Monday, December 20, 2010

Was it really a “lost decade” in the stock market?

Pathways Advisory Group, Inc.
Dustin Smith, CFP®

We attend a conference in Santa Cruz every August. The attendees are passionate about Financial Planning. The speakers are great. However, at this year’s gathering, one speaker (an Economist from San Francisco) used a common but extremely unpopular phrase. He referred to a chart of the S&P 500 as the “lost decade” for stock market returns. Immediately, as if he insulted each of our mothers, five to ten otherwise respectable financial planners blurted “not true”. Apparently, many of us had begrudged the reference privately. We were tired of it.

Was he correct? Was the S&P 500 flat for the last decade? Yes. From August 2001 through July 2010, the timing of the conference, the S&P 500 compounded at -0.76% per year. Then where did he go wrong? He referred to the S&P 500 as the “stock market”.

Modern Portfolio Theory has, for some time, detailed the benefits of global diversification and the small and value dimensions of stock returns. During the same ten year period, a simulated portfolio allocated 100% to stocks with exposure to international markets, small and value stocks and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) compounded at 7.08% per year.¹ Not exactly an exciting number but far from a “lost decade”.
Surely the portfolio mentioned above made tactical moves to outpace the S&P 500 by such a wide margin? Nope. The results were available through design, discipline and passive mutual funds, despite two bear markets (2000-2002 & 2007-2009).¹

Was the Economist referring to the actual decade? Perhaps. The S&P 500 lost an average of 0.95% per year from January 2000 through December 2009. However, the portfolio mentioned above compounded at 6.56% per year during this period.¹ Even if you cherry-pick the worst time period, the “lost decade” reference remains a misrepresentation.²
Thanks for listening. I feel much better!

¹ Simulated results are based on a 90% Stocks/10% Real Estate Portfolio using indexes and/or DFA mutual funds with annual rebalancing. Results do not include “management fees” nor do they suggest future results.

² The S&P 500 lost an average of 3% per year from April 2000 through March 2009 (the bottom). During this period the portfolio mentioned above compounded at 3.56% per year.¹