Compound Annual Growth Rate vs.Average Annual Return

I’ll be trustworthy with you—penning this publish makes me really feel a bit like Jack Nicholson’s character within the film “A Few Good Men”. Remember when Nicholson is being questioned by Tom Cruise in probably the most memorable scene from the film and Cruise is demanding the reality?

Nicholson replies, “You can’t deal with the reality!”

So, what within the heck does that should do with calculating compound annual development charges?

Well, one of many greatest secrets and techniques inside the funding business is that mutual funds, variable annuities, and numerous different merchandise tied to the whims of the inventory market, promote their common return numbers in a really deceptive approach.

What’s worse?  They’re not breaking any legal guidelines by doing it.

I do know…there’s a collective gasp sweeping its approach throughout everybody studying this.

What am I speaking about?

Having been within the monetary companies business since 2000, I’ve observed that the majority funding product firms (mutual funds, ETFs, inventory market indices, variable annuities, closed finish funds, REITs) like to cite their “common annual price of return” figures which all the time inflate what the actual funding really returned to its traders. And it actually bothers me.

2+2 all the time equals 4…besides on Wall St.

This downside is not sophisticated neither is it nuanced in any specific approach,(because the funding business would have you ever consider) it actually comes right down to primary math.

Average annual return, as is all the time acknowledged in funding literature, (advertising and marketing items, prospectuses, and many others.) is just a deliberate shell recreation meant to confuse your notion of the returns by stating easy arithmetic imply calculations when the one return that issues is the compound annual development price (CAGR).

Now, I do know it feels like I’m splitting hairs right here however grasp with me via an instance and you will perceive my beef.

Example:  Let’s say that Bill invests $100,000  into his funding account at J.T. Marlin (a few of chances are you’ll get the Boiler Room reference) and for the first 12 months  his account grew by 25%  however the account returned a damaging 25% the second 12 months.

The inventory market muppets would say your common return is 0%…and so they’d be telling the reality…in the identical useless that President Clinton swore he didn’t have intercourse with that lady.

But they’re clouding the reality with nonsense–as a result of who cares what your common price of return was?

Year 1—   100,000 x     25% =    125,000

Year 2—  125,000 x (-25%) =    93,750

If Bill began with 100k and now on the finish of 12 months two his account is value $93,750 his precise compound annual development price (cagr) was -6.25%.

But did not I show within the instance that his common annual price of return was 0%?

Then, how can Bill have much less cash than what he began with?

Welcome to the fantastic world of investments and the Imagineers of Wall St.

I discovered this little tidbit on-line when trying round to see what others have been speaking about concerning CAGR. says:

“CAGR is not the precise return in actuality. It’s an imaginary quantity that describes the speed at which an funding would have grown if it grew at a gradual price. You can consider CAGR as a strategy to clean out the returns.”

Honestly, I’m speechless.

The Enron accountants have clearly taken up residence on Wall Street and are firmly rooted in content material publishing for the monetary media.

I encourage to vary with Investopedia

Your actual return is the one form of return that issues in any respect.  What’s imaginary is telling Bill (see above) that his account averaged 0% during the last two years!

Completely insane.

Who cares what I “averaged” during the last two years. If my stack of cash is shorter than once I began, that is not a zero-sum recreation.

That’s the form of speak that may get you killed wherever however Wall Street.

So, why would the funding world all the time quote the typical return numbers?

I’m gonna provide you with a minute to determine that one out by yourself.


Because common annual returns all the time look higher than precise, actual returns.

If you go over to, they’ve a neat instrument that permits you to have a look at the numbers as they are surely.  You can play with totally different time frames, modify for inflation, and many others.

To provide you with a little bit shortcut, I’ve taken a couple of screenshots to indicate you the distinction in precise return (cagr) vs. common annual return during the last 10, 15, and 20 years.

compound annual growth rate
10-year averages
15-year averages
20-year averages

The reality is that the majority inventory market investments are risky and exhibiting you the typical return (arithmetic imply) makes them extra engaging.  Just look again on the photos, they converse for themselves actually.

What makes the typical return so deceptive is that there have really been intervals of time available in the market the place the “common return” is constructive however the precise return in your cash was damaging.

Who cares what the typical is?

That’s like speaking about an organization’s gross income…

If you personal a share of XYZ company, the one quantity that issues is web revenue. Who cares if the corporate’s earnings have been $1.25 per share however the web revenue to shareholders was a penny?

Here’s an ideal quote from “The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America“:

Over the years, Charlie and I’ve noticed many accounting-based frauds of staggering dimension. Few of the perpetrators have been punished; many haven’t even been censured. It has been far safer to steal giant sums with pen than small sums with a gun.

Take to coronary heart what Buffet is saying on this quote, it applies right here.

Of course additionally take into account that  I’ve not even factored within the impact that inflation has on the returns, which is one other nice characteristic of the moneychimp web site—you’ll be able to embody the return numbers adjusted for inflation as effectively.

Obviously, inflation has an eroding impact on the returns in regard to each the precise and the typical numbers.  No large shock there.

What’s actually unlucky about this entire scenario, is that I believe the bulk of people that perpetuate this lie, do not know they’re doing something fallacious!  The calculations ignoring compound annual development charges are so embedded that even advisors, CFPs, funding advisers, and different monetary professionals spout off the numbers with out questioning their validity.

I can not say they’re being intentionally dishonest however I can say that the majority are simply unaware of the info.

And I’m unsure which is worse?

My recommendation is to do the maths your self and ask plenty of questions.  Only then are you able to be assured that you have made a sensible choice.




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