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Key Questions for the Long-Term Investor

Focusing on what you can control can lead to a better investment experience.

Whether you’ve been investing for decades or are just getting started, at some point on your investment journey you’ll likely ask yourself some of the questions below. Trying to answer these questions may be intimidating, but know that you’re not alone. Your financial advisor is here to help. While this is not intended to be an exhaustive list it will hopefully shed light on a few key principles, using data and reasoning, that may help improve investors’ odds of investment success in the long run.


1. What sort of competition do I face as an investor?

The market is an effective information-processing machine. Millions of market participants buy and sell securities every day and the real-time information they bring helps set prices.  This means competition is stiff and trying to outguess market prices is difficult for anyone, even professional money managers (see question 2 for more on this). 

This is good news for investors though. Rather than basing an investment strategy on trying to find securities that are priced “incorrectly,” investors can instead rely on the information in market prices to help build their portfolios (see question 5 for more on this). 

Lessons for the Next Crisis

It will soon be the 10-year anniversary of when, in early October 2007, the S&P 500 Index hit what was its highest point before losing more than half its value over the next year and a half during the global financial crisis.

Over the coming weeks and months, as other anniversaries of major crisis-related events pass (for example, 10 years since the bank run on Northern Rock or 10 years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers), there will likely be a steady stream of retrospectives on what happened as well as opinions on how the environment today may be similar or different from the period leading up to the crisis. It is difficult to draw useful conclusions based on such observations; financial markets have a habit of behaving unpredictably in the short run. There are, however, important lessons that investors might be well-served to remember: Capital markets have rewarded investors over the long term, and having an investment approach you can stick with—especially during tough times—may better prepare you for the next crisis and its aftermath.

Myth Busters: Do International Stocks (Still) Make Sense for Long-Term Investors?

After years of U.S. stocks besting international markets (and more of the same so far in 2022), investing internationally seems to have a bad rap among many U.S. investors. We explore and debunk three “myths” to show why we think international stocks should hold a place in most long-term portfolios.

Myth #1: Global diversification doesn't work anymore. 

It’s no secret that U.S. stocks have had the upper hand on international markets for years —since around the start of the prior decade. To date, 2022 has been no different. The combined effect of U.S. stocks’ better performance and the strength of the US dollar drove the disappointing performance of international stocks. After what might feel like a very long period of U.S. market dominance, it’s fair for investors to wonder why they should bother investing both at home and abroad. To illustrate the value of global diversification at work, in Figure 1, we present rolling three-year returns for U.S., non-U.S. (developed and emerging), and global stocks from December 1990 through October 2022.

The dotted line represents global stocks. Whether U.S. or non-U.S. stocks have outperformed over any period, global stocks are always somewhere in the middle —neither the highest nor the lowest. This highlights the benefit of diversification for those that invest across global markets. Investors may avoid some potential downside in exchange for giving up some potential upside.

Retail Investors and ‘Noise’ Trading

Investors often chase attention-grabbing stocks and severely underperform the market due to active trading.

By Larry Swedroe | Feb 14, 2023

Research has found that retail investors tend to be naive “noise traders” who trade on sentiment rather than on fundamentals.

In a series of papers, Brad Barber and Terrance Odean demonstrated that retail investors are susceptible to behavioral biases such as overconfidence, often chase attention-grabbing stocks, and severely underperform the market due to active trading.

The Nonsensical Growth of Hedge Funds

Hedge funds are investment pools that are relatively unconstrained in what they do. They are relatively unregulated (for now), charge very high fees, will not necessarily give you your money back when you want it, and will generally not tell you what they do. They are supposed to make money all the time, and when they fail at this, their investors redeem and go to someone else who has recently been making money. Every three or four years they deliver a one-in-a-hundred-year flood. They are generally run for rich people in Geneva, Switzerland, by rich people in Greenwich, Connecticut. – Cliff Asness

Behavioral economists have provided us with many examples of anomalies in investor behavior, such as a preference for investments with lottery-like distribution despite their very poor historical returns. But the greatest anomaly is that despite decades of poor performance and the failure to effectively hedge exposure to conventional security classes, assets under management among hedge funds have grown from about $300 billion 25 years ago to about $5 trillion today.