Are We in the Best Time Ever for Individual Investors?

With all of the animosity toward Wall Street these days, it seems hard to believe that today is the best time ever to be an individual investor. But Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Zweig makes a strong case that it is.

“Research by Charles M. Jones of Columbia University and Kenneth R. French of Dartmouth College shows that the cost of investing has probably fallen by roughly 90% in the past few decades,” Zweig writes for WSJ’s Total Return blog, detailing his first stock-trading experience some three-and-a-half decades ago. “So has the aggravation. I still remember my anger at finding out, days after the fact, that I’d been sold out of a stock I wanted to own — and then having to pay another commission to buy it back. The experience was so unpleasant that I didn’t trade another stock for years, and I never again invested without mastering all the publicly available information about the company.”

Today, Zweig adds, the information playing field has been leveled for individual investors. Years ago, one had to read the daily newspaper and send away for annual company reports, he says; today, stock and company information is available with a few clicks on the computer.

Zweig also discusses how “there was never a golden age when the financial markets were safe or when investors were always represented by people who behaved liked angels. … And the estimates that high-frequency traders account for 70% of total trading volume today differ little from the estimates of the Hughes Commission in 1908 that 75% to 90% of all stock trading in New York was ‘of the gambling type.'” He concludes, “Yes, Wall Street is still a dangerous place. But it used to be worse.”

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