The Risk of Market Timing

Again and again, investors are advised against trying to time the market, but it somehow fails to keep them from “doing dumb things with their savings.” At least that’s the opinion of Spencer Jakab, who writes on the subject and much more in his new book entitled “Heads I Win, Tails I Win”. Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt of the book in which Jakab spins an elaborate metaphor of failed market timing using the backdrop of Marty McFly and Doc Brown of Back to the Future fame. His point is that, even with accurate information about the future, attempts to thwart trouble can often lead to…well, trouble.

The average investor, Jakab says, lags the average market return by four to seven percentage points per year and is “constantly under the false impression that they or some vaunted expert knows something that will help them gain an edge.” He points out, however, that investors are usually overly optimistic when estimating how their portfolios are doing, yet are “downright shocked “when told that they lost more by missing out on opportunities than by suffering through selloffs. “Shying away from the market during what seem like bleak times,” he says, “will open up a yawning gap between what you are and should be earning.”