A Deep Dive Into Long-Term Stock Market Returns

Here’s an interesting set of charts that will especially resonate with those of us who follow economic cycles.

Imagine that 10 years ago you invested $10,000 in the S&P 500. How much would it be worth today, adjusted for inflation with dividends reinvested? Brace yourself: Your investment has shrunk to $8,288, an annualized return of -1.86%. That’s a loss of 17.1%.


And this is an improvement over the same 10-year return in March a year ago, when your annualized return would have been -5.93%, for a total loss of 45.7%.

Now let’s imagine that we time-travel back to September 2000 and pose the same question. Your 10-year inflation-adjusted gain would have been 396% for an annualized return of 16.13%. As the chart illustrates, investment performance with a 10-year timeline has been a real roller coaster as far back as we have data.

If we extend our investment horizon to 20 years, the roller coaster is less volatile with higher lows and lower highs.


The volatility decreases further with a 30-year timeline. But even for that three-decade investment, the annualized returns since the 1901 have ranged from less than 2% to over 11%.


As these charts illustrate, and as many households have discovered over the past few years, investing in equities carries risk. Households approaching retirement should understand this risk and make rational decisions about diversification. They should also consider fixed income alternatives for that part of the nest egg that will pay non-discretionary expenses not covered by Social Security and pensions.

You can play around with hypothetical returns — both nominal and real — over various time frames with this nifty The S&P 500 Calculator at the Political Calculations website (data through January 2010). Here’s another version that allows you to include a fixed monthly additional contribution.


This post previously appeared at DShort.com >

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