The Folly Of Predicting The Markets

I think it is fair to say that the market reaction to Brexit took most people by surprise. While there were the inevitable few days of falls following the announcement of the result, the following stock market recovery across the globe was beyond the predictions of even the most respected market analysts and experts.

This single event is a good example of how completely futile it is to try to predict or guess the direction of stock market movements, now matter how sophisticated the models or assumptions being used.

In fact, when we look back in retrospect at predictions that have been made by analysts and financial experts, it turns out that you might just as well flip a coin to determine the future direction of travel, because these people are correct almost exactly 50% of the time.

These issues are particularly dangerous when thinking about investment planning for retirement.

I wrote last time about the significant shift in thinking required when investing during retirement. In the ‘new world’ of retirement planning, many people will choose a drawdown pension and keep their fund invested for life.

The danger here is that people get tempted to ‘trade’, rather than invest their retirement fund. I am aware of more than one case where people sold down all of the investments within their pension fund the day after the Brexit vote on the basis that the market was ‘definitely’ going to plummet.

Of course this did not transpire and these people have now missed out on the significant recovery, in which many global markets have grown by 10% or more. If we assume that many of us would be happy with an average growth rate of 5-6% per annum on our pension funds, this could mean that 2 years worth of growth has been foregone, just by being out of the market for a matter of weeks.

The irony here is that had we remained in the EU, I strongly suspect that the markets would have risen as well – a theoretical win-win situation. Of course, no-one knows what the markets might have done in the event of a remain vote, nor will we ever know.

Another good example of people trying to predict markets has been in the corporate and government bond space. Since 2009, I have heard countless people say that bonds are ‘definitely’ going to plummet or that they are ‘overpriced’. What has happened since 2009? Probably one of the strongest bond markets we have ever known, helped further still by the recent decision by the Bank of England to reduce interest rates.

The moral of the story here is that even when during retirement, investing should be seen as a long-term game. Given the inability of most people in retirement to top up their funds with earnings (once retired, for many people, what they have is what they have), it is easy to see the temptation to take rash actions to try to ‘protect’ the fund value.

If recent events are anything to go by however, quite the opposite can happen and much needed growth is missed due to being out of the market for just a few short weeks.