On any given day, it’s easy to find a stock bull and a stock bear ready to fight it out with conflicting advice and opinions. The bull points to stronger growth in the U.S. in 2018, stimulus from tax cuts, tight labor markets, low interest rates and high consumer confidence as evidence that all is well and stocks should continue to soar. The bear points to a fourth-quarter U.S. slowdown (with growth dropping to 2.6% from the second quarter’s 4.2%), a slowdown in China, head winds from the trade war and the deflationary effects of a strong dollar.

Both sides have a lot more ammunition. The bear says that consumer confidence is correlated to the stock market and when stocks drop, confidence is not far behind. The bull says that the Fed just signaled a “pause” in rate hikes, which will give the market a boost. And so it goes.

One way to cut through the noise is to take a few steps back and look at a longer perspective. That’s exactly what this article does.

The author points out that in the past 20 years, the annual return on the S&P500 (including dividends) is only 4.8%, well below the annual returns on bonds and gold. Investors will point to the fact that stocks have risen 300% since the post-recession low in March 2009. That’s true, but it ignores the 50% crash in 2008 and the near 50% crash in 2001–02.

Most of the reputed “big gains” in the S&P are really just a matter of making up big losses. The long-term returns are not horrible; they’re just ordinary. The article makes the point that passive “buy-and-hold” investing is a Wall Street smokescreen, and superior returns require active investing.

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