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Holding Equities for the Long Term: Time Versus Timing

Prepared by Broadbridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc.


Legendary investor Warren Buffett is famous for his long-term perspective. He has said that he likes to make investments he would be comfortable holding even if the market shut down for 10 years. Investing with an eye to the long term is particularly important with stocks. Historically, equities have typically outperformed bonds, cash, and inflation, though past performance is no guarantee of future results and those returns also have involved higher volatility. It can be challenging to have Buffett-like patience during periods such as 2000-2002, when the stock market fell for 3 years in a row, or 2008, which was the worst year for the Standard & Poor’s 500* since the Depression era. Times like those can frazzle the nerves of any investor, even the pros. With stocks, having an investing strategy is only half the battle; the other half is being able to stick to it. Just what is long term?

Your own definition of “long term” is most important, and will depend in part on your individual financial goals and when you want to achieve them. A 70-year-old retiree may have a shorter “long term” than a 30 year old who’s saving for retirement. Your strategy should take into account that the market will not go in one direction forever–either up or down. However, it’s instructive to look at various holding periods for equities over the years. Historically, the shorter your holding period, the greater the chance of experiencing a loss. It’s true that the S&P 500 showed negative returns for the two 10-year periods ending in 2008 and 2009, which encompassed both the tech crash and the credit crisis. However, the last negative-return 10-year period before then ended in 1939, and each of the trailing 10-year periods since 2010 have also been positive.* The benefits of patience Trying to second-guess the market can be challenging at best; even professionals often have trouble. According to “Behavioral Patterns and Pitfalls of U.S. Investors,” a 2010 Library of Congress report prepared for the Securities and Exchange Commission, excessive trading often causes investors to underperform the market.

The Power of Time

Power of Time

Note: Though past performance is no guarantee of future results, the odds of achieving a positive return in the stock market have been much higher over a 5or 10-year period than for a single year.

Another study, “Stock Market Extremes and Portfolio Performance 1926-2004,” initially done by the University of Michigan in 1994 and updated in 2005, showed that a handful of months or days account for most market gains and losses. The return dropped dramatically on a portfolio that was out of the stock market entirely on the 90 best trading days in history. Returns also improved just as dramatically by avoiding the market’s 90 worst days; the problem, of course, is being able to forecast which days those will be. Even if you’re able to avoid losses by being out of the market, will you know when to get back in?

Keeping yourself on track

It’s useful to have strategies in place that can help improve your financial and psychological readiness to take a long-term approach to investing in equities. Even if you’re not a buy-and-hold investor, a trading discipline can help you stick to a long-term plan.

Have a game plan against panic

Having predetermined guidelines that anticipate turbulent times can help prevent emotion from dictating your decisions. For example, you might determine in advance that you will take profits when the market rises by a certain percentage, and buy when the market has fallen by a set percentage. Or you might take a core-and-satellite approach, using buy-and-hold principles for most of your portfolio and tactical investing based on a shorter-term outlook for the rest.

Remember that everything’s relative

Most of the variance in the returns of different portfolios is based on their respective asset allocations. If you’ve got a well-diversified portfolio, it might be useful to compare its overall performance to the S&P 500. If you discover you’ve done better than, say, the stock market as a whole, you might feel better about your long-term prospects.

Current performance may not reflect past results

Don’t forget to look at how far you’ve come since you started investing. When you’re focused on day-to-day market movements, it’s easy to forget the progress you’ve already made. Keeping track of where you stand relative to not only last year but to 3, 5, and 10 years ago may help you remember that the current situation is unlikely to last forever.

Consider playing defense

Some investors try to prepare for volatile periods by reexamining their allocation to such defensive sectors as consumer staples or utilities (though like all stocks, those sectors involve their own risks). Dividends also can help cushion the impact of price swings. If you’re retired and worried about a market downturn’s impact on your income, think before reacting. If you sell stock during a period of falling prices simply because that was your original game plan, you might not get the best price. Moreover, that sale might also reduce your ability to generate income in later years. What might it cost you in future returns by selling stocks at a low point if you don’t need to? Perhaps you could adjust your lifestyle temporarily.

Use cash to help manage your mindset

Having some cash holdings can be the financial equivalent of taking deep breaths to relax. It can enhance your ability to act thoughtfully instead of impulsively. An appropriate asset allocation can help you have enough resources on hand to prevent having to sell stocks at an inopportune time to meet ordinary expenses or, if you’ve used leverage, a margin call. A cash cushion coupled with a disciplined investing strategy can change your perspective on market downturns. Knowing that you’re positioned to take advantage of a market swoon by picking up bargains may increase your ability to be patient.

Know what you own and why you own it

When the market goes off the tracks, knowing why you made a specific investment can help you evaluate whether those reasons still hold. If you don’t understand why a security is in your portfolio, find out. A stock may still be a good long-term opportunity even when its price has dropped.

Tell yourself that tomorrow is another day

The market is nothing if not cyclical. Even if you wish you had sold at what turned out to be a market peak, or regret having sat out a buying opportunity, you may get another chance. If you’re considering changes, a volatile market is probably the worst time to turn your portfolio inside out. Solid asset allocation is still the basis of good investment planning. Be willing to learn from your mistakes Anyone can look good during bull markets; smart investors are produced by the inevitable rough patches. Even the best aren’t right all the time. If an earlier choice now seems rash, sometimes the best strategy is to take a tax loss, learn from the experience, and apply the lesson to future decisions.

*Data source: Calculations by Broadridge based on total returns on the S&P 500 Index over rolling 1-, 5-, and 10-year periods between 1926 and 2014.

Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances.

To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances.
These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. Insurance products and services are offered by various underwriting companies. Underwriting company depends upon insurance products sold.

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Categories: Equities


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Marty Higgins Women's Choice Award


Martin V. Higgins CFP, ChFC, CLU, AEP, LUTCF, RHU is a Certified Financial Planner, author and retirement income specialist who helps people prepare financially for retirement by designing written retirement income plans for people who may need to last 30+ years.

He is the CEO of Family Wealth Management and creator of “The WealthCare Process” designed to simplify and coordinate the financial affairs of his clientele of pre-retirees, retirees, widows and small business owners. He’s won the Women’s Choice Award for Financial Advisors and Firms.

His latest book “DistributionLand”, published in October 2014, immediately became an Amazon Best Seller and is a must read for anyone preparing for retirement.


The Women’s Choice Award Financial Advisor program was created by WomenCertified Inc., the Voice of Women, in an effort to help women make smart financial choices. The program is based on 17 objective criteria associated with providing quality service to women clients such as credentials, experience, and a favorable regulatory history, among other factors. Financial advisors do not pay a fee to be considered or placed on the final list of Women’s Choice Award® Financial Advisors, though they may have paid a basic program fee to cover the cost of a client survey through Advisor Impact. The inclusion of a financial advisor within the Women’s Choice Award Financial Advisor network should not be construed as an endorsement of the financial advisor by WomenCertified or its partners and affiliates and is no guarantee as to future investment success. This portion is updated periodically. Please access updated content here:

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