When it comes to gauging the worthiness of an investment, investors often land way off the mark. Most treat short-term returns as a yardstick, while others have unrealistic expectations. Yet others misinterpret returns completely. However, correct assessment of performance is a must to avoid bad investment decisions.
For most investors, point-to-point return figures serve as the performance yardstick. This can be misleading. The current return profile of equity funds, for instance, is a case in point. The three-year returns of most equity funds comfortably outshine the five-year figures (see chart). Large-cap funds have clocked 13.5% CAGR over the past five years compared to 17.8% over the past three. Mid-cap equity funds have yielded 20.6% CAGR over the past five years against a whopping 34% in three years. To the lay investor, this sharp disparity in returns poses a dilemma—if the return is so much higher for a three-year period, does it make sense to stay invested for five years or more? But the investor is overlooking two critical elements here. First, he is considering a singular point-to-point reference from the past to make an assumption about the future. Second, he is ignoring the difference between annualised returns and simple absolute returns.