Choosing the Proper Benchmark

What a difference a week makes in the stock market! I thought we were in a pandemic. The lessons to learn from the current economic cycle are: 1) Markets don’t function with emotional bias based on the current state of the population; and 2) You shouldn’t try to time the markets based on “one-off” instances of change in the governance of our country.

Too many offerings of unfiltered and unverified reporting of market trends, expected apocalyptic tax changes and, overall chaos, fail to consider the market makers and buyers of large numbers of trading shares who do not make decisions based on a whim. You should approach your long-term investing strategy in the same manner. Make sound decisions based on facts and evidence while clearly focusing on your future needs.

How do you know if your portfolio is performing well? One method we recommend is the use of a proxy benchmark. There are many indices to choose from, but the proper application is to utilize a benchmark that meets your ideal portfolio allocation. If you are investing your retirement savings in a 60/40 equity to bonds allocation, you will not want to use the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500) as the lone index. Instead you may wish to use a blended index that provides for consideration of bond performance in the same percentage as your portfolio.

Let us explore how benchmarks are constructed so that you will understand their application to your planning process. For example, the S&P 500 Index is a market-capitalization weighted index of the 500 largest U.S. publicly traded companies. This means that the companies within the index are weighted based on their market capitalization and shares traded. Another common benchmark is the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) which is a price-weighted index. To understand how the DJIA is weighted, think about the individual share prices of the thirty (30) companies included in the index and the higher priced stocks receive a greater share, or weight, of the allocation to the index. By using daily share prices, the index seeks to account for stock splits, dividends paid or corporate divestitures (spinoffs) in its performance reporting.

When reviewing the performance of an asset class such as bonds, within your portfolio, consider a broad-based benchmark such as the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index (Barclays Agg). This benchmark index includes the entire universe of domestic, investment-grade, fixed-income securities traded in the United States. As a broad index including government securities, mortgage-backed securities, asset-backed securities, and corporate securities, it serves as an appropriate comparison to well-diversified bond portfolios.

There is a great deal of expertise, time and knowledge required to invest in markets. If you are concerned about the performance of your retirement assets, seek out a complimentary consultation with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional. You may be glad you did. See you on the golf course!

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