How long is long term?

For many investors – particularly those in retirement – the question ‘how long is long-term?’ could also be translated as ‘I’m getting on a bit, so should I still be investing in the stock market?’.

‘I’m getting on a bit, so should I still be investing in the stock market?’

When is comes to systematic investing – that is to say, capturing specific market risks in a disciplined and rules based manner – a subsidiary question might also be ‘should I still own value and small cap stocks, as their excess returns, relative to the market, can take some time to come through?’.

Even at 80, when investors may begin to ask themselves the question ‘how long is long-term’ they should still consider 20 years to be a sensible horizon. After all, according to a useful little calculator provided by the Office for National Statistics , today, an 80-year-old woman has an average life expectancy of 90, a 1-in-4 chance of reaching 94 and 1-in-10 chance of getting to 98. Consider the following:

  • As an investor in equities, you have around a 1-in-4 to 1-in-3 chance that you will suffer a loss in any one year. Yet at a 10-year horizon a 60 equity /40 bond ‘balanced’ portfolio has a better than 1-in-20 chance.
  • For long-term investors, cash is an extremely dangerous asset class, particularly when viewed after the effects on inflation, as it should be. It is worth noting that over the 10 years since the Credit Crisis those placing their assets in UK cash have lost over 20% of their purchasing power.
  • Portfolios tilted towards value and smaller company stocks exhibit worst-case outcomes materially better than un-tilted portfolios at 10-year horizons and beyond. This helps answer the question whether an investor who is 80 should include value and smaller company stocks in any equity allocation they hold. They probably should.
  • Investors with horizons longer than 10 years – even those simply seeking to maintain purchasing power – should own a meaningful level of equities in their portfolio.
  • Cash and bonds alone are unsuitable for most longer-term investors.

Answering the question

On balance, ‘long term’ should be defined as 10 to 15 years minimum. Above 15 years, the chances of a negative purchasing power outcome are low, but the risk still exists! To be prudent, 15 years might be considered as the lower end of ‘long term’, which is still within the investment horizon of most investors, including those in their 80s.

We hope that helps answer the question.

Jonathan

About the Author

Jon is a highly qualified and experienced Chartered Financial Planner and Certified Financial Planner with over 27 years’ experience. He loves working with clients who are passionate about getting the most out of life and feels his job is to support them living life to the fullest. Read more from Jonathan...
This article is distributed for educational purposes and should not be considered investment advice or an offer of any product for sale. This article contains the opinions of the author but not necessarily the Firm and does not represent a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but is not guaranteed. Past performance is not indicative of future results and no representation is made that the stated results will be replicated.
Dear Dom, Thank you for a very helpful meeting this afternoon. I always find seeing you a valuable reflective space, not least because you are such an excellent listener and so self-evidently a safe pair of hands. CL & MF (Oxford)

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