Set forth below is the text of a comment that I recently put to the discussion of a blog entry at this site:
I am grateful to you for putting forward something that deals with substantive issues, Banned. We work out our differences by dealing with substantive issues.
There is a contradiction in the words used to introduce the table set forth at the link. First, it says: “By owning the entire market (all of the asset classes), susceptibility to changes in market variations is minimized.” Then it says: “Large variations over a short period of time, but tends to be stable when viewed over the long term.”
The first statement cannot possibly be true if the second statement is true (and the second statement IS true). These are not my words. These are the words of the Bogleheads, the primary advocates of Buy-and-Hold. And these words show why Buy-and-Hold can never work for even a single long-term investor.
The second statement is a wonderful summation of the 140 years of U.S. stock market history available to us. Year to year variations in returns are indeed INSANE. And long-term variations are indeed minimal. We are in complete agreement re this statement.
Where we differ is re its MEANING. You take this statement as signifying support for a Buy-and-Hold strategy. I take it as a warning NOT to follow a Buy-and-Hold strategy.
If returns are stable over the long term and if that stable return is a good one (it is), you want to be heavily invested in stocks as a rule. We agree re that point.
If returns are wildly variable in the short term, you want to be heavily invested in stocks during the short-term periods when returns are very, very good but you do NOT want to be heavily invested in stocks when returns are very, very bad. You want to avoid taking the huge hit that comes from being invested in stocks during price crashes. Avoiding crashes will increase your return DRAMATICALLY while also diminishing your risk DRAMATICALLY. The lifetime benefit is counter-intutively high. You would need to work the numbers to see how huge a difference this makes.
That’s Valuation-Informed Indexing, Banned. The only difference between Buy-and-Hold and VII is that with VII you lower your stock allocation at times of price crashes (those times when the short-term variation works against you) and increase it at times of huge price jumps (those times when the short-term variation works to your benefit). That’s the entire deal.
Buy-and-Holders would have to be insane not to want to take advantage of return predictability if it existed. They obviously do not believe that these times of short-term variability (in both directions) can be predicted. I obviously do. That’s the only issue in dispute.
This is where I say the Buy-and-Holders have never put forward a single sliver of evidence supporting their position. This was Wade Pfau’s most important finding. This is why Wade says that the research that he and I did together belongs in the Journal of Finance, the most important journal in the field.
Wade has a Ph.D. in Economics from Princeton. He makes a living doing investment research. If there is anyone alive who is able to determine whether there is a study showing that long-term timing is not required, Wade is that person. Wade spent months trying to find such a study. He never found one. He was amazed. He kept thinking that he had done something wrong. He must have missed it! But he looked and he looked and he looked and he never found any such study.
He wanted to be sure. So he went to the Bogleheads Forum to see if anyone there knew of one. No one did. Not John Bogle. Not Bill Bernstein. Not Larry Swedrow. Not Rick Ferri. Not Taylor Larimore. None of these people have ever seen a single study supporting the core principle upon which the Buy-and-Hold strategy is built.
If these people never heard of a study, there is no study, Banned. There is zero reason for any rational person to believe that long-term timing (paying attention to price) is not absolutely required for anyone hoping to have a realistic chance of long-term investing success.
Now — to the first statement that appears before the presentation of the table!
The first statement says: “”By owning the entire market (all of the asset classes), susceptibility to changes in market variations is minimized.”
No! This is false!
The research that Wade and I did shows that the far bigger factor is the valuation level that applies when the asset is purchased. Just paying attention to valuations alone takes 70 percent of the risk out of stock investing. Owning a large number of asset classes does virtually nothing to minimize risk compared to the simple act of taking valuations into consideration when setting your stock allocation. Buy-and-Holders do not minimize risk by going with a pure Get Rich Quick approach. They MAXIMIZE it! Just as common sense tells us must be so!
There never can be any justification for failing to take price into account when buying something, Banned. It cannot be. It is a logical impossibility.
If you want to say that Buy-and-Holders sincerely believe that it is not necessary to take price into account, I can go along with that statement. But I cannot go along with a statement that there is research supporting such a statement. Wade checked this very, very, very carefully. There is no such research. There never will be any. The idea that it is not necessary to take price into account when buying stocks is dangerous and false and wrong and absurd.
Buy-and-Hold was a mistake.
It was a mistake made by good and smart people who were trying to help us. But it was a mistake all the same.
That mistake caused our economic crisis. That mistake needs to be fixed.
I wish you all good things.