
Compounding is magic over the long
term 
If you don't understand compounding look at Interest
first. Here we look at what compounding does for the investor.
Was Manhattan a good buy?
Every schoolboy knows that the Dutch bought the
island of Manhattan from the American Indians for $24 in 1624. This
story is usually told to invoke much guffawing at the financial
innocence of the indigenous population.
In fact, if the land value of the whole of present
day Manhattan is about $150 billion this represents a compound return
over 386 years of just 6% per annum for the Dutch  not exactly
an explosive return for a property investment. Advantage
the locals, one feels.
If the same amount had been put into a property bond
in 1624 at 5% per annum (1% less), how much do you think it would
be worth in 2010? The answer is a lousy $3.6 billion, just 2.4%
of the $150 billion it would have been
worth at 6%.
The lesson is....
OK, stretching the investment period to 384 years
rather overdramatises the point, but the only two things you need
to know about compound interest are in this example:
 Small amounts, given time,
will compound into large amounts, and
 Small differences in return,
over a long time, matter.
...and the numbers are.....
Investment of £1,000 a year for 40 years,
compounded at 5%, will grow to £128,000.
Investment of £1,000 a year for 40 years, compounded at 6%,
will grow to £165,000.
Investment of £1,000 a year for 40 years, compounded at 7%,
will grow to £215,000.
So
a return shortfall of 2% will cost you 40% of your savings.
This matters because....
.......you need to understand the effect of annual charges on financial
products. Suppose you have decided to invest £1,000 a year
in shares, and you have to chose between picking them yourself with
the help of a friend and paying a professional manager 2% per annum
to run your portfolio. Over 40 years the professional manager is
going to take 40% of your portfolio. So you had better be sure that
his skill is enough to compensate for that.
OK, so you don't have a professional manager. But
when you buy a financial product you are committing to a whole load
of extra annual costs that are going to drag on your investment
returns unless they are creating wealth to compensate. Wealth for
you, that is.
A final bit of maths
Surprisingly (we think) if you do the same maths for higher returns
you get the same relative result  a 13% return (for example) accumulates
to 40% less than a 15% return. So you may feel rich, but you have
still given away 40%.
