The Death Of Index Investing And Other Silly Stats

by Mike Holman

I recently came across yet another post on investing which goes something along the lines of “If you invested 10 years ago in the Dow then you would have earned exactly nothing in that time”.  I hate to pick on any one blogger since I’ve read these articles all across the blogosphere but this one is the latest and he also had the temerity to tie in poor index performance with the death of index investing.  Of course all the stock pickers out there ALWAYS beat the index so poor market are no concern to them…!  I want to emphasise that Jacob at Extreme Early Retirement does a great job with his blog and I don’t want to sound like I don’t like the blog – just that one post!  :)

What about the dividends?

Usually these posts look at the point value of an index at a previous time, say 10 years ago and compare it to the present index point value.  This is incorrect because they are missing dividends.  Published index returns always included reinvested dividends and any type of analysis on index performance should always include the same.  Admittedly, if you are looking at a 10 year period where the index point value hasn’t changed, the addition of dividends isn’t going to change the argument very much but it should be there.

Selectivity of stats

Why is it that all the articles always pick the worst peak to trough period to illustrate their rather suspect point that maybe equity investing or even index investing is evil?  Have you ever heard of such a person who invests all their money on the same day the markets peak and then doesn’t invest any more?  Doesn’t seem all that likely to me.  Most people invest their money over time because that’s how they earn it, then save it, then invest it.  Picking one particular time period to prove or disprove a theory is like measuring your gas mileage one mile at a time and then using the best or worst mile to prove your point.

Investment performance

And what about active stock pickers – did they all do better than the indexers over that period?  Or did some of them do better, some of them the same, and some of them didn’t do as well?  I’ve asked many bloggers and non-bloggers who claim they can beat the index by picking their own stocks to prove it – measure their performance and let me know if they did better than the market or not.  You know what?  Not one of them has ever shown that they can beat the market – oddly enough, most of them don’t even bother to measure their performance.  How can someone who doesn’t even know how their own investment method measures up criticize someone else’s?

What is average?

One of the criticisms of indexing is that you will only achieve “average” results – again – will I do better by randomly picking stocks or paying someone lots of money to pick them for me?  One thing about indexing is that you will get the index return minus a very small fee – you will never beat the index but more importantly you won’t underperform the index (except for the small fee) either.  Active pickers can certainly outperform the market but they can also underperform as well – sometimes by a huge margin.  I like making money – if I thought it was possible for me to beat the market then you can rest assured that I would give it my best effort.

Dividends, smividends

Ok – one more rant… I like getting dividends just as much as the next investor but I really think there is an over-weighting on the importance of dividends in the blogosphere.  Yes, the idea of living off your dividends is nice but investment performance measures total return which is capital gains plus any reinvested dividends and interest payments.  That’s it.  I don’t care in what form the company pays out in the end – if the total return is higher, then its a better investment.  If that includes dividends, fine – if not, that’s fine too.

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