Here's the problem: If an investor missed the 36 percent drop in the S&P 500 in 2008 — or even worse, bailed on the markets mid-carnage — they probably also missed the 26 percent gain in the S&P 500 in 2009, and the next three positive years for the index that followed.
In 2011, investors pulled another $94 billion from stock funds, and in 2012 another $129 billion, when the S&P 500 was up 16 percent. Hundreds of billions of dollars pulled out of stocks during a period of time when a stay-the-course strategy would have netted an 8.6 percent cumulative gain. Not a shoot-the-lights-out strategy, but nothing to sneeze at either in today's low-return — not to mention nil savings rate — environment.
"The global financial crisis created such a high level of risk aversion that people didn't just wait for the start of the rebound. In some cases, they waited for years," said Kristina Hooper, U.S. investment strategist at Allianz Global Investors. "I can't tell you how many investors I came across in 2011, 2012 and even 2013 who had missed out on a lot of the comeback in the stock market and were still sitting in cash."
It's what Lipper's head of Americas Research, Jeff Tjornehoj, calls the dilemma of the do-nothing investor: More often than not, the do-nothing investor does better.
"It's a rocky ride, but the do-nothing investor would have been fine and avoided headaches," Tjornehoj said, referring to those who stayed invested through the crash. He added, "If you know precisely how to move between stocks and bonds and everything else, you would have done better, but how many investors know how to do that?"