Sunday, August 29, 2010

Make 10 Times Your Money without Taking Big Risks

By Dan Ferris, editor, Extreme Value

Friday, August 20, 2010

Investing is like tennis. It's a loser's game.
Think of the difference between professional and amateur tennis players. Professionals win points. Amateurs lose them. When weekend warriors play tennis, the losers determine who wins. They hit the ball into the net. They whack it out of bounds. And they routinely double-fault on their serves. That doesn't happen nearly as much in pro tennis, with its long rallies and pinpoint shots.
Most investors are like amateur tennis players. They lose money in stocks because of their own behavior. There's no opponent outplaying them. They beat themselves.
DALBAR, a Boston-based research firm, compared the returns from market index funds with returns real investors earned in equity mutual funds...
From 1989 to 2009, market index funds returned 8.3% per year. If you compound $10,000 at that rate for 20 years, you'll wind up with just under $50,000 – five times your money. For buying an index fund and doing nothing else, that's a great return. No research necessary. No thinking required. Just buy and wait. It couldn't be easier, and you get five times your money, pretax.
The only problem with that 20-year, five-times-your-money return is thatalmost nobody earned it.
Real, flesh-and-blood investors investing their own real, hard-earned money made significantly less than 8.3% per year over that time. On average, individual investors in U.S. equity funds earned just 3.3% per year. At that rate, $10,000 grew to just $19,150 in 20 years. They didn't even double their money – in 20 years! Most investors just can't hit the ball back over the net.
Most real investors investing their own real money perform even worse relative to the overall market in bull markets. During the great bull market to end all bull markets from 1984 to 2000, DALBAR found equity mutual fund investors made 2.57% per year, with market index funds compounding at 12.22% per year.
The age of the daytrader treated investors worse than most periods. Investors ran around the court faster than ever, swinging like mad, only to hit more balls out of bounds and into the net than ever, turning a $10,000 investment into just $15,000 during the biggest bull market in history. Had they simply failed to lose, they'd have turned $10,000 into just over $100,000.
Investors could have made 10 times their money in 16 years by refusing to overmanage their own money – by letting stocks do the work for them.
A large dose of humility would help most investors make more money in stocks. For starters, most investors just shouldn't buy individual stocks. They should buy index funds and plan to hold for decades. Almost everyone else should build a diversified portfolio of only the highest-quality names and plan to hold them for at least 10 years.
If you can't hold on for a long time, be prepared to take losses.
In my Extreme Value newsletter, I have a list of the world's best companies that are currently trading at absurdly cheap prices. I've mentioned a few here before: Microsoft (MSFT) and ExxonMobil (XOM) are two of my favorites.
These and stocks like them are an excellent start on a diversified portfolio that could earn you 10 times your money – remember, that's 12.22% per year for 16 years. Most stocks like this will compound your money at single-digit rates. But one or two could produce enormous returns.
You don't need to take on big risks to earn that kind of return. All you need to do is wait. To master the loser's game, you must be patient. You must master time itself.
Good investing,

Editor's note: Dan Ferris writes the monthly Extreme Value, focusing on stocks trading at huge discounts to their true values. His strategy of selecting safe and cheap stocks has earned him one of the most impressive track records in the industry. To learn more about a trial subscription, click here.

Further Reading:

Steve Sjuggerud has figured out a simple way for investors to avoid getting scared out of stocks long enough to lock in huge gains. If you don't follow this rule, Steve writes, "chances are great you'll make an emotional decision... and sell at exactly the wrong time." Learn Steve's rule here:Avoiding the Biggest Mistake Investors Make.
With his recommendation of World Dominating oil producer ExxonMobil, Dan is going head-to-head against one of the world's greatest short-sellers. Learn why this famous investor expects this stock to drop... and why Dan believes it "is one of the world's greatest long-term investments"... here: This Famous Investor Is Dead Wrong.