We often talk about the need for investors to take a long-term perspective and look at periods of volatility through the lens of market history.
That’s why we’ve made it a tradition to report each year on the latest edition of the Credit Suisse Global Investment Returns Yearbook. The yearbook is an invaluable resource for investors because it draws lessons from a database of asset returns from 35 countries dating back to 1900.
This year’s yearbook includes an important discussion of just what constitutes a long-term perspective. That’s especially useful after an unusual year when investors suffered negative returns in both the stock and bond markets, amid high inflation, rising interest rates and the war in Ukraine.
The yearbook notes that stocks have outperformed all other asset classes in every country since 1900. The U.S. market, for example, provided a 6.8% annualized real return between 1900-2022. But it’s been far from a smooth ride.
With last year’s decline, we’ve now lived through four bear markets in equities since 2000, including the brief but harrowing COVID crash in 2020. While these episodes have been difficult, the important thing to remember is that living with that kind of volatility is the price you pay to earn a risk premium from stocks, and to a lesser degree bonds.
But to actually bank that premium, you must remain invested and well-diversified through positive and negative periods in the markets. And those periods can be deceptively long. The yearbook offers two examples where 20 and even 40 years of market data could be deceiving.
The first is what occurred in the stock market in the 20 years leading up to 2000. During those decades, global stocks performed exceptionally well, delivering a 10.5% real annualized return. Then, the dot.com bubble burst, kicking off what’s known as the lost decade for stocks when world equities generated a negative real return of -0.6% a year.
The yearbook’s second example is from the bond market where many investors were shocked by heavy losses in 2022. They’d become accustomed to reliable gains over the last 40 years. Indeed, in the four decades to the end of 2021, the world bond index delivered an annualized real return of 6.3%, not far below the 7.4% return from world equities.
It turns out those 40 years were a historic golden age for bonds, meaning, by definition, they were exceptional. When the turning point came in 2022, it was drastic. In just one year, the real return of world bonds plummeted 27%!
“To understand risk and return in capital markets…we must examine periods much longer than 20 or even 40 years,” the yearbook says. “Since 1900, there have been several golden ages, as well as many bear markets; periods of great prosperity as well as recessions, financial crises and the Great Depression; periods of peace and episodes of war. Very long histories are required to hopefully balance out the good luck with the bad luck, so that we obtain a realistic understanding of what long-run returns can tell us about the future.”
In other words, it’s important to guard against recency bias, the tendency to give undue importance to recent events. And, when it comes to the markets, recent should be measured in terms of decades.
Investors are too often lulled into complacency by trends that are too short to make prudent asset allocation decisions. Maintaining a disciplined approach to diversification and portfolio rebalancing through thick and thin will remain the best way to combat recency bias and other mental errors that can undermine your financial plan.
For more on the Credit Suisse yearbook and a discussion of the new First Home Savings Account, download episode 52 of our Capital Topics podcast and subscribe to get more insights into the capital markets, personal finance and growing your wealth.