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Markets in a Minute

The Pyramid of Equity Returns: Almost 200 Years of U.S. Stock Performance

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This Markets in a Minute Chart is available as a poster.

Historical Stock Market Returns

Historical Stock Market Returns

This Markets in a Minute Chart is available as a poster.

Historical Stock Market Returns

After the fastest bear market drop in history, the S&P 500 rallied and now has a year-to-date total return of -4.7%. The year is not over, but in the context of history, is this in line with what’s considered a “normal” return, or is it more of an outlier?

In today’s Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we show the distribution of U.S. equity returns over almost 200 years.

Total Returns By Year

The chart shows total annual returns, which assumes that dividends and other cash distributions are reinvested back into the index.

It’s also important to note that different indexes and data collection methods are used over the timeframe. From 1825-1925, numbers come from researchers at Yale University and Pennsylvania State University. They collected price and dividend data for almost all stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange during its early history.

From 1926-1956, returns are from the S&P 90, the S&P 500’s predecessor. Finally, from 1957 to date, returns are based on the S&P 500.

Here are historical stock market returns by year:

YearTotal Return
1825-10.46%
18260.81%
1827-3.28%
1828-15.13%
182913.54%
183030.14%
1831-15.35%
183211.62%
1833-3.16%
183411.75%
1835-3.91%
18365.92%
1837-15.91%
183818.47%
1839-21.34%
18406.54%
1841-18.66%
18428.11%
184346.34%
18449.66%
1845-7.46%
184626.57%
184713.20%
184810.45%
184915.40%
185014.21%
1851-1.35%
185222.59%
1853-4.03%
1854-18.35%
185518.34%
18565.49%
1857-20.82%
185813.22%
18592.24%
1860-1.53%
1861-0.52%
186252.75%
186344.47%
186414.71%
18652.64%
18664.85%
18671.88%
1868-
18691.33%
18702.77%
18719.20%
18726.83%
1873-11.19%
18741.70%
18751.89%
1876-6.45%
18777.05%
187816.04%
187957.10%
188025.12%
18817.36%
1882-4.22%
1883-9.39%
1884-18.47%
188550.85%
188616.69%
1887-7.70%
18886.45%
18898.77%
1890-6.59%
18917.74%
189214.79%
1893-12.33%
18941.94%
18956.56%
18964.86%
189718.41%
189816.38%
18997.89%
190022.97%
190129.26%
19029.44%
1903-8.53%
190419.66%
190510.67%
19063.10%
1907-21.79%
190834.56%
190922.99%
1910-10.94%
19117.37%
19125.30%
1913-9.32%
1914-3.25%
191521.73%
19167.19%
1917-16.44%
191811.27%
191916.09%
1920-15.02%
192111.02%
192226.72%
19233.90%
192425.77%
192529.12%
192611.62%
192737.49%
192843.61%
1929-8.42%
1930-24.90%
1931-43.34%
1932-8.19%
193353.99%
1934-1.44%
193547.67%
193633.92%
1937-35.03%
193831.12%
1939-0.41%
1940-9.78%
1941-11.59%
194220.34%
194325.90%
194419.75%
194536.44%
1946-8.07%
19475.71%
19485.50%
194918.79%
195031.71%
195124.02%
195218.37%
1953-0.99%
195452.62%
195531.56%
19566.56%
1957-10.78%
195843.36%
195911.96%
19600.47%
196126.89%
1962-8.73%
196322.80%
196416.48%
196512.45%
1966-10.06%
196723.98%
196811.06%
1969-8.50%
19704.01%
197114.31%
197218.98%
1973-14.66%
1974-26.47%
197537.20%
197623.84%
1977-7.18%
19786.56%
197918.44%
198032.42%
1981-4.91%
198221.55%
198322.56%
19846.27%
198531.73%
198618.67%
19875.25%
198816.61%
198931.69%
1990-3.10%
199130.47%
19927.62%
199310.08%
19941.32%
199537.58%
199622.96%
199733.36%
199828.58%
199921.04%
2000-9.10%
2001-11.89%
2002-22.10%
200328.68%
200410.88%
20054.91%
200615.79%
20075.49%
2008-37.00%
200926.46%
201015.06%
20112.11%
201216.00%
201332.39%
201413.69%
20151.38%
201611.96%
201721.83%
2018-4.38%
201931.49%

Source: Journal of Financial Markets, Slickcharts. The year 1868 has insufficient data to estimate a total annual return.

U.S. equity returns roughly follow a bell curve, meaning that values cluster near a central peak and values farther from the average are less common. Historically, they have been skewed towards positive performance.

Here is how the distribution of returns stack up:

Total Annual Return (%)-50 to -30-30 to -10-10 to 1010 to 3030 to 5050+
Number of Years Within Range3237665225
Percent of Years Within Range1.5%11.9%39.2%33.5%11.3%2.6%

While extreme returns can happen, almost 40% of annual returns have fallen within the -10% to 10% range.

Recessions and Recoveries

What does it look like when more abnormal returns occur? Due to the cyclical nature of the economy, recessions tend to be followed by strong recoveries.

recession and recovery stock market returns

In 1957, the year the S&P 500 was created, the stock market saw a loss of almost 11%. Stock prices shot up by over 43% the following year, bolstered by rising credit volumes and business profits.

Most recently, the 2008 global financial crisis led to one of the largest equity losses to date. In 2009, stocks climbed by almost 27%, boosted by expectations of higher capital spending and demand as the economy recovered.

What History Tells Us

While equities can have high volatility, returns have historically followed a positively-skewed bell curve distribution. From 1825-2019, the average total annual return was 9.56%. In fact, over 70% of total annual returns have been positive over the same timeframe.

Owning stocks long-term may help investors not only beat inflation, but also build a nest egg that may sustain them throughout their retirement years.

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Markets in a Minute

Visualizing the Growth of $100, by Asset Class

In this graphic, we show asset class returns across U.S. equities, bonds, real estate, gold and cash since 1970.

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This line chart shows the growth of a $100 investment between 1970 and 2023 by asset class.

Visualizing the Growth of $100, by Asset Class

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Which major asset class has generated the strongest returns over the long run? How do the returns of investments like bonds and real estate actually stack up?

To put investment returns in perspective, this graphic shows the growth of $100 by asset class over the long term, based on data from Aswath Damodaran at NYU Stern.

Comparing Asset Class Returns

Below, we show the returns of a $100 investment across major asset classes—from U.S. stocks to gold—between 1970 and 2023:

YearS&P 500Corporate
Bonds
GoldU.S. 10-Year
Treasury Bonds
Real EstateCash
1970$100$100$100$100$100$100
1980$226$181$1,578$141$229$192
1990$823$741$1,033$477$374$431
2000$4,060$1,886$734$1,067$536$682
2010$4,656$4,191$3,760$1,821$693$840
2020$16,890$8,349$5,059$2,802$1,155$891
2023$22,419$7,775$5,545$2,286$1,542$956

Numbers have been rounded. S&P 500 includes dividends. Cash represented by 3-Month U.S. T-Bills. Corporate Bonds represented by Baa corporate bonds. Real Estate represented by the Case-Shiller Home Price Index.

As we can see, a $100 investment in the S&P 500 (including reinvested dividends) in 1970 would be worth an impressive $22,419 in 2023.

Not only were U.S. stocks the top performing major asset class, they outpaced other investments by a wide margin. Consider how a $100 investment in corporate bonds would have grown to $7,775 over the period, or 65% lower than an investment in the S&P 500.

When it comes to gold, a $100 investment would have been worth $5,545 by 2023. During the 1970s and 2000s, gold boomed amid bouts of inflation and a falling U.S. dollar. By comparison, the S&P 500 saw much lower returns over these decades.

Real estate, another safe haven asset, grew on average 5.5% annually since 1970, with the highest gains seen in the decade through 2020. It’s worth noting that these numbers are from the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, which is based on purely price changes over time.

Given that real estate is a unique asset class, this doesn’t necessarily illustrate the returns that homeowners actually receive, factoring in leverage, property taxes, insurance, and other expenses. From this price perspective, a $100 investment would have grown to just $1,542 by 2023 due to slower price growth through the 1980s and 2000s weighing on overall gains.

During both periods, the housing market crashed, taking years for the sector to fully recover. In fact, following the Global Financial Crisis, it took a decade for home prices to climb to their previous 2006 peak.

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Markets in a Minute

How Small Investments Make a Big Impact Over Time

Compound interest is a powerful force in building wealth. Here’s how it impacts even the most modest portfolio over the long-term.

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This bar chart shows the power of compound interest and regular contributions over time.

How Small Investments Make a Big Impact Over Time

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Time is an investor’s biggest ally, even if they start with just a modest portfolio.

The reason behind this is compounding interest, of course, thanks to its ability to magnify returns as interest earns interest on itself. With a fortune of $159 billion, Warren Buffett largely credits compound interest as a vital ingredient to his success—describing it like a snowball collecting snow as it rolls down a very long hill.

This graphic shows how compound interest can dramatically impact the value of an investor’s portfolio over longer periods of time, based on data from Investor.gov.

Why Compound Interest is a Powerful Force

Below, we show how investing $100 each month, with a 10% annual return starting at the age of 25 can generate outsized returns by simply staying the course:

AgeTotal ContributionsInterestPortfolio Value
25$1,300$10$1,310
30$7,300$2,136$9,436
35$13,300$9,223$22,523
40$19,300$24,299$43,599
45$25,300$52,243$77,543
50$31,300$100,910$132,210
55$37,300$182,952$220,252
60$43,300$318,743$362,043
65$49,300$541,101$590,401
70$55,300$902,872$958,172
75$61,300$1,489,172$1,550,472

Portfolio value is at end of each time period. All time periods are five years except for the first year (Age 25) which includes a $100 initial contribution. Interest is computed annually.

As we can see, the portfolio grows at a relatively slow pace over the first five years.

But as the portfolio continues to grow, the interest earned begins to exceed the contributions in under 15 years. That’s because interest is earned not only on the total contributions but on the accumulated interest itself. So by the age of 40, the total contributions are valued at $19,300 while the interest earned soars to $24,299.

Not only that, the interest earned soars to double the value of the investor’s contributions over the next five years—reaching $52,243 compared to the $25,300 in principal.

By the time the investor is 75, the power of compound interest becomes even more eye-opening. While the investor’s lifetime contributions totaled $61,300, the interest earned ballooned to 25 times that value, reaching $1,489,172.

In this way, it shows that investing consistently over time can benefit investors who stick it through stock market ups and downs.

The Two Key Ingredients to Growing Money

Generally speaking, building wealth involves two key pillars: time and rate of return.

Below, we show how these key factors can impact portfolios based on varying time horizons using a hypothetical example. Importantly, just a small difference in returns can make a huge impact on a portfolio’s end value:

Annual ReturnPortfolio Value
25 Year Investment Horizon
Portfolio Value
75 Year Investment Horizon
5%$57,611$911,868
8%$88,412$4,835,188
12%$161,701$49,611,684

With this in mind, it’s important to take into account investment fees which can erode the value of your investments.

Even the difference of 1% in investment fees adds up over time, especially over the long run. Say an investor paid 1% in fees, and had an after-fee return of 9%. If they had a $100 starting investment, contributed monthly over a 25-year time span, their portfolio would be worth over $102,000 at the end of the period.

By comparison, a 10% return would have made over $119,000. In other words, they lost roughly $17,000 on their investment because of fees.

Another important factor to keep in mind is inflation. In order to preserve the value of your portfolio, its important to choose investments that beat inflation, which has historically averaged around 3.3%.

For perspective, since 1974 the S&P 500 has returned 12.5% on average annually (including reinvested dividends), 10-Year U.S. Treasury bonds have returned 6.6%, while real estate has averaged 5.6%. As we can see, each of these have outperformed inflation over longer horizons, with varying degrees of risk and return.

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