How to Think About Investing Cash on the Side lines…Prashant Vaishampayan
With markets reaching new highs, investors are wondering how to invest their cash. When it comes to deploying cash on the sidelines, there are no easy answers. Charlie Bilello wrote these pointers based on his study of US markets. These may be true for other markets as well.
Investing is just a game of odds and the historical probabilities up until now suggest the following: If you sit in cash over a 1-year period, you have a 30% chance of outperforming the market. If you sit in cash for 10 years those odds fall to 16%. Over 25-year periods, cash has yet to beat the US stock market.
Sitting in cash has an opportunity cost on average, and that opportunity cost increases with time (8% over 1-year periods, 1,297% over 25-year periods). If you are waiting for lower prices to get in, chances are you will get them (74% of the time), but you also have to be prepared to wait forever (26% of the time there’s no lower low). If you are waiting for a bear market (-20%) or more to get in at lower prices, you may never get that chance (only happens 21% of the time).
Slowly wading into the market via dollar-cost averaging has beaten a lump-sum only 32% of the time over 1-year periods and 27% of the time over 3-year periods. The longer the time period you spread that initial investment over, the lower your odds are of outperforming a lump sum today.
Timing the market based on valuation is not an easy task, and you have to be prepared to sit in cash for many years or even decades depending on your methodology. Had such a strategy been applied historically, it would have lagged buy-and-hold because equities with high valuations can still have positive (and cash-beating) returns over time.
Timing the market based on interest rates is not a strategy supported by the data which shows almost no correlation between the two variables. The notion that rising rates are “bad” for equities is a myth.
Does that mean everyone should just close their eyes and invest all their cash on the sidelines today in a lump sum? Bilello concludes most certainly not. Successful investing is about psychology more than anything else and if putting everything in today via a lump sum causes you to lose sleep at night, you will not be able to stick with that portfolio for a week, never mind next 20+ years. The portfolio with the highest expected return is completely irrelevant if you can’t handle its higher level of risk. Far better to be in a portfolio with lower returns that you can compound over 20+ years than one with a higher return that you are likely to abandon at the first sign of trouble. The goal for all investors should be to remain invested long enough to reap the enormous benefits of long-term compounding. That starts with finding a portfolio and a plan that is best suited to you.