What’s your benchmark?

Trend Trading vs Buy & Hold

An interesting argument was recently raised where it was posited that a trend trading strategy should be the default benchmark instead of a buy and hold strategy. If this benchmark was adopted it would represent a fairly large shift in thinking in the financial advisory and asset management industry.

The buy and hold benchmark that has been almost universally adopted in the current asset management industry suffers from hindsight bias and cherry picking the data. It’s even worse when the benchmark is set to the S&P 500. As an industry we have collectively decided to pick one of the best performing assets of the past century and say that this is the benchmark to beat. There’s a significant amount of appeal to using it: the S&P 500 was easily investable by institutions and later retail investors. There were no decisions or trading that had to be done as the rules-based market cap index methodology made all the changes for you.

But America, and the S&P 500, is truly exceptional. The question is whether it will continue to be exceptional. It’s possibly unpatriotic to ask this question or build a portfolio that doubts that bedrock principle, but managing true risk, which is the permanent loss of capital, is the only way to stay in this game for the long run.

Global Real Returns

The US is an outlier – out of all the investable markets it had the best real return at 4.3 percent. If you look at the chart below from “Everyone is Wrong on the Internet, stock market returns edition” published by the Financial Times, it shows that 21 markets had positive annualized real returns while 17 had negative annualized real returns.

Global Returns

Now, it’s pretty obvious that you could improve your odds by avoiding the countries where the rule of law is fairly absent and corruption abounds, but there are five developed country markets on the chart that not a lot of investors would have avoided.

Just think if you were a Greek, Argentinian, or Peruvian and had all your money in your home country. You’d be broke. Investing in a global portfolio and avoiding home country bias is one way to avoid negative real returns. Diversifying into other types of assets is another.

An Alternative to Buy & Hold

Trend trading can avoid the giant drawdowns. In a trendless market where swing trading does well a trend trader will get chopped up, but it does a decent job of wealth preservation. Since wealth preservation is towards the top of the list of important things an investor should focus on, it makes more sense to set trend trading as the default benchmark than looking at something like the S&P 500’s performance over a most extraordinary century.

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