I've heard many people over the years express their concern that investing in the stock market feels like gambling - where there is little chance of winning. The remark typically sounds something like this, “The market goes up and then it goes down and you don't make money, it feels like gambling.”
So I decided to see if there is some validity to this belief.
First I looked at various casino games and the odds of winning. Then I gathered stock market data from 1937 through September of 2020, using rolling periods to provide as many measurement periods as possible. Keep in mind, during this 83-year time period the market experienced 14 recessions (including our current recession) , 2 world wars, the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of JFK, the crash of 1987, 9/11, Covid, and countless other tragic events that rocked our world. Interesting enough, after combing through the data, I can understand how people might feel this way, because over the very very short-term the stock market has had similar chances of generating positive returns as some casino games.
Take a look at the chart below: Black Jack, Craps, and the 1-Day holding period for the stock market have similar probabilities of winning (historically). What also might be enlightening is the probability of "winning" in the stock market dramatically increases as the holding period increases. Over the last 83 years, the probability jumps to over 92% if an investor held for 5-years and is over 99% with a 15-year holding period.
Imagine if you could play casino games and have percentages approaching anywhere near these levels.
Maybe the moral of the story is what we all try to teach our children, that patience truly is a virtue.
I like the long-term odds of winning in the stock market. As the Worlds Most Interesting Man might say, “Stay patient my friend.”
-Paul R. Rossi, CFA