This visualization gives a view of U.S. economic performance over several decades, indicating which years were strong years in which to buy or hold stock, and which years contained economic events that either boosted or wiped out gains from prior years.

Each colored cell represents one year of investment. The Y axis lists the year of investment, while the X axis lists the year of divestment. Therefore, the lower-left corner represents the result of buying long ago and selling long ago. The lower-right corner represents buying long ago and holding over the entire time period. The upper-right corner represents buying and selling very recently.

The data are excess returns, meaning asset return less the risk-free-rate, as measured by Fama & French.


This technique is inspired by an article titled "In Investing, It's When You Start and When You Finish" published by the New York Times on 2 Jan, 2011.

The colors are chosen using Cynthia Brewer's excellent ColorBrewer tool.

The data comes from Ken French's Data Library.