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Faith and Fear:
The S&P Twin Demons of Buy-and-Hold?

With an uncomfortable roller coaster October 2014 behind us, it seems that the "buy-and-hold" stock pundits got it right...this time.

But hindsight is a dangerous measure for any investor. A closer look at the recent run-up in the S&P—as a proxy for a buy-and-hold strategy—may provide important and surprising insights.

Those who like to stay the course with their investments point to the past 100 years to convince us that we'd all be millionaires had we just held on. Unfortunately, none of us has 100 years to wait, assess and decide if we were right. For the more immediate purposes of building retirement savings and taking care of our family financially, a sober look at the S&P reveals the relative weakness of a more passive approach.

Since January of 2009, the S&P has delivered an impressive 147% total return. However, it took four years just to earn back the losses suffered during the two years prior to 2009. And thus the total net return for the last seven years is only 30%. Click for more details .

If you consider the 7 years leading up to 2009, the S&P had no growth at all. Go back another year and the total gain was only 4.7%, a figure hardly rivaling the target date funds of the same period.

Even if you began planning for your retirement long before 2000—for which the average annual return for the S&P has been 3.5%—it still calls into question whether a buy-and-hold strategy alone can ever reliably deliver the superior returns needed to have a comfortable retirement. Since one can never turn back the clock, an objective, disciplined strategy that regularly evaluates the relative strengths of the whole range of investment opportunities provides the greatest reliability and growth potential.

Kevin L. Coppola, President, Compass Investors, LLC

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