Market insights was founded in 2004 in the wake of the fallout from the tech bubble. At a time when investors needed it most, the first Guide to the Markets provided clarity and perspective, and helped to reinforce key habits of successful long-term investors. Today, more than 15 years later, it is in that same spirit that we are pleased to offer, “principles for successful long-term investing”.
We believe that a combination of these principles, sound financial advice and deeper insights can help make every investor better off.
1 . PLAN ON LIVING A LONG TIME
We are living longer
Thanks to advances in medicine and healthier lifestyles, people are having longer lives. This chart shows the probability of reaching the ages of 80 or 90 for someone who is aged 65 today. A 65 year-old couple may be surprised to learn that there is a 54% chance that at least one of them will live another 25 years, reaching the age of 90!
Many of us have not saved enough
Many studies reveal that individuals do not feel financially prepared for retirement. There is a significant shortfall between the number of years a person expects their savings to last and the number of years they plan to spend in retirement.
Investors should start early by saving more, investing with discipline and having a plan for their future.
2 . CASH ISN’T ALWAYS KING
LEFT: Cash pays less
Investors often think of cash as a safe haven during volatile times, or even a source of income when it comes to government bonds. With interest rates in Australia and around the world at record lows, and expected to stay there for some time, investors should review their portfolios to ensure that an allocation to cash does not undermine their long-term investment objectives and drag on their portfolio returns.
There’s a lot of it
Until very recently, the level of cash being held in term deposits had been steadily increasing, sitting on the “sidelines” earning a low rate of interest. A little cash to meet cash-flow and liquidity needs is a sensible allocation decision, but creates a drag on portfolio performance.
3 . AVOID EMOTIONAL BIASES BY STICKING TO A PLAN
TOP: Home-country bias
The Australian economy represents only a fraction of the global economy and accounts for around 2% of the global equity market. Yet for most Australian investors, a large portion of their investment is focused on this small portion of global capital markets.
BOTTOM: Familiarity bias and concentrated positions
The major Australian equity index, the ASX 200 Index, is not representative of global equity markets and has an out-sized weighting towards the financial and materials sectors, which includes banks and resource companies. Because of “home bias” and investors' preference for the domestic equity market, investors may find themselves having larger positions in these sectors than a global investor.
It is important that investors are aware of these biases and employ a disciplined investment plan that can help minimise their influence.
4 . COMPOUNDING WORKS MIRACLES
LEFT: Start early and invest regularly
Compounding interest has been called the eighth wonder of the world. Its power is great that even missing out on a few years of saving and growth can make an enormous difference to your eventual returns. Starting to save at the age of 25 and investing AUD5,000 annually in an investment that grows at 5% each year would leave you with over AUD250,000 more by the age of 65 than if you had started at 35.
RIGHT: Re-invest income from investments if you don’t need it
You can make better use of the magic of compounding if you reinvest the income from your investments to boost your portfolio value further. The difference between reinvesting—and not reinvesting—the income over the long term can be enormous.
5. VOLATILITY IS NORMAL; DON'T LET IT DERAIL YOU
Seeing through the noise
Every year has its rough patches. The red dots on this chart represent the maximum intra-year decline in each calendar year for the ASX 200 Index going back to 1994. While it is impossible to predict those pullbacks, investors should learn to expect them; after all, markets suffered double-digit pullbacks in 21 of the last 27 years.
Investors should also have a plan for when the going gets tough, instead of reacting emotionally. The grey bars represent the calendar year market returns. They show that despite the pull backs every year, the equity market has recovered to deliver positive returns in most calendar years.
The lesson is, don’t panic: More often than not a pullback in the equity market is an opportunity, not a reason to sell.
6. STAYING INVESTED MATTERS
Good things come to those who wait
While markets can always have a bad day, week, month and even year, history suggests investors are less likely to suffer loss over longer periods.
This chart illustrates this concept. While one-year equity returns have varied widely since 1950 (+47% to -39%), a blend of equities and bonds has not suffered a negative return over any ten-year rolling period within the past 70 years.
7. DIVERSIFICATION WORKS
Diversification has served its purpose
The last 15 years have been a volatile and tumultuous ride for investors, with multiple natural disasters, numerous geopolitical conflicts, pandemics and major market downturns. While volatility might be a normal part of investing, investors can help minimise some of these risks through diversification.
Despite the difficulties, one of the worst performing asset class of those shown was cash. Meanwhile, a well-diversified portfolio including equities, bonds and some uncorrelated assets returned 7.4% per year over this period.
Investors should consider non-public markets and alternative asset classes as a means to increase returns, income and diversification within a portfolio.
7. DIVERSIFICATION WORKS (part 2)
TOP: Bonds still have a role
Government bonds are the traditional safe harbour that offer protection in periods of stress. A growing stock of negative yielding government debt globally has brought that role into question. While the diversifying nature of holding government bonds can be tested at times, they still offer some level of protection in the long run. However, investors need to rethink the building blocks of safe havens in today’s markets and diversify their sources of safety into alternative assets.
BOTTOM: In good times and bad, stick to a plan
A portfolio that included bonds and equities experienced reduced losses during the financial crisis and recovered much faster than a portfolio of only equities.