If you want to know about What Are Normal Stock Returns and interested in investing in Normal stocks Returns and bonds. You have surely wondered how your portfolio is doing? How you should expect it to do going forward? Performance is relative. We would evaluate an active fund manager against an index to see if they are delivering better returns than passively holding the market
What Are Normal Stock Returns?
They rarely do. If you are investing in the index through a low-cost index fund you would expect to get the market’s return net of fees. That is easy to say but a bit harder to understand. What the market return has been in the past. What we should expect it to be going forward, are two of the most important questions in investing. I’m Todd, In this content, I’m going to tell you about past and expected financial market returns.
As investors, we care about market returns because they are one of the big unknowns in planning for the future. How much you need to save, when you can retire, and how much you can spend in retirement are all heavily affected by the real rate of return on your investments – real meaning after inflation. The importance of stock returns makes them a focal point for investors and leaves many people wondering both how their returns have been, and what they should expect them to be in the future. We know little about the future but in 2018.
We are blessed with easy access to the data that allows us to understand the past. The Credit Suisse Global Investment Returns Yearbook gives us data on stock returns going back 118 years, to 1900. It is updated every year. This study includes real returns for 23 countries, expressed in US dollars. For the full period, real equity returns for the global portfolio were 5.2%. That’s 5.2% in excess of inflation. This number includes total losses for Russia in 1917, and for China in 1949. After going to zero, both of those countries’ return series re-enter the data set in the 1990s. So going back as far as we have reliable data, even including two stock markets going completely to zero, real returns have been 5.2% on average per year since 1900.
Now that we know that stocks globally have beaten inflation by 5.2% per year. We might have a better lens to assess the returns that we get in a given year. We might also be armed to develop expectations about the future. The challenge is that while those figures may be accurate over very long periods of time, they tell us nearly nothing about what to expect in any given year. Even a 10-year period is not sufficient to be sure that you will get returns that resemble the long-term averages. For example, we have talked about the average risk premium for stocks is a little over 4% over the long-term. If we look at rolling 10-year periods the story is much different. In the US, stocks have underperformed treasury bills 15% of the time over 10 year periods going back to 1926.
The same is true for Canadian stocks going back to 1970. 10 years is not a long time in stock market history, but it is a long time for an individual to wait for positive risk-adjusted-performance. Typically, investors are myopic, likely evaluating their returns at least annually, and probably more frequently, despite having a longer-term goal. The dispersion of stock returns in any given single year period is all over the map. I don’t have data going back to 1900, but I do have data going back to 1970 for Canadian, International, and US stock market indexes. In those 47 years the compound average returns, after Canadian inflation, and in Canadian dollars, were 5.22% for the S&P/TSX Composite, 5.26% for the MSCI EAFE, and 6.96% for the S&P 500. Pretty close to the long-term global average for global returns. While that finding is interesting, it does almost nothing to tell us what a normal return might be in a given year.
In all three markets, the average return was earned in exactly 0 of the 47 years in the sample. If we expand the range of what we want to call normal real returns to between 3% and 10%, Canada had 11 years in that range, the US had 6, and International markets had 7. Think about that. The majority of annual real returns for an equity investor since 1970 have been less than 3% or greater than 10%. Expanding the range to between -8% and 15% ends up encompassing about half of the annual returns for each market. That means that the other half were either very positive or very negative years.
Based on that it is safe to say that what we might want to refer to as an extreme return, that is below -8% and above 15% should be considered very normal. As an investor, this makes it important to do a few things. Have at least somewhat of a grasp of the historical data: Normal returns are random and extreme, and that is what we should be prepared to expect in any given year.
Choose an asset allocation that you can live within a worst-case scenario, keeping in mind that the worst-case scenario may well be worse than anything that we have seen in our lifetimes. Most important, stay invested regardless of how bad things look: even if the market is crashing, there is no reason to believe that trying to avoid the downside will make you better off. On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence that trying to avoid the downside will make you worse off. “Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections than has been lost in corrections themselves”. We should now have an understanding of the magnitude and dispersion of historical returns, and the understanding that normal market returns are hard to define.
It is probably not reasonable to have expectations for any given year, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t attempt to build expectations about the future. Expectations about the future are an important part of the investing process. We have discussed long-term risk premiums.
Long-term risk Prevention And financial planning
If anything, it might be reasonable to believe that long-term risk premiums will persist in some form, at least on a relative basis, so things like stocks beating bonds. We also know that there is information on prices. Research has shown that there is a relationship between current valuations and future returns, where high valuations might mean lower future returns.
In a 2016 white paper titled Great Expectations, my PWL Capital colleagues explained the process that PWL uses to estimate future returns for financial planning purposes. First, it is necessary to estimate inflation, which can be done using the difference in yield between a 30-year government bond and a 30-year real return government bond. That figure currently comes in at 1.7%. Next, we look at the equilibrium cost of capital, which is the 50-year historical real return of each asset class. This gives us an idea of the historical equity risk premium, but that figure may not be overly useful in estimating the future.
In a 2017 paper, one of my friends explained that “Equity risk premiums can change quickly and by large amounts even in mature equity markets. Consequently, I have forsaken my practice of staying with a fixed equity risk premium for mature markets. I now vary it year to year, and even on an intra-year basis, if conditions warrant.” As we might expect, relying on historical returns is not a great way to think about the future. Current valuations are important to future returns. To remedy this, we use a second estimate derived from current yields based on the Shiller CAPE, which is the current price over 10-year trailing earnings, adjusted for inflation. If valuations are high, the CAPE will result in lower expectations for the future. If they are low they will increase our expectations. This method results in a much more volatile estimate for future returns. These two methods of estimating expected returns each have shortcomings, but they do complement each other well. There is evidence that using current valuations gives a more reliable estimate, but it also changes much more rapidly than the long-term risk premium. Relying solely on valuations to estimate future returns would mean a moving target in terms of how much you need to be saving to reach a financial goal, or how much income you can sustainably draw from your portfolio in retirement.
Taking an average of these two estimates results in a figure that reflects current conditions, but is also more stable due to the inclusion of the 50-year risk premium. For a full walkthrough of how to estimate future returns, I have linked Raymond and Dan’s paper in the notes. Returns in any given year are unlikely to reflect anything that you might expect, but having expectations is a very important part of investing.
Taking care to make a reasonable estimate for future returns should be considered one of the most important parts of building a financial plan, second only to completely ignoring those estimates when evaluating returns over relatively short periods. This is Common Sense Investing.