Throw a Dart at the Dartboard or Invest in the Index? The S&P 500’s 2013 Performance by the Numbers

Good luck!

“Maybe life is random, but I doubt it.”
–Steven Tyler

There’s a news radio station in Fort Worth that has almost all of its daytime weekend programming related to money, investing, and personal finance. It’s almost like the programming folks at CNBC decided to take over this radio station on the weekend, because, unless the Texas Longhorns are playing, you can tune in to this station and listen to money advice to your heart’s content.

I imagine that if someone listens to those shows long enough, he’ll become convinced that he knows more than the average Joe and can go into the markets and actively trade and make a mint.

Unfortunately, this would likely result in a sad ending for the listener, as 64% of individual stocks underperform the Russell 3000 index in their lifetimes.

Last year, I evaluated how well the S&P 500 index did compared to randomly picking a stock out of the components that make up the index. In 2012, 54.1% of the components of the S&P 500 underperformed the index as a whole, leaving individual stock pickers with thinner wallets than their index investing counterparts.

But, just like fans of all sports teams except the champion, there’s a rallying cry: “Wait until next year!”

So, 2013 has now come and gone. The S&P 500 performed markedly better, gaining 29.6%, compared to 2012’s 11.7% gain.

Surely, given the improvement in the performance of the index, it was a better year to pick individual stocks.



2013 Performance of the S&P 500’s Stock Components by the Numbers

To compare the performance of the components, I took the 481 stocks which remained in the index throughout all of 2013, eliminating either new entrants or spinoffs. I then looked at the opening prices on January 2, 2013 and the closing prices on December 31, 2013 to see how well each stock performed over the past year. If the performance was better than the 29.6% average, then it was a winner. If not, it was a loser.

In total, 233 stocks outperformed the average, or 48.44% of the components exceeded the 29.6% gain in 2013.

If you picked a winning stock, you probably got a return between 30% and 70%, and even if you picked a “losing” stock, you still turned in a gain, as only 51 stocks showed a loss on the year.

4 stocks lost more than 30%, while 17 stocks gained more than 90%.

Let’s look at the David Letterman Top 10 and the Bob Uecker Bottom 10 stocks for 2013.

The top 10 S&P 500 stocks for 2013

Ticker Change
NFLX 286.69%
MU 229.55%
BBY 228.50%
ETFC 114.18%
PBI 112.20%
CELG 110.89%
BSX 105.12%
GILD 102.10%
YHOO 100.20%
GNW 99.87%

The bottom 10 S&P 500 stocks for 2013

Ticker Change
PPG -65.73%
NBL -63.12%
NEM -51.35%
CLF -34.69%
BTU -29.26%
EW -28.46%
TDC -27.94%
FISV -26.44%
ISRG -24.17%
BWA -23.92%

Even though 2013 was a better year for the random stock pickers – a 48.44% chance of being right in 2013 versus a 45.86% chance in 2012 – it still wasn’t as good as simply investing in the index and letting the money ride.

Throw a dart for 6 years with a 48.44% chance of hitting a winner each year, and you’ll have a 1.3% chance of being a winner all six years.

Those aren’t odds I like.

Still tempted to invest in individual stocks? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

Published by

Jason Hull was the co-founder of Broadtree Partners, a firm that acquires $1-5MM EBITDA companies. He also was the co-founder of open source search consultancy OpenSource Connections, a premier Solr and ElasticSearch firm. He and his wife FIREd (financial independence retire early) at 46 and 45, respectively. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MBA from the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business. He held a CFP certification from 2015 - 2021. You can read more about him in the About Page. If you live in Johnson County, Texas or the surrounding areas, he and his wife are cash buyers of Johnson County, Texas houses.

5 thoughts on “Throw a Dart at the Dartboard or Invest in the Index? The S&P 500’s 2013 Performance by the Numbers

  1. I agree. Market information is so efficient that it’s nearly impossible to beat the market on a consistent basis. If people who dedicate their entire careers can’t do it, then what makes us think we can?

    1. Hi Michael – Thanks for commenting!

      They have better marketers? 🙂

      Seriously, I think that’s what happens. People walk by these strip mall “investment advisory” firms, walk in, listen to some smarmy guy in a nice suit tell them how he can help guide them and invest better for them, get wowed by a bunch of chart porn, and off they go, none the wiser that this “investment advisor,” who, by the way, has done NOTHING for the rest of their personal finances (unless he’s the type who’s never met an indexed universal life plan that he doesn’t like), is significantly underperforming the market and charging them a handsome assets under management fee for the privilege.

      Taking off my tin hat now…

    2. Oh, the behavioral biases I could list…attribution bias, apophenia, in-group bias…on and on, and an industry that makes money off of telling people they can beat the market.

  2. I’d love to hear some of the dividend stock investors’ take on this. I am an index investor, all the way.

    Personal Capital is trying to convince me now to go against this strategy, to pay them .95%, and for them to buy individual stocks to try to perform “smart indexing”: which is them basically picking individual stocks that supposedly get at each industry. I’m skeptical.

    1. I used adjusted closing prices to account for dividends and stock splits. After all, if you invest in an index fund, you will also get the dividends and capital gains.

      Smart beta is another fancy marketing term for “we can outperform the market.” DDSS. When they have 25 years’ worth of statistically significant evidence, I’ll listen. Until then, they’re just like everyone else in my book.

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