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Historical Investment Returns CalculatorCompare historical stock, commodity, real estate, and fixed income returns.

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You can use this Historical Investment Calculator to compare investment returns for multiple asset classes. The calculator includes historical price data for 14 popular indices with some prices going back over 100 years. The calculator will compare nominal returns or inflation-adjusted returns. Inflation adjustments are made using U.S. Consumer Price Index data.

Why look at historical investment returns?

The answer is not what you may think.

A category of traders known as chartists, use historical stock returns and charts to predict future price movements.

While you could perhaps use this historical returns calculator to assist with predications, there are certainly better tools you should use.

Rather than being a tool for traders, this historical investment calculator is a tool for long term investors. It is designed to give the user a 30,000-foot view of investing. I created it particularly for:

  • the millennial generation (to which my three children belong) and Gen Z, and
  • bloggers, parents, or anyone who wants to teach or learn about the benefits of long term investing.

According to an Ally Financial survey as quoted by Andrea Coombes in Forbes 66% of people aged 18 to 29 (and 65% of those 30 to 39) say investing in the stock market is scary or intimidating.

That's because, I believe, the Millennials and Gen Z do not have enough life experience to take the long view. They were starting to come of age when the Great Recession hit. Many saw first hand the impact it had on their parent's finances. Some saw their college fund go poof. Others saw their parents or their neighbors lose their home. Some saw both.

Recessions can unquestionably be scary things to live through.

But take a look at what this calculator teaches us. Recessions are but blips for the investor. In fact, we can look at history and see that not investing should make us more scared than investing.

Long term investing, it turns out, is pretty dull. Before starting the coding for this calculator a few months ago, I had been thinking about its design and what it might teach us.

I assumed that we would learn that one particular investment is better than another investment if interest rates are rising.

Or that a different investment would be warranted if rates were falling.

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  Original Size  
Investment Choices
IndexEarliest Data
Cash - US 3-Month T-Bill Proxy1933
BOVESPA Index1994
CAC 40 Index1991
Case-Shiller Index1915
DAX 30 Index1991
Dow Jones Industrial Average1915
Gold - Fixing Price 10:30 A.M. (London time)1968
Hang Seng Composite Index1987
ICE BofAML US Corporate AAA Index1988
Nasdaq Index1972
Nikkei 2251950
S&P 500 Index1928
Shanghai Composite Index1991
Wheat Prices1960

As mentioned, you can compare the returns for up to 3 assets at a time. The calculator places few restrictions on what a user can do. However, it probably does not make much sense to do a comparative analysis that starts before the first data of the index with the least amount of data points (years).

For example, the calculator will let you compare the return on the Dow with that of gold from 1915 to 2000, but why would you? If you are calculating absolute returns, that will give the Dow an unfair advantage since the calculator does not know the price of gold before year-end 1968.

Two investment modes

The calculator supports either a repeated series of investments (the default) or a single investment. When you select "" for "One-time investment", the calculator assumes a repeated investment as of the last day of each year.

For example, the "No" selection allows you to answer this question:

What would have been my annualized return-on-investment (ROI) and my investment's final value had I invested $5,000 each year in gold between 1980 and 2000?

On the other hand, the "Yes" selection allows you to answer this question:

Adjust for inflation

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There are nominal returns, and then there are real returns.

By default, the calculator shows nominal returns, i.e., not adjusted for inflation. It is more fun to look at nominal returns. Nominal returns show the gross profit. Buy something for $1,000 and sell it three years later for $1,350, the nominal gain is $350.

But nominal returns do not represent real-world results. They do not account for the inflation tax. Therefore, it is better to evaluate real performance, i.e., inflation-adjusted returns. The Historical Investment Returns Calculator has an option for an inflation-adjusted calculation.

The calculator adjusts for inflation using the U.S. Consumer Price Index's year-over-year (December to December) rate of change. If the investment index had a nominal increase of 5.5% between two years while the CPI increased by 2%, the calculator would show a real investment gain of 3.5%.

Further, the last year selected is always the base year from where the inflation calculation starts. That is, if you choose a date range from 2008 to 2018, then the year 2018 is the base year. That means, $1 equals $1. There is no adjustment for the final year.

There is a practical benefit for making the final year of the date range the base year. Everyone has a better understanding of the value of the dollar the closer a year is to the present. We know what the dollar was able to buy in 2018. And the net result is, due to inflation, the dollar buys LESS in the initial and subsequent years than it would have when there is no adjustment.

Let's look at an example to make this clear.

First, without an adjustment for inflation, if you had made a one-time investment of $10,000 in the S&P 500 at the end of 2008, it would be valued at $27,000 ($17,000 gain) as of the end of 2018. The annualized rate-of-return is 10.7%.

S&P Nominal 10-year return
Fig.1 - S&P nominal 10-year return from 2008-2018.

Twenty-seven thousand dollars is the numerical value of the investment. But, as we have discussed, the dollar in 2018 does not have the same purchasing power as in 2008.

Therefore, we adjust for inflation.

Once we do that, the market value drops from just over $27,000 to about $23,500.

What does this mean?

S&P Real 10-year return
Fig.2 - S&P real 10-year return from 2008-2018.
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It means the gain on the investment will purchase about $13,500 of new stuff and not $17,700. The difference of about $4,200 is the amount required to stay even with inflation, or $14,200 ($10,000 + $4,200) will buy the same basket of goods in 2018 as what $10,000 bought in 2008.

Or to state it another way, the real investment gain (or real new purchasing power) is 13,500, not $17,700 or expressed as a ROR, 8.9%.

The Historical Chart and the Logarithmic Scale

A chart drawn on a logarithmic scale, it gives a more accurate visual indication of relative performance. Below are two examples.

Look at figure 3 and the green Nasdaq line. From the initial investment of $10,000 until the time it is valued at $100,000 represents a 10-fold increase in value. Yet, the change is barely visible in the chart.

Now move to the right. Look at the change in value starting in about 2013, when our investment in the Nasdaq is worth approximately $1,000,000 until the value is amount $1,500,000. The move is only a 50% change in value, but the chart represents it as a significant move.

Historical returns for Nasdaq, bonds and gold
Fig.3 - 30-year returns for the Nasdaq, ICE's Bank of America US Corporate AAA Index, and gold.
Non-Logarithmic Scale

Now, look at the same Nasdaq investment in the chart in Figure 4. This chart uses a logarithmic scale, and it gives the investor a much more accurate representation of the investment return.

The chart clearly shows the first 10x gain to $100,000. The 1.5x gain starting around 2013 is barely noticeable.

Historical returns for Nasdaq, bonds and gold
Fig.4 - 30-year returns for the Nasdaq, ICE's Bank of America US Corporate AAA Index, and gold.
Logarithmic Scale

If you want to learn more about charting using a logarithmic scale, see Naomi Robbins' column on forbes.com, When Should I Use Logarithmic Scales in My Charts and Graphs?

Real Estate is a Particular Case

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Do you own a home?

Would you like to know if your home's value has kept up with real estate values in the U.S.?

The Historical Investment Returns Calculator includes year-end values for S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index. You can, therefore, assess your home's change in value relative to the real estate industry's commonly used price index.

To do this, you'll need to enter the price of your home as the amount invested and select the one-time investment option.

If your home's current value is equal to the ending value, then your home's value has mirrored the Case-Shiller national average.

However, the annualized rate-of-return (ROR) shown will not be your property's ROR if you have a mortgage. Your mortgage payments include interest charges which this calculator does not consider.

34 Comments on “Historical Investment Calculator”

Join the conversation. Tell me what you think.
  • David Quinn-Jacobs says:

    Thanks very much for this. Does this calculator include dividends?

    • You’re welcome. No, it does not. Several people have asked about this, and I would like to add an option to include them. However, I have not been able to find a (free) source for the data I need. If you know of a source, please let me know.

      • Very useful. Thank you.

        Here is a variation that many, I believe, would find quite useful. Allow the user to copy their earnings from the my Social Security web site and paste them into your calculator. Then allow them to consider “what if” scenarios, i.e. investing a given percentage of income starting in a given security at a given point in their career. This would be great to emphasize the effects of saving early and aggressive vs. conservative strategies. It would also be a way for parents/grandparents to demonstrate the lesson to their children.

        • I’m happy to hear that you find the calculator useful.

          And thank you for your suggestion. Perhaps some day I can add that feature. I have a lot on my plate right now.

  • Would it be possible to add an option to subtract the yearly brokerage/maintenance fee percentage? I did invest long term but the outcome is not even close to the graph because of the fees. It is important to make that insightful.

    • That’s a good idea, Jennifer. I’ll put it on the todo list and let you know when it’s implemented.

    • Jennifer, I’ve been meaning to point out that this investment calculator gives the user the ability to account for fees. This is not a historical calculator, but it still may be useful for your investment planning. Sorry I did not think of this when I first replied.

  • Is there a way to add monthly investments?

    • This is strictly for historic investment comparison.

      I suggest that you take a look at this investment calculator. This calculator gives the user the ability to project and calculate investment returns, adjust for inflation and deduct fees. (Plus a host of other things.)

  • Katherine Simson says:

    What would it take to include a withdrawal option? For example, if you started with $1 million in 2001 but had to rely on withdrawals of $50,000 per year to make ends meet, what would you have after 10 years?

  • Hi Karl,

    I love the historical investment return calculator but I wish it would include money invested in a CD account. I’m trying to do a comparison between investing in the S&P 500 Index vs. investing in a CD account. Any chance including CD as an investment type in the near future?

    • Hi Liz, I think that’s a good idea. Including return on CDs will be a bit of a challenge, however. You’ll notice the calculator calculate returns using index data (changes in the value of an index). I did some research this morning, and for CDs, I only find historical data for rates, not a change in an index. I can certainly calculate returns using rates, but the challenge is if I added the code, which would only be used by CDs, it might make the calculator slower. But I will look into it.

      • Thank you for the quick reply Karl! Yes! If you can calculate the returns using just the historical data for rates, that would suffice. Let me know as soon as you have that available. Thank you so very much!

  • Any way to include an option to calculate max 401k contribution returns? I’ve maxed my 401k and want to compare it against different indices to see if my investments are underperforming.

  • thomas butler says:

    Fix comments so newest is first.
    Can you add a print button! printing this without one creates a mess.
    Thanks!

    • I guess it would be a mess. I need to revisit this calculator and finish it. I’ll add a print button to the to-do list.

      About comment order, the newest group of comments are the first comments visitors see, but if I put the newest at the top, then the reply would come before the question or the original comment.

    • One thing. Did you see that you can export the chart to a PDF. You should then be able to print the PDF. To export, click on the 3 horizontal lines in the upper right corner of the chart.

      • thomas butler says:

        Just used it; printed chart to a PDF! How great. For now, I used screen captures on the investment tables. Thanks!
        I am buying some property and the owner is trying to show value. He says he normally makes 20% annually on his re-hab properties. I wanted to show he could have invested his money and gotten more than 20% annually. This calculator is just what I needed. Glad I didn’t buy bonds…thanks!
        Another index that might be useful is the House Price Index..
        or perhaps specific mutual funds
        In my situation, I am comparing real estate investment to other avenues, Dow, NASDAQ, bonds, etc.

        • Wonderful. Glad the PDF works for you.

          For the tables, you can try selecting the data and then copy and paste to a spreadsheet if you want to fiddle with the styling. You may have to use "Paste Special" and paste as plain text.

          I’m not sure about any other housing index – but the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index is a housing index, and I’ve included the historical data in the calculator back to 2015.

          I think including a mutual fund index would open a whole kettle of worms – the big problem there is what one would satisfy the majority of users.

          • thomas w butler says:

            Of course! I didn’t see the Corelogic entry. Thanks. I your point with the mutual funds; which one to select…

  • MARK HUITSON says:

    I wish I’d listened to my dad back in 1992. I was a kid who thought ‘not me’…….idiot I was then…..30 years later I’m here to prove it! Thanks Karl for creating and showing myself what could have been if I’d just stuck with investing……..

  • Most EXCELLENT calculator. BUT while i agree with being invested, scary things are out there! I am getting ready to retire going with the flow thinking on a 6% diversified investment return when boom i remember “lost decade”. For fun put in 100000 in S&P 500 INDEX for years2000 to 2010 and see what you get, like you said that may scare young folk that dont think diversified in all assets. Anyway great job.

    • Thank you! Yes, scary things are out there. That’s why time is your friend. Also, I think if you look, you’ll see other 10 year periods where equities underperform.

  • Gillian Robertson says:

    I love the historic calculator and the graphics that go along with it. Trying to figure out which package I need to buy to get? Thankyou.

    • Glad you like the calculator, Gillian. Hope you find this to be good news, but there’s nothing to buy. The calculator is free as it is. Or were you looking for one to run on Windows or Mac? If that’s the case, there isn’t a version for those operating systems. Just this web version.

      • Gillian Robertson says:

        Wonderful, is there a way to print a report?
        Thanks

        • On the "Chart" tab, you can click on the menu (3 lines in the upper right corner) and download the chart to PDF and then print the PDF with your PDF viewer. The chart can be download to other graphic file formats as well.

  • Hi,
    I want to use your calculator to support what’s due to an organization that did not receive $280k in 1922. I am making the argument that the organization is owed $87 million in todays dollars for that debt using your calculator.

    Do you have an opinion as to any argument against using your calculator’s results?

    What’s the deference in the gain and loss numbers?

    Any suggestions for using a better method would be appreciated too.

    Steve

    • Hello, I think your calculation is one way to look at the issue. You’re proposing that this is what the organization would have had if they had invested the money. However, more likely, the other side will say you should be using this inflation calculator. This calculator will tell you the equivalent amount today, adjusted for inflation.

  • Karl, thank you so much for this. This tool is really helpful for retirement planning as well as general edification.

    Have you thought about adding any of the FTSE indices? For those of us here across the pond that would be very handy. Thanks again for your work and for sharing it.

    • Thank you.

      I think that’s a good idea. I don’t know how I missed that one. FTSE is certainly a big name. Perhaps I didn’t find the data? I’ll check again. Give me a month or so, please.

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