Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Analyzing Your Stock Market Investment Performance

How did your stock market investments perform last year? Or the year before? What about over the past 5 years? Do you ever check the performance figures. If you invest directly in the stock market (by that I mean you buy stocks directly rather than using a mutual fund or some other managed investment vehicle) one of the most important things you can do is to monitor and measure your performance.

What do I mean by that? Lets say you're looking back over the performance of your share portfolio and you notice that in 2006 you earned a return of 12% including dividends. This looks like a pretty good return doesn't it? It's better than leaving your money in the bank, right? If you then noticed that the S&P 500 returned 15.8% in the same year, would that interrupt your self-congratulation? You may be asking yourself now, what is the point I'm trying to make? Well there are several actually - let's take them one at a time.

Calculating Investment Performance:

The first thing to note is that you need to calculate your performance on a regular basis. You should know (or be able to find out fairly easily) what you average annual returns have been over the medium term (say 1 to 5 years). Make sure you're honest with yourself. Include your mistakes as well as your successes - they all count. And remember to include your costs as well. This will include brokerage of course, but you may also pay for research or other investment related services. You want to know your return after all costs.

Comparing Your Performance:

Once you have your own performance figures in hand, it's time for some comparison. At minimum, you should be comparing against an unmanaged index like the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) or the S&P 500 (or the FTSE or whatever is relevant in your region). Have you done better than the stock market average? This is critical. If you're managing your own portfolio and you haven't managed to beat an unmanaged index, it might be time to seek out a professional money manager or simply invest in an index fund.

Over What Period Should Your Comparison Be Made?

Don't be too worried if you under perform over 1 or 2 years. Likewise, don't get too cocky if you've outperformed over that same period. I think 3 years should be the minimum period of comparison with 5 years being better. If you're not beating the average over 5 years, you need to address the situation. Have a look at your investment strategy and see if it needs any adjustment. Drill down and see what individual stocks have not performed. Can you learn anything from this? If despite your best efforts you're unable to address your underperformance, there's no shame in seeking professional help to manage part or all of your portfolio.

Even from his early days investing in the stock market, Warren Buffett advocated the benchmarking of his returns against that of the average. In Buffett's letter to partners at the beginning of 1961, Buffett wrote:

"My continual objective in managing partnership funds is to achieve a long-term performance record superior to that of the Industrial Average. I believe this Average, over a period of years will more or less parallel the results of leading investment companies. Unless we do achieve this superior performance there is no reason for the existence of the partnerships."
While we can't all expect to achieve the outstanding returns that Warren Buffett did, we still shouldn't accept a less than average return. Over an extended period of time, such under performance can be extremely costly. The following table shows the expected returns over 20 years for $50,000 invested at each of 8% and 10%.

As you can see, the difference by the end of 20 years is significant - over $100,000.

Choosing An Investment Benchmark:

The last thing I want to cover today is the importance of choosing an appropriate benchmark - before getting started in the stock market. If you hold a broad spread of domestic stock market investments, you could use the Dow or S&P 500 index (or whatever the equivalent is in your region). International stocks would obviously require the selection of a different index as would a concentration of stocks in a particular sector. Another benchmark to consider might be one or two mutual funds with similar investment strategies to your own and for which a reasonable performance history is available. Remember to check whether reported performance is before of after costs.

You may manage your own investments because you enjoy doing it or to save money or for some other reason. But if you're not honest with yourself about the performance you're able to achieve then it may be a costly exercise. This applies as much to the experienced investor as to the stock market beginner.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing knowledge with others. Really educating post. Stocks can give you the best returns for your money but the reality is far from the truth. It can give you the best returns for the money if you pick the stocks right. That is definitely something which we need to learn. The other thing is the market timing which can result in huge profits or huge losses in a matter of hours.

Looking forward to more posts like this from you.

Global finance school said...

Stock market investing is beneficial if the person who learn the deepness of stock market this article is valuable for everyone.. thanks.

invest in stocks said...

Penny stocks which boast of exchanging small capital into big fortunes are primarily, those publicly traded stocks that are presently trading under $5 per share.


The way to measure stock market performance is over decades not months or years. Stocks can go for long periods of time without increasing contrary to popular belief. The standard and poor five hundred peaked in the year 2000 its still trading well below its all time high. Their was another long period of time in the nineteen sixties and nineteen seventies when stocks also stagnated. The nineteen fifties and nineteen eighties and nineteen nineties were all decades when stocks performed very well


Warren buffetts berkshire hathaway has had a great long term record of performance.

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