Time in the market beats timing the market. This well-known maxim encapsulates arguably the most important piece of investment advice – to stay invested – and is particularly timely given the current environment and recent drops in both equities and bonds. Evidence shows that remaining invested for the long term is one of the best things you can do for your overall wealth.

2022 has been a challenging year for stock markets with sizable declines seen in global equities as the highest level of inflation in a generation has caused central banks to embark on rapid monetary policy tightening. Occurring against a backdrop of slowing global growth, calls for a period of stagflation have gained credence and grown louder.

However, investors should maintain a long-term horizon and look through short-term headwinds. Staying invested allows you to benefit from the growth in businesses and the economy over time, and while it can be tempting to take money out of the market in the short term, history shows it is highly likely to deliver lower returns overall.

To help illustrate this we put together three charts of historical stock market performance over a long-term horizon.

Chart number one: markets trend up over time, despite several bear markets

Our first chart shows the performance of US shares from the end of December 1979 to the end of April 2022. Overall, the picture is encouraging with investors enjoying positive returns during the period, despite several significant declines along the way – the market experienced seven bear markets, defined as a market decline of 20% or more. Downturns aren’t rare events and typical investors, in all markets, will experience many bear markets during their lifetime.

Source: Refinitiv Datastream. Based on US MSCI Total Return index from 31 December 1979 to 29 April 2022.

Chart number two: the impact of missing the best days in the market

Our second chart demonstrates the negative impact of missing the best days in the market. While it might seem preferable to avoid bear markets, many of the largest daily gains occur during these periods. Missing these days by divesting into cash would have a clear and significant detrimental impact on your overall returns.

The bar on the left-hand side shows how much a £1m portfolio invested in UK shares (reinvesting dividends – see chart 3 below) at the start of the year 2000 would be worth now – it would have more than doubled. The bars to the right show how much it would be worth had you missed the best 10, 20 and 40 days in the market. Notice that the portfolio would have lost value during this period had you missed the best 20 or 40 days in the market.

Source: Refinitiv Datastream. Based on UK MSCI Total Return index from 31 December 1999 to 4 May 2022.

Chart number three: The dividend difference

Dividends are payments made by companies to shareholders and can account for an extremely significant portion of long-term returns. Reinvesting these dividends allows them to compound and can provide a major increase to overall returns. For instance, reinvesting dividends can more than double the overall return, as has been the case for UK indices since the turn of the millennium.  The chart below shows the performance of £1,000 invested into UK shares and US $1,000 invested into global shares, with dividends reinvested or paid out from the end of December 1999 to the end of April 2022.

Source: Refinitiv Datastream. Based on MSCI UK and US MSCI price and total return indices from 31 December 1999 to 29 April 2022.

Critically, dividends are often paid at regular intervals and therefore if you try to time your entry in and out of markets, you may miss these payments (there can also be minimum holding periods to receive dividends). Missing dividend payments would have severely diminished your investment returns over the past 22 years – you would have received the returns shown above in blue, rather than the returns shown in orange.

In conclusion, there have been clear benefits to remaining invested over the past 40 years. Historical results should not be seen as a guarantee of future performance, but the rationale behind this approach is sound. Looking through short-term volatility and maintaining a long-term focus has proven to be a winning strategy, largely due to not missing the best days in the market and the reinvestment of dividends.

The following disclaimer is with regard to our distribution of data from MCSI indices to you, the recipient/user:
The MSCI information may only be used for your internal use, may not be reproduced or redisseminated in any form and may not be used as a basis for or a component of any financial instruments or products or indices. None of the MSCI information is intended to constitute investment advice or a recommendation to make (or refrain from making) any kind of investment decision and may not be relied on as such. Historical data and analysis should not be taken as an indication or guarantee of any future performance analysis, forecast or prediction. The MSCI information is provided on an “as is” basis and the user of this information assumes the entire risk of any use made of this information. MSCI, each of its affiliates and each other person involved in or related to compiling, computing or creating any MSCI information (collectively, the “MSCI Parties”) expressly disclaims all warranties (including, without limitation, any warranties of originality, accuracy, completeness, timeliness, non-infringement, merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose) with respect to this information. Without limiting any of the foregoing, in no event shall any MSCI Party have any liability for any direct, indirect, special, incidental, punitive, consequential (including, without limitation, lost profits) or any other damages. (