Is a Drop a Loss?

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We humans use stories about events great and small to help understand the world. One of the common stories about the stock market contributes to a great misunderstanding, however.

A market decline from some higher point in the past is often spoken of as a loss. Yet whenever the market is trading at an all-time high, every past downturn has been fully recovered. One might ask where the loss actually is.

To illustrate, the decade of the 1990’s was a good one for the broad stock market, as measured by the S&P 500 Stock Index. It more than tripled, rising from 353 points to 1,469. Yet of the 2,527 trading days of the decade, 1,171 saw a decline—a drop—in the market index.1

Those down days represent a cumulative 729% in “losses.”1

In a decade when the market tripled, how does it make sense to speak of losses during the interim? Particularly losses equal to many times the beginning level?

The market is volatile. Values fluctuate. It goes up and down. But if you have long term goals, it might pay to focus on long term results, not temporary downturns. If you invest next week’s grocery money in the stock market, then yes, a temporary downturn will result in a loss when you sell out in order to buy food. Otherwise, we would say a drop is not a loss.

Note: one should never invest next week’s grocery money in the stock market.

Our business is striving for long term results for people who share our time horizon and philosophy of investing. We talk about it every way we know how, in many venues, to reinforce effective investing attitudes and to forewarn those who lack them.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

1Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, S&P Dow Jones Indices. Retrieved September 18th, 2018.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.