut the FTSE All Shares annualised compound return from 10.18% to 4.75%.

Trying to forecast which days or weeks will yield good or bad returns is a guessing game that can prove costly for investors.

At BRB Wealth Management we seek to protect you from the dangers of market timing by ensuring that you have a sensible long term strategy that is appropriate for your tolerance to investment risk and will provide you with market rates of return.

The majority of investors adopting an ‘active’ investment strategy do not achieve market rates of return and we will illustrate this point in part 3 of this series.

Should you have any queries regarding the information contained within this article, please do not hesitate to contact your BRB adviser.

Long-Term Govt. Bonds are the Citigroup World Government Bond Index UK 1-30+ Years, copyright 2009 by Citigroup.
This material has been distributed by Dimensional Fund Advisors Ltd which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results.