The Effects of Timing your Investments

Below are some visualizations that help to give a sense of to what degree does timing affect the final returns for a particular asset (in this case, index).

A larger and/or more uniform area of colour indicate that timing is not that important, whereas a very small area of different colour (especially blues) indicate that you could only have achieved the highest returns if you invested in the right time.

For the SPY, the areas of highest returns are only achievable if you invested during either of the 2 recent crises (2000 and 2008), and held it until today (end Aug 2020). The similar shades of dark blue show that the 2008 crisis wiped out most of the gains achieved investing in 2000-2008, such that investing in 2008 yields similar returns as investing in 2000.

A dark vertical bar of red at the 2008 area also show that any investment prior to 2008 would have achieved pretty much nothing if exited at that time.

The difference in QQQ is much more pronounced - the highest returns could only have been achieved if you invested in the trough of the 2000 crash.

For the below ETFs representing China and Singapore, investing early was the key to achieving the best returns - see how the blues are in horizontal swathes near the top instead of localized ones as per the SPY and QQQ.

Finally, Bitcoin. Because of the wider range of returns, I've truncated returns above 400% - here all represented by the darkest blue. Early adopters have it the best, but note the red patch near the top left, indicating how they had to suffer severe drawdowns too.

I am not recommending that you should or should not time the market - this simply shows that for some investments, timing plays a huge role in determining whether you make average returns or not. It may be seen one way as "since the odds are against me, I might as well settle for average returns", or "since the rewards of beating the market are so great, I should strive to get the timing right".

*ETF prices and returns are dividend-adjusted

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