Don’t Expect Mean Reversion To Boost Your Returns

My poor groin…

As I wrote a few months ago, I managed to pull my right groin muscle playing soccer with some of the hypercompetitive South American fathers from my son’s team.

Well, with a little rest, it healed. Or so I thought.

But while skiing with the family in Breckinridge, I took a turn too fast, wiped out… and felt my poor groin pop.

I’m able to walk… with a limp. But I won’t be doing anything remotely athletic for at least a few weeks.

Maybe it’s my physical discomfort… or maybe it’s the fact that I’m sitting alone at the lodge while my wife and kids enjoy a nice day on the slopes… but something I read in this week’s Barron’s really put me in a foul mood.

Vito Racanelli writes,

There’s one number that explains a lot of things: 5.52%. Over the 20 years ended 2018, that’s been the nominal compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of the S&P 500.

It might not feel like it after a decade-long bull market, “but we are coming off 20 of the worst years for compounded returns since the Great Depression,” says Nicholas Colas, co-founder of DataTrek Research. The average trailing 20-year market CAGR since 1928 is 10.7%. Blame the two negative-35%-plus bear markets since 2000.

Ouch.

Over the past 20 years, the market has returned barely half its long-term average annual gains. And I’m willing to bet that most investors saw returns even lower than that. (Most investors tend to sell near bottoms and miss out on the most explosive early years of a bull market.)

But this is where I start to get grouchy. Colas goes on to suggest that, since we’re coming off a lousy 20-year stretch in the market, the next 20 years should be a lot better due to mean reversion.

In other words, in order for the market’s long-term returns of 10.7% to hold, we have to see annual returns well above 10.7% in order to make up for the past 20 years of just 5.52% returns.

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