What’s the Average Return on Stocks?

What is the Average Share Return? Understanding Investment Returns

Investing is a strategic approach to growing your wealth and making a profit on your money. But what exactly is a return? A return is the positive or negative outcome of an investment, expressed as a percentage of the initial investment. It represents the performance of your investments over a specific period.

In this article, we will explore the concept of average share return and shed light on the factors that influence investment returns. We’ll also discuss the significance of long-term investing, the role of market timing, and how to set realistic expectations for your investment returns.

Understanding Investment Returns

Investment returns play a crucial role in evaluating the success of your investment strategy. It is important to note that return is different from outcome. While return is expressed as a percentage, outcome is a numerical representation of the final result. By calculating returns, we can compare different investments more effectively, regardless of the amount invested.

The main goal of investing is to make a profit. Returns can be generated through various means, such as price increases, dividends, and interest payments. It is essential to evaluate the returns on your investments over time to gauge their performance. A benchmark, like an index such as the S&P 500, can be used to compare the performance of your investments.

Historical Average Share Returns

To understand the average share return, let’s take a look at the historical data. Over the last century, the average return on equities in the United States has been around 10% per year. However, when accounting for inflation, the average return drops to 6–7%. It is important to note that this average return is not achieved consistently every year. In fact, only a small percentage of years fall within the 8–12% return range.

Extensive studies conducted by American professors Dimson, Marsh, and Staunton provide valuable insights into the historical return on investment. These studies analyse data from 1900 to the present, offering a comprehensive understanding of the long-term trends in investment returns.

The Impact of Market Volatility

While the average return on shares may seem promising, it is crucial to consider the impact of market volatility. Stock prices can fluctuate significantly from year to year, resulting in varying returns. For instance, there have been instances of significant losses, such as the 2008 banking crisis, which resulted in a 38% decrease in stock prices.

However, when it comes to long-term investments, market volatility becomes less of a concern. Over an extended time horizon, the market tends to recover from downturns and deliver positive returns. Short-term fluctuations may impact your returns if you have a short investment horizon, but they are less significant for long-term investors.

Beating the Market: The Peter Lynch Example

Peter Lynch, one of the most successful investors of all time, managed the Magellan Fund between 1977 and 1990. During his tenure, he achieved an impressive annual return of over 29%. Lynch consistently outperformed the S&P 500 index in 11 out of 13 years. His success can be attributed to his simple and effective investment strategy.

Lynch’s approach was grounded in buying what he knew and understanding the fundamentals of the companies he invested in. He argued for taking a long-term perspective and cautioned against letting market fluctuations influence you. Lynch’s success serves as a testament to the power of a patient and well-informed investment strategy.

The Importance of Time in the Market

While many investors attempt to time the market to maximise their returns, research has shown that market timing is a challenging feat. Predicting the peak or bottom of stock prices is nearly impossible, even for seasoned investors. Instead of trying to time the market, focus on the amount of time you spend in the market.

Time in the market is more crucial than market timing. Missing out on the best trading days can significantly impact your returns. For instance, if you missed the ten best trading days over a 30-year period, your returns could drop from 9% to 6%. The majority of profits are generated during a small number of trading days, emphasising the importance of staying invested.

Warren Buffett, one of the most successful investors in history, famously said, “The stock market is a device for transferring money from the impatient to the patient.” Buffett’s long-term investment approach has yielded an average return of 20% since 1965.

Short-Term Gains vs. Long-Term Returns

While short-term gains can be enticing, it is essential to differentiate between short-term trading and long-term investing. Short-term investing is fast-paced, time-consuming, and often driven by market psychology. It focuses on immediate price movements and the potential for quick profits.

On the other hand, long-term investing seeks realistic and statistically proven returns. While it is possible to achieve higher returns than average, it requires careful research and a deep understanding of the underlying companies. Examples such as ASML and ASMI demonstrate the potential for significant returns over a decade, but consistent long-term investing is key.

The Lower Risk of Long-Term Investments

One of the key advantages of long-term investing is the reduction of risk over time. When you extend your investment horizon from years to decades, the likelihood of losses decreases significantly. Looking back at the last eleven decades, losses have only occurred twice. With a well-diversified portfolio and a fifteen-year or longer investment horizon, positive returns have been consistently achievable since 1950.

The Limitations of Historical Performance

While historical performance provides valuable insights, it is essential to recognise that past performance does not guarantee future results. Various factors, such as anomalies or market bubbles, can impact investment returns. For example, the dot-com bubble in 1999 and the housing bubble in 2008 significantly influenced market performance.

When evaluating historical data, it is crucial to consider inflation-adjusted returns as well. Real average returns account for inflation, providing a more accurate representation of your purchasing power. By understanding the limitations of historical performance, you can set realistic expectations for your investment returns.

Setting Realistic Expectations

It is natural to aspire to earn higher returns on your investments. While it is possible to achieve returns greater than the average, it is important to approach investing with realistic expectations. Historically established returns, ranging from 5% to 8%, serve as a reasonable benchmark for most investors.

Rather than focusing solely on achieving high returns, prioritise long-term investing, diversification, and staying invested through market fluctuations. Remember that investing is a long-term journey, and patience is key to achieving your financial goals.


Understanding average share returns is crucial for evaluating the success of your investment strategy. While historical data provides insights into average returns, it is important to consider factors such as market volatility and the limitations of past performance. Long-term investing, staying invested, and setting realistic expectations are key to maximising your investment returns. By adopting a patient and well-informed approach, you can navigate the world of investing with confidence.

Put yourself on the path to a better life by starting to save and invest. To schedule a free, no-risk consultation, please click here.

Get Objective Advice from a Performance Fee-Only Financial Consultant You Can Trust

Take advantage of working with a CERTIFIED PENSION PLANNER who has been proven to put clients' best interests first, who does not accept commissions, and who has the expertise to guide you toward your objectives.