Would you rather make 21% in a year on your investment or lose 18% in a year on your investments? Believe it or not there is a subset of investors who would rather lose 18% than gain 21% on their investments. Let me clarify. The Standard and Poors (S&P) 500 index went down 23.37% (excluding dividends) in 2002. In 2003, the S&P 500 gained 26.38%. There is a subset of investors who strive to "beat the S&P 500." This perverse group of people would be thrilled to have lost 18% of their money in 2002 because they would have beaten the S&P 500 by over 5%. (If you didn't invest in the stock market at all and ended up with a 0% return, you would have beaten the S&P 500 by 23% in 2002.) In either case, I didn't exactly see many people celebrating their investment portfolios at the time.
By contrast, These same folks would be bummed out to make only 21% on their investments in 2003 because they would have underperformed the S&P 500 by more than 5%. I don't know about you, but I would happy to make 21% in a year on my investments, and would feel ashamed to have lost 18% in my investments. The truth be told, I used to compare my stock performance against the S&P. I don't do that anymore, after I saw how ridiculous that comparison can be. This reminds me of the "keeping up with the Joneses" comparison in personal finance. My advice is not to constantly compare your portfolio performance with the S&P, Nasdaq, or your neighbors. Instead, strive to improve your own position year over year.
This article was originally published on September 23, 2006. It is being republished today.