How much does the stock market return?

How much does the stock market return?

One of the fundamental ideas I try to promote here at Get Rich Slowly is your savings ought to be invested for long-term growth. You ought to use the magic of compounding to create a wealth snowball.

Naturally, you want put your money into an investment that offers a reasonable return and acceptable risk. But which investment is best? I believe — as do most financial experts — that you're most likely to achieve high returns by investing in the stock market.

But why do so many people favor the stock market? How much does the stock market actually return? Is it really better than investing in real estate? Or Bitcoin? Let's take a look.

How Much Does the Stock Market Return?

In Stocks for the Long Run, Jeremy Siegel analyzed the historical performance of several types of investments. Siegel’s research showed that for the period between 1926 and 2006 (when he wrote the book):

  • Stocks produced an average real return of 6.8%. “Real return” means return after inflation. Before factoring inflation, stocks returned about 10% annually.
  • Long-term government bonds yielded an average real return of 2.4%. Before adjusting for inflation, they had a return of about 5%.
  • Gold had a real return of 1.2%. “In the long run, gold offers investors protection against inflation,” writes Siegel, “but little else.”

My own calculations — and those of Consumer Reports magazine — show that real estate does worse than gold over the long term. (I come up with a real return of just under one percent.) Yes, you can make money with real estate investing, but it's far more complicated than just buying a home and expecting its value to soar. (It's important to note that returns on real estate are a contentious subject. This recent academic paper analyzing the rate of return on “almost everything” found that housing actually outperforms the stock market by a slight margin.)

Siegel found that stocks have been returning a long-term average of about seven percent for 200 years. If
you’d purchased one dollar of stocks in 1802, it would have grown to more than $750,000 in 2006. If you’d instead put a dollar into bonds, you’d have just $1,083. And if you’d put that money in gold? Well, it’d be worth almost two bucks — after inflation.

Siegel's findings aren't unique. In fact, every book on investing shows the same thing. Over the long term, the stock market produces an average annual return of about 10%.

Note: As much as I love Dave Ramsey's advice on getting out of debt, he's notorious for providing misinformation on investment returns. He argues that you can expect to earn 12% in the stock market. This makes a lot of people — including me — tense. You can't count on earning a 12% return from stocks. You're going to earn more like 7% after inflation, and I'd argue that in order to give yourself a margin of safety it's better to assume 5% instead.

Average Is Not Normal

Over the past 200 years, stocks have outperformed every other kind of investment. But before you rush out and sink your savings into the stock market, you need to understand a couple of things.

First up, it's important to grasp that average market performance is not normal.

In the short term, investment returns fluctuate. The price of a stock might be $90 per share one day and $85 per share the next. A week later, the price could vault to $120 per share. Bond prices fluctuate too, albeit more slowly. And yes, even the returns you earn on your savings account change with time.

Just a few years ago, high-interest savings accounts yielded five percent annually in the U.S.; today, the best accounts yield about one percent.

While it's true that stocks average a 10% annual return, it's rare that the stock market produces a return close to that average in any given year. Recent history is typical. The following table shows the annual return for the S&P 500 over the past twenty years (not including dividends):

[S&P 500 Annual Returns]

The S&P 500 earned an average annualized return of 7.19% for the twenty-year period ending in 2017. But in only one of those twenty years (2004) were stock market returns anywhere near the average for the entire time span. (Note: This twenty-year period has the lowest rate of return on record for the S&P 500.)

Short-term market movements aren’t an accurate indicator of long-term performance. (And make no mistake: One year is “short term” when it comes to investing.) What a stock or fund did last year doesn’t tell you much about what it’ll do during the next decade.

Because of their volatility, stocks outperform bonds during only 60% of one-year periods. But over ten-year periods, that number jumps to 80%. And over thirty years, stocks almost always win.

Stocks for the Long Run

The best way to build your wealth snowball is to invest in the stock market. Doing so is likely to offer you the highest rate of return on your money. And the best way to approach stock-market investing is to take the long view. Forget about what the market does today or tomorrow. Focus on the future.

When I began to turn my financial life around, I made a habit of reading books about money. The more I read, the clearer certain patterns became. I wrote about these patterns in my very first post about getting rich slowly.

I've continued to read personal finance books, including books about investing. And I've continued to detect recurring themes. One of the most prominent themes — present in most investing books and present in most conversations with real-life financial planners — is that, in the long term, stocks produce attractive returns. They may fluctuate in the short term, and may even decline by 50% in a single year, but historically, they yield an investment return of about 10%.

But I'm no financial expert. I'm just an average guy who is trying to build his wealth. Let's see what the actual experts have to say. In this post, I've included excerpts from four of my favorite books about investing.

From Yes, You Can…Achieve Financial Independence (2004)
This book by James Stowers contains some of the most complete information on investment returns that I've found. And Stowers presents it in interesting ways. Here's what he says about comparing the short term to the long term:

[A $10,000] investment made on 01 July 1932 would have realized, one year later, the worst one-year result out of 425 [periods tested]: minus 69%. Most people, if they had experienced those poor results, would have assumed that this was an indication of future performance and would have become discouraged. Many would have traded their investment back for dollars and tried to find another place to invest their money.

Had they had confidence in the long-term opportunities of the Dow and left their investment undisturbed for another 29 years (30 years total), it would have been worth $556,563. The original investment, which began with the worst one-year result, grew at an average annual compound rate of 14.34% (the best 30-year result). As you can see, it is unwise to assume that short-term investment results are an accurate indication of long-term performance.

The following charts indicate the probability of obtaining a certain return from a $10,000 one-time investment. The top line of each chart indicates the one-year probabilities. So, for example, there's an 55% chance that the S&P 500 Index will produce a 10% return over a one-year period. There's an 85% chance of obtaining that return over a decade. But, historically, there is a 100% chance of earning that return over a 30-year investment career. (Ignore “Fund A” — it's irrelevant to this discussion.)

These next three charts provide snapshots of 1-year, 15-year, and 30-year investments from January 1897 to December 2003. The “individual periods” have quarterly start dates. Each chart breaks returns into quartiles. Watch how the numbers move to the middle — at about 10%.

 

 

From Saving and Investing (2005)
Michael Fischer's slim volume remains one of the best and most under-rated finance books of the last few years. It's a shame it doesn't have a wider audience. Fortunately, Fischer's Saving and Investing channel on YouTube continues to grow. (1350+ subscribers now!) Here's his take on the impact of time on investment returns:


The impact of time (7:15)

 

From his book:

In order to capture positive long-term returns from a volatile asset like equities [stocks], it has been easier to predict the result when the asset is held for a long time. Over short time periods the returns are very difficult to predict, and jump around a lot. A longer time horizon significantly increases the likelihood of having a good result.

One implication of this is that when we invest in volatile assets like equities, our investment horizon should be longer to increase our chances of achieving a positive result.

Here are series of charts tracing the annualized return of the S&P 500 Index for a variety of time periods ending from 1939 to 2003. Notice how the one-year returns are all over the map. As the investment horizon increases, the returns become smoother.

financial chart
from Saving and Investing by Michael Fischer

 

financial chart
from Saving and Investing by Michael Fischer

 

financial chart
from Saving and Investing by Michael Fischer

 

financial chart
from Saving and Investing by Michael Fischer

 

financial chart
from Saving and Investing by Michael Fischer

 

financial chart
from Saving and Investing by Michael Fischer

From The Four Pillars of Investing (2002)
If I could recommend one book to those who want to learn about the stock market, I think it would be The Four Pillars of Investing. The author doesn't sugar-coat anything. As he describes the history of speculation, he explains that there's every possibility that the U.S. stock market's past performance could simply collapse in the future. All the same, he cannot offer a better long-term investment:

Short-term risk, occurring over periods of less than several years, is what we feel in our gut as we follow the market from day to day and month to month. It is what give investors sleepless nights. More importantly, it is what causes investors to bail out of stocks after a bad run, usually at the bottom. And yet, in the long-term, it is of trivial importance. After all, if you can obtain high long-term returns, what does it matter if you have lost and regained 50% or 80% of your principal along the way?

This, of course, is easier said than done. Even the most disciplined investors exited the markets in the 1930s, never to return…If you want to earn high returns, be prepared to suffer grievous losses from time to time. And if you want perfect safety, resign yourself to low returns…High investment returns cannot be earned without taking substantial risk. Safe investments produce low returns.

In this chart, Bernstein shows the 30-year annualized inflation-adjusted return on U.S. stocks.

financial chart
from The Four Pillars of Investing by William Bernstein

From The Random Walk Guide to Investing (2003)
Finally, financial guru Burton Malkiel also makes the case for stock-market investment. Like the others, he notes that the stock market can (and does) enter prolonged periods of declining value:

Common stocks have been the big winner, providing an average annual return of about 10 percent. This 10 percent return includes both the dividends and capital gains resulting from growth over time in corporate earnings and dividends. But these generous returns have been achieved at the expense of considerable annual volatility, which is a good indicator of risk.

In some years, stocks have lost more than a quarter of their value. And sometimes there have been three years in a row of negative returns, as was the case from 2000 to 2002. In fact, equity investors have suffered through several severe bear markets over the past fifty years. The chart below shows the magnitude of the declines as well as the number of months it took the stock market to recover.

financial chart
from The Random Walk Guide to Investing by Burton Malkiel

Later in the book, Malkiel writes:

It turns out that the longer you hold your stocks, the more you can reduce the risk you assume from investing in common stocks. The chart below makes the point convincingly. From 1950 through 2002, common stocks provided investors with an average annual return of a bit more than 10 percent…

Even during the worst 25-year period you would have earned a rate of return of almost 8 percent — a quite generous return and one that was larger than the long-run average return from relatively safe bonds. This is why stocks are a wholly appropriate medium for investing in long-term retirement funds.

financial chart
from The Random Walk Guide to Investing by Burton Malkiel

The Bottom Line

All of the books say the same thing: over the long term, stocks have returned an average of about 10% per year. Obviously, there's no guarantee that they'll continue to offer these sorts of returns, but there's no reason to believe that they won't, either.

Even after market crashes, I have confidence (some might call it “faith”) that we'll always see a regression toward the mean. That is, the returns will tend toward the historical norms to which we are accustomed. If you do not share this confidence (or “faith”), then I'd argue that your risk tolerance is too low, and you should consider other investments.

It's a stock-market crash at the back end of your investment life that will hurt you — if your asset allocation isn't appropriate for your age — not a crash at the front end. A crash at the front end has, historically, been a good thing. What does this mean? If you're in your twenties or thirties, the statistics would seem to indicate that your best bet right now is to buy into the stock market. That's what I intend to continue doing.

Don’t let wild market movements make you nervous. And don’t let them make you irrationally exuberant either. What your investments did this year is far less important than what they’ll do over the next decade (or two, or three). Don’t let one year panic you, and don’t chase after the latest hot investments. Stick to your long-term plan.

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Alberto
Alberto

I’m glad I’m beginning to invest money into the market then. However, would you recommend mutual funds then over buying individual stocks for getting 10%+ returns on investment?

AIRBORNE
AIRBORNE

Try index funds they have much lower fees than mutual funds. Somthing like an S&P500 index fund or like total market index fund like vanguard’s total market index fund.

(ETF) exchange traded funds.

Caleb
Caleb

As a 25 year old, the share market has looked more and more discouraging. I’ve been an advocate for real estate for the majority of my adult life. As both real estate and stock markets dip, I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to get into stocks now, than it is to get ahold of property. I can still invest a couple of hundred dollars in the stock market, while things look gloomy, but I need more capitol to get started in real estate.

Frugal Bachelor
Frugal Bachelor

Is there any reason why you’re cherry picking US stock market, and from a narrow time period? Look at Japan which from 1921 – 1996 (75 years), had -0.81% real capital appreciation. If the 10% is real, then shouldn’t be observed across different types of countries on the planet, in multiple scenarios? The fact that it hasn’t suggests to me that it is not sustainable. In fact, no market has ever had the type of growth the US has from 1897 – 2007 (not even the US prior to about 1900), which suggests that the US performance may be anomalous… Read more »

Neil
Neil

Great article JD and you hit the nail on the head. If you’re young, buy as much as you can now. The comment about ensuring your portofolio is appropriate for your life cycle is also very important. A stat I recently read indicated that equity markets had returned approximately 9.4% over the last 10 years (ending 2007), however the average equity investor only recieved 4.5%. The reason why? They tried to time the market and pulled out when things got rough, the result is sub-par performance. Time in the market, not timing the market is the key to successful long… Read more »

throughnothing
throughnothing

Tell the Japanese about that 10% return 100% of the time over 30 years. The Nikkei is ~8,000, and its been 19 years since it hit around 30,000. They have a lot of work to make up in the next 11 years, but we’ll see how it goes. It’s funny how similar what we are going through now is to what the japanese went through in the late 80’s, and yet they had one of the biggest savings surpluses in the world, and now we are the biggest debtor nation in the world. It will be interesting to see how… Read more »

Trevor
Trevor

Thanks for the post.

I have consistently urging the younger people to buy stock because I predict positive results in the future for them.

It’s a long term thing but it works.

JerichoHill
JerichoHill

@Frugal

Each economy is different. So we can’t compare say, the US with the Japanese economy, because the institutions, culture, etc, lead to a different game with different rules.

I’d find it hard to believe that a unsustainable bubble would last 100 years. I agree with JD, in that, if you are young right now, buy, baby, buy

Peter
Peter

One compelling argument I’ve heard (from The Long Emergency and other sources) is that the previous century of economic expansion was predicated on the availability of cheap oil. At some point (sooner or later) that era will end, and it’s difficult to envision how markets will function when it does. This isn’t the place to debate the effects of oil on the marketplace; however, it seems plausible to me that this “bubble” could be a product of the oil age, and is only sustainable within that context. Like you said, different economies have different rules; it’s possible that the rules… Read more »

Curt
Curt

But…. sometime history has little to do with the future and this time the dollar is over extended. The US has plundered the wealth of the world and the value of the dollar will drop to reflect our production. At that time, when the dollar loses 90% of its value, who cares if stock’s return 10%?

d^2
d^2

the wording is not just “consistently higher returns” — it’s “consistently higher returns than bond returns”. when you look at it this way, it could be that for the past X years, American investors have consistently mis-priced equity issues. we have undervalued the companies, and so they always outperform what our initial valuation of them is. if this is a “market out of equilibrium”, i’d say that everyone investing in index funds would be a good way to “correct” the equilibrium — therefore driving the rate of returns on stocks down to the rate on bonds. of course, this is… Read more »

Sam Ribnick
Sam Ribnick

Really stellar post! This collection of charts and graphs is the best I’ve ever seen for demonstrating the value of long-term investing. The message is clear – you may see some variability in the short term, but long term you are practically guaranteed a 10% return.

As a young investor, this gives me the confidence to keep putting my money into the S&P index (with Vanguard, of course!), even during this downturn.

Mike
Mike

JD, thank you for this post. Pictures go a long way toward helping people to understand and internalize the facts.

Also, I can’t help but shake my head at how some people can stare such a wide amount of data in the face and say “Not this time! This time will be different!”

From another equity zealot, great job. 🙂

Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
Kent @ The Financial Philosopher

It’s interesting, bordering on amusing, how many people act with certainty about what the future holds.

Humans are terrible at forecasting any event beyond the present moment, especially those events beyond absolute control.

JD’s observations are logical and prudent, primarily because they are absent of “prediction.”

“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” ~ Mark Twain

J.D.
J.D.

Let me be clear: I’m well aware that past performance is no guarantee of future results. There is a possibility that the stock market will continue dropping and never recover. However, I believe that’s a slim possibility. I also believe that the doomsayers come out during every recession. Don’t believe me? I just picked up a book the other day written during the late 1970s that could have been written by a modern-day prophet of doom. He was wrong then. I have to believe that his counterparts are wrong today. Again: I believe that the market will continue to follow… Read more »

Brian
Brian

Over the previous 100 years, our market has been largely based on the production of tangible goods, and a large workforce of median-income blue collar jobs. The next 100 years will be completely different in that respect. To say we know that 10% annualized returns will be there if we just stay invested is denying a little bit of reality. The game has changed dramatically, and we do not know what is coming. We could be staring down exactly what the Japanese are facing. We could be talking 15 years from now about that huge rise up to 14,000 that… Read more »

James
James

I am heavily in the market, but it is not a sure thing. We always see stock market facts from the 1930s to the present. It is a period where the gold standard was dropped, consumers were driven to negative saving, and corporations stretched into riskier and riskier investments to produce higher profits. Remember that even Rome fell, England was the super power in the world 100 years ago… and that with all our debt China makes our life possible. Most of all, remember that most of this data is produced by people that make money by having you invest… Read more »

the weakonomist
the weakonomist

This is a great all encompassing post on the virtues of stock investing. I couldn’t have done better in a book than what you did here. I’m linking back to this and saving myself the trouble of having to write about why one should invest in stocks.

matt @ Thrive
matt @ Thrive

Let me try to emphasize JD’s comment down here in another way: the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior UNLESS you have additional information that indicates otherwise. So basically, if you drop a rubber ball, it should go up and down the way it always has, unless you know something that makes this ball drop different from every other ball drop (it is cold, the ball is not actually rubber, etc.). If you think you have solid information that indicates this stock market drop is unlike every other one we’ve seen, then don’t invest. Otherwise, except that it… Read more »

Dustin Brown
Dustin Brown

I too am a proponent of the stock market, mostly because I want to believe that I can use it as a tool to make money over the long term. Still, I’m skeptical when people give me figures based on the returns of someone who started investing in 1897. I get it, the only concrete thing we have to go on is history, but this isn’t the Industrial Revolution, and the market is much more saturated now than it was then.

Scott NJ DAD
Scott NJ DAD

The charts shown aren’t really accurate. The periods chosen have a disconnect smack dab in the middle. In 1971 Nixon eliminated the Gold Standard. This ushered in a new era of gov’t sponsored/managed inflation. So from 1971 on we have seen a consistent slippage in real purchasing power. In order to make those charts meaningful, you would need to back out the effects of inflation and deflation. Then the Post 71 gains become less impressive, and the horrible 30’s less horrible. Investment in stocks is still the best game in town. But buy and hold certainly isn’t!!! All studies of… Read more »

Pipzilla
Pipzilla

All these threads tend to show that people “trade their beliefs of the markets”. A Tharp concept. I am no different BUT I will be explicit in that I do not know the future but I do invest/trade my thought out forcast. So my belief/bias is that we will continue to experience volatile ranging markets for the nxt decade as we try to workout worldwide fundamental based debt issues (these are deflationary issues at worst, slow growth disinflationary at best). I also believe the central banks will attempt to “print” their way out of these debts issues/slow growth/deflationary periods causing… Read more »

Jen
Jen

I have about 15-20 years to go until retirement and am scrambling to make up for inadequate early investments, plus I’ve lost a bundle in RSPs in the recent market meltdown, plus I may need to sell my house soon at less-than-peak value.

But if I come out of this with 50-80K that has to go somewhere, I may try sinking 10K into an indexed stock fund and leave it alone for a couple of decades. I’ve already lost 16K on paper in my RSPs, so 10K doesn’t look like a huge hit any more.

Kandace
Kandace

Interesting post. I’m a stock market investor too, but I think it’s interesting that you left out one of your, and my, favorite writers. “Your Money or Your Life” believes putting funds entirely in T-bills. What’s your take on that?

jtimberman
jtimberman

Heh. This is the same thing Dave Ramsey has been telling listeners and readers for several years. Investing in good growth-stock mutual funds is statistically likely to earn 10-12% (he says 12%). My risk tolerance is pretty high when it comes to long term investing in such mutual funds. The key is to find funds that have been around a long time. There’s plenty out there that have 20-30+ year track records of 10-12%. CD’s, bonds, money market accounts all have lousy rates of return in the long term because they’re “lower risk” – don’t use them for serious investing… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen

A few thoughts/questions in my mind reading this: 1. One of the authors talks about reinvesting dividends. I’m curious whether fewer companies in the S&P pay dividends now than in the past, and whether less opportunity for dividend reinvestment would lower the return rate? Dividend reinvestment is how we’re buying into the market right now. We’re stashing cash into the e-fund otherwise. 2. If you listen to “old timers” who made money in the down markets, they were the buyers of undervalued, cash-rich, healthy, conservatively-run companies when the market and their stock prices were low. The trick is to have… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.

Kandace wrote: Your Money or Your Life” believes putting funds entirely in T-bills. What’s your take on that? Even Vicki Robin, one of the book’s authors, has offered revisions to this original piece of advice. There is a new version of Your Money or Your Life (and it’s wending its way through the postal service to my door), and I fully expect chapter 9 to have seen major revisions. All the same, the YMoYL philosophy would not accept stock market investment, not even in index funds. Why not? Because your capital is not safe. One of the key points in… Read more »

KC
KC

I think the same old rules apply. Anything you need in the short term (3-5 years) you’d better keep fairly liquid (CD, high interest savings account). Anything beyond that might be safe for investing in the stock market. Retirement (assuming you are looking 5 years out) can go into stocks, too. This is the plan I’ve always tried to follow, I just wish I’d have listened to myself more on the short term liquidity. Personally from everything I read and hear I think we’re near or at the bottom (Dow 7500). There may be rallies and the declines, but we’re… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen

@Kandace, re YMOYL investment advice: If you can find money markets, 30-year t-bills, and CDs yielding 8-13%/yr, like they were when Joe Dominguez wrote about them — in the 1980s and early 90s — I’d suggest that’s still a pretty good strategy for making money! He was writing for how he grew his money safely at that time. He also lived on next-to-nothing, and probably lived very comfortably by pulling out less than his safe investments produced. Today, well, it’s hard to live on less than 3% of your investments (“high interest savings account” typical returns). I’m not sure what… Read more »

Bill M
Bill M

Its hard to compare two different type of cultures and how they will react, everyone is talking about stock market now because everyone just went through a bath and some are still going, this will bottom out and the strong will come out, its just a matter of patience. Its called Business Cycle, businesses grow, businesses shrink.

Rob Bennett
Rob Bennett

I agree with the idea that the stock market offers the best return “in the long run.” The problem is that few of those who make this point define clearly what is meant by the phrase “in the long run.” At times of normal valuations, you can be virtually sure of seeing a strong return within 10 years. In those circumstances, it makes sense to invest heavily in stocks. At times of insanely high valuations (valuations were very high from 1995 through the first part of 2008), it can take 20 or even 25 years for a stock investor to… Read more »

Rick Francis
Rick Francis

@Frugal Bachelor You make an interesting argument about the Japanese market. Does your calculation include dividends? Was 1921 a bubble and 1996 a terrible bear market? Or is there some tax or other government policy that redistributes corporate earnings? I ask because I didn’t really see how all Japanese companies could possibly be worth LESS now than they were in 1921. I couldn’t find GDP data for those exact years, however I did find this Wikipedia reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_by_past_GDP_(PPP)#1998 My understanding of the article is that they have factored out inflation in their GDP estimates. My interpretation of the data is… Read more »

Steve
Steve

Most of these “experts” don’t take into account the changing nature of the U.S. economy. For most of the time period studied the United States was a manufacturing-based economy and an emerging market. Over the past decade or so the U.S. has moved toward a services-based economy and has moved from an emerging market to a mature market. This is akin from moving from a small-cap stock to a blue chip. Overall, the U.S. equity market simply doesn’t have the growth capability to produce the returns that have been produced in the past. Stock prices are not random, they are… Read more »

reinkefj
reinkefj

I too recognize that the stock market is the pnly casino in town. I too would point out Japan and inflation. Both cause by the government. Like the laws of thermodynamics about entropy, you can’t win and you can’t leave the game! Only solution is work, diversify, and yell at your congress critter every chance you get! imho.

Jeff@MySuperChargedLife

I like the advice above that suggests if you lack “faith” in the return of the market to its historical earnings, then you should look for other investment options.

Risk is an inherent part of life. Managing risk is something everyone needs to do in accordance with their individual level of tolerance. Good stuff!

JACK
JACK

“I’d find it hard to believe that a unsustainable bubble would last 100 years.” It might if for that 100 year period you were the dominant player in manufacturing (we were once the top creditor and exporter to the world), the dominant player in reserve currency (presently still are, but that’s weakening by the day) and the dominant player in terms of military strength (still are, but that is not sustainable in my view without the other two). I’m not suggesting a collapse in the US economy. But it stands to reason that there is a good chance that like… Read more »

JACK
JACK

“I would argue that it is sustainable as long as both population growth and technological improvements are sustainable.” Neither of which we are realizing btw. Population growth in this country is essentially immigration. Our birth replacement rate is nearing the deadly rates of Europe. (Thank you sexual revolution! Long term consequences of separating the pleasure and procreative aspects of sex be damned!) As for technological improvements, I’d suggest two things: (1) you are over-estimating how much there really has been and (2) you are over-estimating how much is possible going forward. Bottom line: a service-based economy isn’t capable of the… Read more »

Brian
Brian

I agree with Steve, and so does Buffet, predicting a 6% market return in the future, and said future returns will not keep up with the past. Talk about get rich slowly. From the annual report… I should mention that people who expect to earn 10% annually from equities during this century — envisioning that 2% of that will come from dividends and 8% from price appreciation — are implicitly forecasting a level of about 24,000,000 on the Dow by 2100. If your adviser talks to you about double – digit returns from equities, explain this math to him —… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.

JACK wrote: The notion that 10% returns is guaranteed if you wait long enough is about the biggest bit of b.s. I’ve ever heard Who said anything about “guaranteed”? The moment somebody starts guaranteeing returns of that magnitude, run away. But I do agree with this, which is something I’ve been saying for years: I’m not suggesting a collapse in the US economy. But it stands to reason that there is a good chance that like Rome, like Germany, like Spain, like France, like Britian, that our status as the leading empire in the world will also fade. When it… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.

@Brian (#35)
Great quote. Do you have a link to it? I read this in the past year, but couldn’t find it the last time I looked.

For the record, I happen to think Buffett is probably right. Stock returns won’t be as high as they have been in the past. My point is that historically, U.S. stocks have returned 10%, and I believe they’re likely to offer strong returns in the future. But they may be closer to Buffett’s 6%.

Believer
Believer

I find it really interesting how people are so fixated on this notion that the US is an ’empire in decline’. Why then do US gov’t bills yield 12% over the past year? If you really believe the US is in decline then invest abroad.

Austin
Austin

Why do some people compare the US to Japan? Japan may be one of the major economys of the world but I think it would be ridiculous to say that both would have the same results? In terms of capital resources (physical and human), I would think that the US has far more potential.

Plex
Plex

From what I remember, Buffet’s 6% estimate was based on where the market was last year. I believe he has revised his estimate based on this year to something like 8-9%.

willamettejd
willamettejd

To reiterate comments above: 1) ALL of the data in this post happens to focus on market information from the GREATEST ECONOMIC BOOM in the history of mankind (1850-2004) in the country that happened to benefit the most/create it. 2) Funny thing is, the idea of a 10% “guaranteed” return over every 10 year period has JUST BEEN DISPROVED as of LAST MONTH. DOW is down about 2%, SP500 down 24%, NASDAQ down 24%. Factor in 10 years of inflation and those loss rates increase substantially. Sorry, J.D. but I find your NOT including this information to be completely disingenuous.… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.

Well, despite Buffett’s predictions, he’s been buying. He’s publicly stated that he thinks stocks are cheap right now. Here’s a great article from The Motley Fool that highlights his past and current predictions: Is Buffett Insane?

Aman
Aman

Based on the amount of risk you are willing to take, your return can vary from a flat 0% all the way up to the sky. I have had years where my low risk/low activity gave me a weak 6% return while now, even in this muddy turmoil I’m able to average 30% return for 2008 so far. The Stock Market overall might show a high, or low number, but that is based on the broader average which is not what people invest in. People invest in specific companies (be it tech, health, mining, etc) and those have varied returns.… Read more »

Ben
Ben

For those of you that don’t or won’t invest in the stock market, where do you invest that is so much “better” than the US stock market???

Austin
Austin

@ Ben(#44)

Oh…you know the usual “black market” invesments… ; )

J.D.
J.D.

WillametteJD wrote: Funny thing is, the idea of a 10% “guaranteed” return over every 10 year period has JUST BEEN DISPROVED as of LAST MONTH. DOW is down about 2%, SP500 down 24%, NASDAQ down 24%. Factor in 10 years of inflation and those loss rates increase substantially. Sorry, J.D. but I find your NOT including this information to be completely disingenuous. Again, nobody is talking about guaranteed returns, especially over a 10-year timeline. What I’m trying to point out is that, historically, the longer you’re in the market, the greater your returns. The graphs above clearly demonstrate that even… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.

Note that even with negative returns over the past ten years, that’s not the worst market return over a decade. From 01 July 1929 to 30 June 1939, the market return -3.77% annualized (thought that includes dividends, and my numbers above do not).

Phil M.
Phil M.

The stock market is inherently risky. But so is stuffing your money in a mattress. For those who feels doomsday is just around the corner, what makes you think your money will be worth more when you pull it out from the under the mattress?

Eden
Eden

I think you’ve done a good job trying to illustrate a difficult concept.

However, I would argue that the real problem is people basically taking a blind, buy-and-hold approach and missing out on lots of opportunities.

If you can’t actively manage your investments, stocks are too volatile and not the right place to be.

Plex
Plex

Then why do passive index funds outperform active funds (which are run by professionals) on average?

I think the previous comment makes a broad general statement which is simply not true. Active management can bring greater returns, but only good active management. Not even professionals, on average, properly actively manage stock funds.

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