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Dollar Cost Averaging…The Discussion Continues

August 1, 2014

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This week Brian and Bo dig into the dollar cost averaging discussion, and illustrate the pros and cons that DCA presents. The Dollar Cost Averaging strategy is fairly simple, it boils down to having systematic entry points into the market.

Investopedia defines dollar cost averaging as a technique of buying a fixes dollar amount of a particular investment on regular schedule, regardless of the share price. More shares are purchased when prices are low, and fewer shares are purchased when prices are high.

While domestic equity markets are consistently reaching higher highs and setting higher lows people are asking what our strategy is moving forward. The answer is still the same: make a plan, keep it simple, and make it automatic. Dollar Cost Averaging helps address these concerns in up and down markets. Additionally, dollar cost averaging is a great technique to use to stick to your plan so that you stay in game during bad markets when dollars are most valuable. It works especially well in markets that are a little more volatile, but that is not to say go and throw all your money in micro-cap emerging market holdings. You must keep transaction costs, diversification, asset allocation, and asset location in mind when executing this strategy.

Conversely, there have been more than a few research papers written on this topic, about as many people seem to like DCA as the amount of people that do not. Vanguard jumped on the train in 2012 with their research report, Dollar-cost averaging just means taking risks later. Their research is based around the fact that, historically, markets increase 2/3 to 3/4 of the time and they go on to use this data to convey that lump sum investing should outperform DCA during the same amount of time. Vanguard’s research also illustrates that lump sum investing outperforms DCA on an average of 2.3% on average over every 10 year cycle they included in their study.

If 2.3% less in returns on a 10 year basis is the cost of taking a portion of your portfolio off the table for the 1/3 to 1/4 of the bad time, it does not seem like too big of a price to pay. We like to think of it as insurance against down markets, specifically when markets are in their current condition. A New York Times article by Paul Sullivan in 2011 used a few lines to portray the biggest benefits of DCA, that the person who put money in slowly was still better off than the person who tried to guess the direction of the market.

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