Power of doing nothing in stock markets – Indian Stock Markets Perspective

A study found that a goalkeeper who stands in the middle — the stock market equivalent of doing nothing — has better success than one who tries to guess which way a free kick will come. It was found that goalkeepers jumped to the left or the right significantly more than was useful in preventing goals. In fact, they jumped an overwhelming 94 percent of the time – meaning they stayed in the middle only 6 percent of the time. In comparison, the shot went towards the centre 29 percent of the time. Goalkeepers, it seems, could achieve more by doing less.

Similarly in managing stocks in your portfolio, it is often best to stay in the centre and do nothing. Sitting put on your index funds & dividend stocks, not trying to find the bottom & most importantly, not panicking, serves an investor better than trying to guess and time the markets.
Experts (though you should not believe them blindly) agree that investors will be better off resisting the temptation to make changes to their long-term investments simply because of short-term stock market movements. If your personal circumstances and financial goals haven’t changed, and you are still interested in being invested for the long term, then it is probably appropriate to ‘do nothing’.
To test the benefits of doing nothing in Indian markets, we analyzed the data for last 20 years. We specifically looked at 5 & 10 year rolling returns (CAGR) of Sensex (index) to understand whether it made sense to invest once and sit through years doing nothing?
The results are shown in graphs below –
Click to enlarge
Returns on rolling 5 Years
  • Average 5 years returns have been a good 11.8% pa. i.e. if you invested some money in index (Sensex in this case) and did nothing for next 5 years, your money would have grown at a rate of 11.8% every year (Doubling in just over 6 years).
Click to enalrge
Returns on rolling 10 Years
  • Average 10 years returns have been a good 10.9% pa. i.e. if you invested some money in index (Sensex in this case) and did nothing for next 10 years, your money would have grown at a rate of 10.9% every year (Doubling in just over 6.5 years).

Now these two figures of 11.8% & 10.9% are not earth shattering, but if maintained for decades, they have the potential to make investor following do-nothing approach, super rich.

Summarizing our finding in table (below), we found some interesting things –
  • In all we had 201 Five-Year Periods. Of these returns earned in excess of 10% were 91 of those periods. i.e. 45%
  • The buy and hold strategy (for 5 Years) beat long term average of 11.8% a good 37% of the time.
  • For Ten Year Periods, we had a fewer 141 periods. Returns earned in excess of the long term average of 10.9% were a brilliant 59% of the time. i.e. If you stayed invested for 10 years and did nothing, chances of beating the long term average were a high 59%.

And you thought that buying and holding did not work! 🙂

So does it mean that Doing-Nothing works? We would say that it does, but only if you are ready to follow it for long term. And long term means years (decades) and not months. Frankly, there doesn’t seem much point in overanalyzing, overthinking, and exhausting oneself by trading in the short term. We must understand that it is TIME and NOT TIMING that is the key to successful investing.