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Is the Buy & Hold Stock Strategy Officially Dead?

If you hold onto an investment for longer than five days, consider yourself the new millennium’s version of Benjamin Graham.

Benjamin Graham, author of 'Intelligent Investor'
Source: Reed Business Information, Inc.
Benjamin Graham, author of 'Intelligent Investor'

The average holding period for the S&P 500 SPDR (SPY), the ETF which tracks the benchmark for U.S. stocks, is less than five days, according to shocking statistics in analyst Alan Newman’s latest Crosscurrents newsletter.

“Given recent average volume, the SPY trades its entire capitalization and then some each and every week,” wrote the always-provocative analyst. “Does anyone really wish to argue where valuation might enter the picture in this scenario? Value does not matter in the slightest.”

Analysts blame the hot potato market on the disappearance of the individual investor and the entry of the high-frequency trader. After three bear markets in the last decade, individual investors – especially baby boomers careening toward retirement – don’t have the risk tolerance to be burned once again.

“True liquidity has not come back and the pros and high frequency traders rule the world,” said Brian Stutland of Stutland Volatility Group. “Plus, if the average person ever comes back, then they won't have time to play all day long back and forth in the market. So, maybe buy and hold really is dead.”

Newman notes in his newsletter that the average holding period for all stocks was almost four years from 1926 through 1999. After a tech mania, a housing bubble, and the explosion in electronic trading, the average holding period sits at just 3.2 months today.

The decline in mutual funds and rise of short-term oriented hedge funds are also partly to blame for this trend, investors said.

“From the hedge fund perspective, we are judged on monthly performance, and three months is a lifetime,” said Brian Kelly of hedge fund Shelter Harbor Capital. “Ask any hedge fund or mutual fund manager for how long do they believe they can underperform the market and I guarantee they will tell you, ‘One quarter.’”

In one of the most extreme examples of our day-trading, computer-driven investment culture, Newman unveils this gem: “In the three months from the beginning of March to the end of May, transactions in Apple comprised one of every $16 traded in the U.S. market, very likely the most concentrated focus on one stock in stock market history.”

How many of the human beings or machines behind those trades looked at Apple’s price-earnings ratio?

“I speak with retail investors every day and I can tell you that more than ever, they believe that the stock market is a casino for the large and well-connected investors,” said Mitch Goldberg, ClientFirst Strategy in Woodbury, NY. “Of course, different investment styles go in and out of favor every so often, so to be a long term investor, you’d need a ton of patience and very thick skin. Eventually, the Graham and Buffett way will be back in favor and I think that is what will encourage the retail investor to step back into the market.”

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