50 Days or 50 Years?

The summer season started 50 days ago, and 50 years ago, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. One short-term, one long.

Traders are short-term focused, and they use a bevy of indicators to try to gain an edge. One of their tools is the moving average. What is a moving average? Here is a definition from Investopedia: “A moving average (MA) is a widely used indicator in technical analysis that helps smooth out price action by filtering out the “noise” from random short-term price fluctuations. It is a trend-following, or lagging, indicator because it is based on past prices.” Since it’s a trend following system, traders will try to ride it for as long as possible.

Traders can focus on several moving averages – 10, 20, 30, 50, 100, or 200 days. When an index trades above its moving average, it’s considered a bullish sign for it to climb higher. When the index dips below it, traders consider it a bearish sign that the market will fall further.

Traders and commentators love to focus on a moving average as a key indicator of short-term moves in the market because it’s an easy indicator to follow. When the index crosses above the moving average, buy. When it dips below, sell. It sounds so simple.

Here’s a look at the most recent 50-day moving average for the S&P 500.

^SPX_chart

Currently, the S&P 500 is trading below it’s 50-day moving average. Should you sell? If you bought the index 50 days ago when the index was trading above the moving average, you’d be down 1.2% if you held on through yesterday’s close. In the past 50 days, the index has crossed through its 50-day moving average six different times.

Traders also rely on the Golden Cross and Death Cross. The Golden Cross occurs when the 50-day crosses above the 200-day, a bullish sign. The Death Cross occurs when the 50-day crosses through the 200-day and falls below it, an extremely bearish signal.

Should you trade the moving averages? If you’re a disciplined short-term trader, it may give you an edge. However, stocks and indices move through their moving averages constantly so you may get whipsawed by the numerous buy and sell signals.  And which indicator should you follow? A 10-day indicator will give a different signal than the 200-day moving average.

A buy and hold investor can save time and stress by ignoring the moving averages. Rather than looking for trading indicators, focus your efforts on identifying your financial goals so you can take advantage of the long-term trend of the stock market.

Fifty years ago, the S&P 500 closed at 93.94. This past Friday the index closed at 2,918.65 – a gain of 3,006%! If you tried to trade each move through the moving average, your returns probably would’ve been a lot less.

^SPX_chart (2)

The long-term trend of the market is hard to beat, but it hasn’t been a straight line. It has been littered with violent moves. The index has fallen 30% or more seven times since 1969, or about 1 in every 7 years. From September 2000 to February 2013 the index traded flat. Investors who grew frustrated with 13 years of poor performance and sold their holdings missed a 93% return from 2013 to 2019.

Is it better to focus on a short-term trading strategy or concentrate on a long-term buy and hold model? I prefer the buy and hold model. Here are a few suggestions to help you answer your own question.

  • If you need the money in one year or less, keep your assets in short-term vehicles like CDs, Treasury Bills, or money market funds.
  • If your money is earmarked for something like paying for college or buying a new home, then keep your money in short-term investments regardless of the time frame. For example, if you plan to buy a new home in three years, then your money should be kept in short-term, conservative investments.
  • If you want to try your hand at short-term trading, limit your risk capital to 3% to 5% of your investable assets. If you’re successful, it will enhance your returns. If you’re not, it won’t bring financial ruin.
  • If your time horizon is 3 to 5 years or more, invest in stocks.
  • Work with a Certified Financial Planner® to help you identify and quantify your goals.

Timing the market is extremely difficult regardless of the indicator you choose. Rather than trying to time the market, spend time focusing on your financial goals.

We don’t really look at the stock, you know. Because for us, it’s about the long term. And so, we’re very much focused on long-term shareholder value but not the short-term kind of stuff. ~ Tim Cook


August 11, 2019

Bill Parrott, CFP®, CKA® is the President and CEO of Parrott Wealth Management located in Austin, Texas. Parrott Wealth Management is a fee-only, fiduciary, registered investment advisor firm. Our goal is to remove complexity, confusion, and worry from the investment and financial planning process so our clients can pursue a life of purpose. Our firm does not have an asset or fee minimum, and we work with anybody who needs financial help regardless of age, income, or asset level.

Note: Investments are not guaranteed and do involve risk. Your returns may differ than those posted in this blog. PWM is not a tax advisor, nor do we give tax advice. Please consult your tax advisor for items that are specific to your situation. Options involve risk and aren’t suitable for every investor.