Wednesday, December 25, 2019

It's What You Buy and When You Buy (and sell) It

Stock pickers, fund managers, hedge specialists, and financial pundits will be singing the praises of the stock market for 2019, as it will go down in history as one of the better years in terms of percentage gains on the national indices.

Currently, as everybody takes a say off for Christmas, the S&P 500 is up 28.58% on the year, closing in on its best performance sine 2013 (29.60%). This is according to an interactive chart from, which shows the annual return on the S&P from 1927 to the present.

While annual returns provide a positive longterm perspective, what happens in real life is more nuanced. Not everybody buys in on January 1 and sells on December 31. Not only would that be foolish from a tax standpoint, i's hardly practical. Securities are bought and sold at varying times of the year. The trick is to time purchases and sales for maximum effect.

What the referenced chart of annual returns doesn't show, is, taking the time period from September, 2018 to the present day, the return is smaller. Those with functioning memories will recall that stocks tumbled in October and December of last year, but staged a mighty comeback in 2019. On September 17, 2018, the S&P closed at 2.929.67. On Tuesday, it stood at 3,223.38. For those who bought at that September 17 high, that comes out as a gain of 10.02% to today. Not bad, but hardly the gaudy percentage for the shorter duration.

This is not to suggest anything: that stocks are overpriced, or that a pullback is imminent, or anything, other than to illustrate that buying at the proper time results in higher returns. It also points up the fact that while the S&P, Dow and NASDAQ are all making new all-time highs presently, they were also doing so last year (and for many years before that). There's no doubt that stocks have been the all-star investments not only of the past decade, but for many decades before, and they probably will continue to be so into the future.

For holders of stocks or owners of pension funds, college funds, index funds, 401k funds, or mutual funds, this portends to be a Merry Christmas, especially if one followed the most simple constructive advice of investing: buy low, sell high.

As it should be, and to all a good night.

At the Close, Tuesday, December 24, 2019:
Dow Jones Industrial Average: 28,515.45, -36.08 (-0.13%)
NASDAQ: 8,952.88, +7.24 (+0.08%)
S&P 500: 3,223.38, -0.63 (-0.02%)
NYSE Composite: 13,895.14, -4.85 (-0.03%)

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