Whether to Wade in or Dive in on Buying Stocks

The question faced by investors interested in buying stocks right now is whether to dip in a toe or dive in headfirst, and the answer depends on market volatility and “how nervous a swimmer you are.” This according to a recent article in Barron’s.

“Research shows that, mathematically speaking, a lump-sum investment is probably the way to go,” the article notes, explaining that the sooner money is in the market, the more likely an investor will benefit from market upticks. Dollar-cost-averaging (investing smaller amounts over time), while a more disciplined strategy, “can also result in lower returns.”

The article cites a Vanguard study that examined return results from 1926 through 2015 and found that “lump-sum investment outperformed a six-month series of investments 64% of the time. For investment strung out over 36 months, the lump-sum option did better 92% of the time.”

Betterment director of investing Adam Grealish echoes the findings: “By dollar-cost averaging, you are timing the market in some way, even if it’s systematic,” he says, adding, “If you are trying to maximize your expected return over time, deploying it all at once has proven to be a more successful strategy, on average.”

However, the article argues that “this market hasn’t exactly been average,” adding that recent volatility makes dollar-cost-averaging a more prudent approach. According to Grealish, “For a lot of investors it comes down to how would you feel if the markets went down right after you invested. One of the biggest benefits of dollar-cost averaging is minimizing that regret.”