What Rate of Return Can Stock Market Investing Provide?

That depends on many factors, including your time frame and the types of stocks involved. Many retirement planning calculators project a portfolio’s future value based on historical returns. However, past performance is no guarantee of future results, and you should take any such assumptions with a grain of salt.

iafmaIqaL3lkYou may have heard that stocks have historically averaged a 10% return. However, be careful about relying too much on that number. First, the figure on which that statement is based–9.8%–reflects the compounded annual total return of the S&P 500 between 1926 and 2012. Is your time frame likely to be that long? Second, equities’ performance in recent years hasn’t been as robust. The last time the S&P’s compounded annual 10-year total return was 9.8% or more was 2004; from 1999 to 2008 it was negative for the first time in decades, and from 2003 to 2012, it was 7.1%.*

Third, that 7.1% was the index’s nominal return; it doesn’t take into account inflation or taxes. As of April, the annual inflation rate was a little over 1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That would cut that 7.1% to just over 6%. And a 1% inflation rate is very low; over the last 20 years, it has averaged roughly 2.4% a year, which would mean an inflation-adjusted return under 5%. That’s less than half the often-quoted 10% average, not including any taxes owed.

What would that mean to a hypothetical $100,000 portfolio? Even if you managed to achieve a 9.8% nominal return compounded annually for 10 years, adjusting it for 2.4% inflation would mean a projected balance of almost $255,000 would actually be worth roughly $200,000 before taxes. That’s a pretty substantial gap.

Returns for stocks other than the large caps of the S&P 500 can be different. Still, when planning for income or long-term goals, focusing on real returns could help keep your expectations realistic.

*Calculations based on total returns compounded annually through December 2012 on the S&P 500 Index, which is an unmanaged market-cap weighted index composed of the common stocks of 500 leading companies in leading U.S. industries. It is not available for direct investment.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly. The tax information provided is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax planning advice. We suggest that you consult with a qualified tax advisor.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2013

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