Photo by Metro Centric

Photo by Metro Centric

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The statement refers to the persuasive power of numbers, the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments, and the tendency of people to disparage statistics that do not support their positions.

Statistics is a powerful to induce people to make wrong decisions based on numbers.

Consider the following statement: “Attempting to move in and out of the market can be a costly affair, particularly because a significant portion of the market’s gains over time have tended to come in concentrated periods. Looking back at the performance of the S&P 500 since 1980, an investor who missed out on only the five best performing days in the market would have ended up with a portfolio worth roughly 26% less than one that had been fully invested throughout the period.

Further, missing just 30 of the best performing days for the market since 1980 would have reduced the value of a portfolio by about 73%, compared to one that remained fully invested.”

Source: MARE: Market Analysis, Research and Education, Oct 16, 2008. “Stock market, exit at your own risk”

There is nothing wrong with the statement. All the above stated are known facts. However, it gives people the false impression that you will definitely lose out if you exit the market “prematurely” upon investing and you only miss out the 5 or 30 best performing days but got hit by all the worst days, which is unlikely. Basically, it condemns market timing and embraces long time investment.

Consider the market turmoil last year, if you had exited or cut your losses in Jan 08, you would have missed the 40% downturn. You would probably miss the 20% recent rally, but you will still be better off!

The notion that statistics lie is common knowledge, but we should also be mindful that the motivation behind each statistics evidence is to induce people to make certain decisions. Consider the following fictional examples:

There is an epidemic in Singapore. 10,000 people are infected and on the verge of death. A new drug is available. If you choose to administer the drug, you will save 5000 people. If you do not use the drug, 5000 people will die. What will you do?

There is an epidemic in Singapore. 10,000 people are infected and on the verge of death. A new drug is available. If you choose to administer the drug, 5,000 people will die. Will you administer the drug? Read more…