Buy and Hold or Buy and Hope?

How much of investing success is just luck?


It might seem these days like your fund manager has mastered the art of losing on purpose, but it's highly unlikely. The same efficient market that prices prospective winners has already priced prospective losers, too. Short of mailing all your money to Bernie Madoff, it would be hard to manufacture a bad outcome in the market the way you might in, say, a round of golf with your prickly boss.

So, unless you think Warren Buffett is just some guy on hot streak, you have to acknowledge that there is such a thing is skill in investing, and that some people have it. But there's a meta-skill at play here you'll need if you're the one making the decision to buy: identifying the people who have investing skill. For most of us, that's about as difficult as finding successful companies—which is why we have index funds.

"Buy the market and hold it forever," advises Vanguard legend and index-fund pioneer John Bogle in his latest book, The Clash of the Cultures, which laments the crowding out of investing by speculation over the past few decades. "Don't speculate on which manager may be lucky enough or smart enough to outperform the market for a time. Own an index fund, get a life outside of finance, and relax."