Is Stock Market Timing a Smart Investment Strategy?

By Inyoung Hwang · September 30, 2023 · 6 minute read

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Is Stock Market Timing a Smart Investment Strategy?

Timing the market, as it relates to trading and investing, requires a whole lot of luck. In effect, it means waiting for ideal market conditions, and then making a move to try and capitalize on the best market outcome. But nobody can predict the future, and it’s a high-risk strategy.

When seeing stock market charts and business news headlines, it can be tempting to imagine striking it rich by timing investments perfectly. In reality, figuring out when to buy or sell stocks is extremely difficult. Both professional and at-home investors make serious mistakes when trying to time their market entrance or exit.

Why Timing the Stock Market Doesn’t Work

Waiting to start investing could cost an individual thousands of dollars over their lifetime. It’s also important to know that by leaving money in a checking or savings account, a person is not protecting their money from inflation risk. That’s because the value of that cash in a checking or savings account erodes if the prices of goods and services increase.

Meanwhile, stock market timing is incredibly complex. Stock prices can be influenced by global macroeconomic events, political events in a country, developments in specific industries or companies, as well as the sentiment of investors as a collective.

Even professional investors struggle to “beat the market,” which often means simplifying trying to outperform a benchmark stock index. In fact, most investors can’t beat the market, and are likely better off sticking to index investing.

Fear and Greed in Investing

When investing, it’s also important not to let two key emotions – fear and greed – drive decisions. That means if the stock market is plummeting, investors may be fearful, but they can’t let those feelings push them toward a decision to sell. That could cause them to “lock in” losses. There’s even a Fear and Greed Index that investors sometimes use to make contrarian decisions.

Take for instance what happened during the 2008 financial crisis. After Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy in September 2008, the stock market entered a tumultuous stretch. The S&P 500 finally bottomed on March 9, 2009. However, the index eventually regained all its losses in the course of roughly the next four years. Investors who had hung on likely may have recovered their losses.

Meanwhile, greed can cause investors to make poor decisions as well. For instance, during the dotcom bubble, investors bought into many newly public Internet companies without always doing the research. Some of these stocks weren’t even turning a profit, making their businesses vulnerable to going belly up. Ultimately, many at-home investors suffered losses when the dot-com bubble burst.

Of course there are no guarantees when it comes to investing. There’s always risk and volatility involved. However, one of the most tried and true methods for building wealth has been a buy-and-hold strategy when it comes to stock investing.

💡 Quick Tip: When people talk about investment risk, they mean the risk of losing money. Some investments are higher risk, some are lower. Be sure to bear this in mind when investing online.

Why It May Be a Good Idea to Invest Immediately

One of the most important predictors of your returns is the length of time you’ve invested in the stock market. While it’s difficult to predict what the market will do in the near future, an investor can get a better sense over the long term.

When an investor lets their money grow, it has the chance to weather short-term ups and downs and grow over time. On average, the S&P 500, often used as a market benchmark, has grown 7% a year after adjusting for inflation. That doesn’t mean a person can predict what will happen this year, or even in the next 10 years, but looking at long term trends can give them a better sense of market dynamics.

An individual might put off investing because they want to pay off all debts first or achieve other goals, like buying a house. In some cases, that might be true, like paying off high-interest credit cards or saving for a short-term goal, such as a three to six-month emergency fund.

But once a person has an emergency fund and is out of credit card debt, they should consider investing, even if they have a mortgage or student loan debt. Even if they’re only investing for retirement, it’s a good idea to start as soon as possible.

💡 Quick Tip: How to manage potential risk factors in a self-directed investment account? Doing your research and employing strategies like dollar-cost averaging and diversification may help mitigate financial risk when trading stocks.

Consider Investing as Early as Possible

The younger you are when you invest, the better the chances are that you’ll reach your financial goals. For example, imagine Person A invests $200 a month in a retirement account starting at age 25.

Person B invests the same amount starting at age 35. They both continue to add $200 a month to their account. When they both retire at age 65, Person A will have almost twice as much as Person B: $306,689, compared to $167,550, assuming a 6% rate of return, 2% inflation rate, and 15% tax rate.

That’s true even though Person A only contributed 33% more to her account. This is how compound interest grows investments, or the power of how earnings from one’s investments can continue to build wealth.

Percentage of Retail Investors in Stock Market

As mentioned, after the 2008 financial crisis, many people were reluctant to invest in the stock market. But in recent years, that’s changed. Retail investor participation in the U.S. stock market increased considerably in 2020 and 2021, for a variety of reasons.

As of 2023, retail inventors comprise about a quarter of all total trading volume in the stock market. That may change in the future, too, as younger investors – with quicker, easier access to investing tools, in many cases – look at getting into the markets.

The Takeaway

Timing the market is difficult, if not impossible, and involves trying to “time” trading or investing moves to coincide with an increase or decrease in the stock market. Nobody can tell what the future holds, so it’s generally hard to accurately pick the right investments at the right time. That’s not to say that some investors don’t get it right from time to time, but as an overall strategy, it’s likely not advisable.

If an individual is skittish about investing, their anxiety makes sense in light of the dramatic market ups and downs many have witnessed in the past two decades. But trying to time the market doesn’t work. Instead, investing in a diversified portfolio can be a good step toward building individual wealth.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $25 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.


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