How Risky is it to Buy an Individual Stock?

Wesley Gray |

Before deciding to buy a single stock, an investor should always ask: "How risky is this investment?" However, many investors tend to get caught up in the story about why company XYZ is going to double over the next year. As an educated investor, it makes sense to know the odds table. What we hope to do here is present a distribution of the total returns one would have earned by owning an individual stock.

Our Tests:

The distribution is generated over two time periods. The first period is 1/1/1983 – 12/31/2006, and the second period is 1/1/2007 – 12/31/2014. The universe is created on 12/31/1982 (and 12/31/2006) by selecting the top 3000 stocks ranked by market capitalization. The initial universe is then compared to owning the Russell 3000 index. We examine the excess returns an investor would have earned by owning one stock compared to the universe.

The excess return is computed monthly by taking the stock’s total return and subtracting off the index return. So if stock XYZ earned 10% in January, while the Russell 3000 index earned 4%, the “excess return” for the month would be 10% – 4% = 6%. For each stock, we then compute the cumulative excess return over time, by compounding the monthly excess returns.

The results are shown below:

First Period: 1/1/1983  to 12/31/2006

Lifetime_Total_Excess_1983_2006.jpg

The results are hypothetical results and are NOT an indicator of future results and do NOT represent returns that any investor actually attained. Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect management or trading fees, and one cannot invest directly in an index. Additional information regarding the construction of these results is available upon request.

Our Takeaways:

  • Around 63% of individual stocks underperform! This means that only 37% of individual stocks outperform the benchmark!
  • The probability of beating the benchmark by more than 100% is only 11%!

Second Period: 1/1/2007 to 12/31/2014

Lifetime_Total_Excess_2007_2014.jpg

The results are hypothetical results and are NOT an indicator of future results and do NOT represent returns that any investor actually attained. Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect management or trading fees, and one cannot invest directly in an index. Additional information regarding the construction of these results is available upon request.

Takeaways:

  • Around 54% of individual stocks underperform! This means that only 46% of individual stocks outperform the benchmark!
  • The probability of beating the benchmark by more than 100% is only 10%!

So while it appears that the more recent time period was better for stock pickers, the odds were still against buying an individual stock. An additional concern when buying one stock is that the investor takes on a lot of idiosyncratic risk. This can lead to larger drawdowns if there is bad news about your one stock portfolio. Here, we examine the (gross) drawdowns of individual stocks.

Lifetime Rolling 5-Year Maximum Drawdowns:

To be included in the analysis, we require stocks to have at least five years of performance data.

Rolling_5Y_MaxDD.jpg

The results are hypothetical results and are NOT an indicator of future results and do NOT represent returns that any investor actually attained. Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect management or trading fees, and one cannot invest directly in an index. Additional information regarding the construction of these results is available upon request.

Takeaways:

  • Between 1983 and 2006, around 73% of firms had a drawdown of larger than 50% (the SP500’s MaxDD during this period is around 44%).  From 2007 – 2014, this number is 82% (the SP500’s MaxDD during this period is around 50%). Holding one individual stock can be very risky!

Conclusion

Buying an individual stock can be risky, and beating the market is difficult. Individual stock picking can also lead to large drawdowns, which are hazardous to one’s wealth. Hopefully, armed with our odds table above, we all form nice diversified portfolios!

 

Written by managing member of Alpha Architect Yang Xu. For more market anaylsis from Wesley R. Gray, check out his blog at Alpha Architects here.

 

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of equities.com. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to: http://www.equities.com/disclaimer

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