Market Timing: So, You Think You Can Do It?

Market Timing: So, You Think You Can Do It?

While some investors might get lucky in their attempts to time the market, those successes usually lead to “delusional over-confidence,” writes columnist Barry Ritholtz in a recent Bloomberg article.

“As someone who has had a decent amount of luck in the timing space—emphasis on the word ‘luck’—I am both fascinated and horrified by how timing is done by retail investors,” writes Ritholtz. He offers the following advice for “those of you who fantasize about being able to sidestep the downturns but still participate in the recoveries” and suggests answering the following questions:

  1. “What repeatable, not chance-based process would have had you selling equities in late February near the highs?”
  2. “What process would you have followed to buy back in after the 34% collapse?”
  3. “Would you have had the discipline to ignore your instincts to make a timely repurchase near the March 23rd lows?

Ritholtz shares the following insights on market-timing:

The Exit: Most of the time, he argues, emotion is what motivates people to exit equities. “It is rarely a cool, contemplative analysis about a high probability event that no one else sees,” he adds, noting that panic often ensues when markets fall and “the drumbeat of bad news feeds upon itself.”

The Re-Entry: “Getting back in when everyone else wants out is even harder to do,” Ritholtz explains, noting that the hard-wiring of humans forces us to fight our most basic social instincts to do the opposite of our peers. Further, he notes, “catching the bottom” requires you to have the following:

  1. A subjective feel for when “stocks have reached their nadir and that the selling has reached its conclusion.”
  2. “Conviction in your ability to do what nearly all investors cannot.”
  3. “Discipline to act on your beliefs, following your trading plan despite the mayhem that occurs near market bottoms.”

The Costs: Ritholtz points out that tax implications should be considered, adding that the government could end up capturing more than a third of any gains from successful attempts at market timing (depending on the length of your holding, your state of residence and your tax bracket).

“If any of this were easy,” Ritholtz concludes, “people would nail the lows all the time, but we know they don’t.”