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10 Percent Doesn't Necessarily Mean 10 Percent

When it comes to stocks, 10 percent doesn’t necessarily mean 10 percent. We will explain this and how setting reasonable expectations can make you a better investor.

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When young financial advisors go to financial advisor school, one of the first things they are taught is the stock market has an average annual return of 10% per year. This leads people to believe the stock part of their investments are going to improve by 10% each year. But, 10% doesn’t mean 10%.

Only two times in the last 96 years have we seen stocks return close to 10% in a calendar year (10.06% in 1993, and 10.88% in 2004). It is more likely the positive years are going to be much better. And, there will also be some negative years, too.

When you’re thinking about what could happen in any given year, you should expect anything. In the short term, almost anything is possible. But over a long period of time—20 or 30 years—expecting stocks to return 10% per year is reasonable.

Setting Reasonable Expectations

It helps to set reasonable expectations when you’re an investor. It helps you to understand volatility is part of the process. And, we also know there will be difficult periods you have to navigate.

For example, you should expect the stock market to be positive three out of every four years. And, you should anticipate one year in four will be negative. Those plus years are likely to be much better than the 10% average annual mark. The average up year is about 21%. The negative years average -13%.


You should also expect corrections to happen at least once a year. (We may be in the middle of one right now.) The average correction is about -14%. But even with those interruptions, the market has continued to improve over time.

Bear Markets

You should also expect bear markets. We had one last year, and it was an awful experience. But, the stock market recovered, and the recovery happened a lot faster than any of us anticipated.

When we set reasonable expectations, we can make better decisions about our investments. It keeps us from selling at bad times. It may keep us from buying at bad times as well. Avoiding those key mistakes can help us improve our real-life returns.

Talk to a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional


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About the Author

Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors.    He specializes in helping hard working, middle class families plan for retirement.

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