Sudden market downturns can be unsettling. But historically, US equity returns following sharp declines have, on average, been positive. A broad market index tracking data since 1926 in the US shows that stocks have tended to deliver positive returns over one-year, three-year, and five-year periods following steep declines. Cumulative returns show this trend to striking effect, as seen in Exhibit 1.
Source: Dimensional Fund Advisors
On average, just one year after a market decline of 10%, stocks rebounded 12.5%, and a year after 20% 30% declines, the cumulative returns topped 20%. Over three years, stocks bounced back more than 30% from declines of 10% and 20%, although—while still positive—returns were not as impressive after 30% declines. But five years after market declines of 10%, 20%, and 30%, the average cumulative returns all top 50%.1
A look at the data makes a case for sticking with a plan. Handsome rebounds after steep declines can help put investors in position to capture the long-term benefits the markets offer.
1. The average annualized returns for the five-year period after 10% declines were 9.54%; after 20% declines, 9.66%; and after 30% declines, 7.18%.
Market declines or downturns are defined as periods in which the cumulative return from a peak is –10%, –20%, or –30% or lower. Returns are calculated for the 1-, 3-, and 5-year look-ahead periods beginning the day after the respective downturn thresholds of –10%, –20%, or –30% are exceeded. The bar chart shows the average returns for the 1-, 3-, and 5-year periods following the 10%, 20%, and 30% thresholds. For the 10% threshold, there are 29 observations for 1-year look-ahead, 28 observations for 3-year look-ahead, and 27 observations for 5-year look-ahead. For the 20% threshold, there are 15 observations for 1-year look-ahead, 14 observations for 3-year look-ahead, and 13 observations for 5-year look-ahead. For the 30% threshold, there are 7 observations for 1-year look-ahead, 6 observations for 3-year look-ahead, and 6 observations for 5-year look-ahead. Peak is a new all-time high prior to a downturn. Data provided by Fama/French and available at mba.tuck.dartmouth.edu/pages/faculty/ken.french/data_library.html. Eugene Fama and Ken French are members of the Board of Directors of the general partner of, and provide consulting services to, Dimensional Fund Advisors LP.
Actual returns may be lower. Indices are not available for direct investment. Index returns are not representative of actual portfolios and do not reflect costs and fees associated with an actual investment.