20%+ Returns? Forgetaboutit

I love this article from my friend Wes at Empirical Finance: Mission Impossible: beating the market over long periods of time.

Summary Findings

Before I even begin, here are some findings (I use the CRSP return database which starts January 1, 1926 and runs through December 31, 2010):

  • Earning 20%+ returns over very long horizons is for all intent and purposes virtually IMPOSSIBLE (assuming the market experience of the past ~90 years is representative of the future).
  • 31.5%+ returns over the 1926 to 2010 period imply that an investor will end up owning over half of the ENTIRE stock market.
  • 33%+ returns imply that an investor will end up owning the ENTIRE STOCK MARKET!
  • Warren Buffett–and perhaps a very select handful of others–have been able to achieve 20%+ returns over very long time periods. These individuals represent some of the richest people on the planet because of this very phenomenon.
  • An investor might have an epic run of 20% returns for 5, 10, maybe even 15, or 20 years, but as an investor’s capital base grows exponentially, the capital base slowly becomes ALL capital, and all capital cannot outperform itself!

This follows nicely with my post on hedge funds and CTAs:  Where Have all the Sharpe Ratios Over 1 Gone? (and more here).