Negative Return

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on July 12, 2023

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What Is a Negative Return?

Negative return refers to a loss in the value of an investment or asset, which occurs when the total amount of money received or realized from the investment is less than the initial amount invested.

This could happen due to various reasons, including market downturns, poor investment choices, economic factors, or mismanagement and fraud.

In simpler terms, a negative return implies that an investor has lost money on an investment. This is essential for investors because it helps them evaluate the performance of their investments and make informed decisions about where to allocate their capital.

This understanding can also help investors cope with the negative psychological effects that can arise from experiencing losses in their investments.

Causes of Negative Returns

Market Downturns

Market downturns are periods of declining asset prices and can be a major cause of negative returns for investors.

These downturns can result from various factors, such as changes in economic conditions, geopolitical events, or changes in market sentiment.

When markets experience a downturn, it is common for many investments to lose value, even if the underlying companies or assets are fundamentally strong.

During a market downturn, investors may experience negative returns on their investments as asset prices fall, potentially leading to significant losses.

However, it's essential to remember that market downturns are a natural part of the investment cycle, and some level of negative return is to be expected over time.

Poor Investment Choices

Another cause of negative returns is poor investment choices. These can occur when investors fail to conduct thorough research and analysis before making investment decisions, leading to investments in assets with a high risk of loss.

Poor investment choices can also result from emotional decision-making, such as chasing short-term gains or making impulsive decisions based on news headlines.

To minimize the risk of negative returns caused by poor investment choices, investors should take a disciplined approach to their investment strategy.

This includes conducting thorough research, analyzing potential investments' fundamentals, and maintaining a long-term perspective when making investment decisions.

Consequences of Negative Returns

Decreased Portfolio Value

One of the primary consequences of negative return is a decrease in the overall value of an investment portfolio. This can occur when investments lose value due to market downturns, poor investment choices, or other factors.

A decrease in portfolio value can make it more challenging for investors to achieve their long-term financial goals, as they may need to allocate additional capital to make up for the losses.

Additionally, a decreased portfolio value can have a compounding effect on an investor's future returns.

When an investment loses value, it requires a higher rate of return to recover the initial capital invested. This can make it more difficult for investors to grow their wealth over time.

Loss of Capital

Another consequence of negative return is the loss of capital. This occurs when an investor's initial investment is reduced due to negative returns, and the investor is unable to recoup the lost funds.

Loss of capital can have significant long-term financial implications for investors, as it reduces their ability to make future investments or meet financial obligations.

Moreover, the loss of capital can impact an investor's retirement planning, as it may require them to adjust their savings goals or delay their planned retirement age.

This can be particularly concerning for older investors who have less time to recover from investment losses before they reach retirement age.

Impacts on Retirement Planning

Negative returns can have a significant impact on an investor's retirement planning. A series of negative returns can reduce the value of an investment portfolio, making it more difficult for investors to achieve their retirement savings goals.

This may lead to the need to save more, work longer, or adjust their expectations for their retirement lifestyle.

Furthermore, negative returns can also affect the sustainability of an investor's retirement income.

If an investor's portfolio experiences negative returns during the early years of their retirement, it can deplete their savings more quickly than anticipated, potentially leading to a shortfall in their retirement income.

Negative Psychological Effects

Experiencing negative returns on investments can also have negative psychological effects on investors. Losses can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and disappointment, which can negatively impact an investor's overall well-being.

These emotions can also lead to poor decision-making, as investors may be more likely to make impulsive or irrational choices in an attempt to recover their losses.

To minimize the negative psychological effects of investment losses, it's essential for investors to maintain a long-term perspective and avoid overreacting to short-term market fluctuations.

Developing a well-researched and diversified investment strategy can also help investors feel more confident in their decisions, even during periods of negative returns.

Consequences of Negative Returns

Strategies to Minimize Negative Returns


By spreading investments across a range of asset classes, sectors, and geographic regions, investors can reduce the impact of any single investment's poor performance on their overall portfolio.

Diversification can help to mitigate the risks associated with market downturns, poor investment choices, and other factors that can lead to negative returns.

In addition to diversifying across asset classes, investors should also consider diversifying within asset classes. For example, investing in a variety of stocks across different industries can help to reduce the risk of negative returns caused by industry-specific factors.

Risk Assessment and Management

Another strategy for minimizing negative returns is to conduct thorough risk assessments and implement effective risk management strategies.

This involves identifying the various risks associated with an investment and determining the appropriate level of risk exposure for an investor's goals and risk tolerance.

Risk management strategies can include setting stop-loss orders, using options contracts to hedge against potential losses, and maintaining a well-diversified portfolio.

By regularly assessing and managing risk, investors can help to minimize the likelihood of negative returns and protect their investment capital.

Case Studies of Negative Returns

Dot-Com Bubble Burst

The dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s is an example of a market event that led to widespread negative returns for investors.

During the late 1990s, technology stocks experienced rapid growth, driven by investor enthusiasm for internet-based companies.

However, many of these companies were unable to generate sustainable revenue or profits, and their stock prices eventually collapsed.

As a result of the dot-com bubble burst, many investors experienced significant negative returns on their technology investments.

This event serves as a reminder of the importance of conducting thorough research and analysis before making investment decisions, as well as the value of diversification in mitigating the risks associated with market events.

Global Financial Crisis

The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 is another example of a market event that resulted in negative returns for many investors.

The crisis was triggered by the collapse of the US housing market and the subsequent failure of several major financial institutions.

This led to a global market downturn, with asset prices declining across various sectors.

Investors who were heavily exposed to the financial and real estate sectors during the global financial crisis experienced significant negative returns.

This event underscores the importance of diversification and risk management in protecting an investment portfolio from the impact of market events.

Individual Investment Failures

In addition to market-wide events, individual investment failures can also lead to negative returns for investors. Examples of such failures include companies that go bankrupt, experience significant financial scandals, or face regulatory issues.

These situations can result in a rapid decline in the value of an investment, leading to negative returns for investors who hold positions in the affected companies.

These case studies highlight the importance of conducting thorough research and analysis before making investment decisions, as well as the value of diversification and risk management strategies in minimizing the potential for negative returns.

Mitigating Negative Returns Through Tax Strategies

Capital Losses and Tax Deductions

Investors can mitigate the impact of negative returns through tax strategies that allow them to offset capital losses against capital gains or other forms of income.

In many jurisdictions, investors can use capital losses to offset capital gains, reducing their overall tax liability.

If an investor's capital losses exceed their capital gains, they may be able to carry forward the remaining losses to offset gains in future years.

By taking advantage of capital loss deductions, investors can minimize the financial impact of negative returns and potentially reduce their tax liability.

Tax-Efficient Investments

Another tax strategy for mitigating negative returns involves investing in tax-efficient investments. These are investments that generate returns with lower tax implications, such as municipal bonds, which often pay interest that is exempt from federal income tax.

By holding tax-efficient investments in a portfolio, investors can reduce their overall tax liability and potentially offset some of the negative returns they may experience.

Additionally, investing in tax-advantaged accounts, such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs) or 401(k) plans, can help investors defer taxes on their investment gains, allowing them to grow their wealth more effectively over time.

Harvesting Tax Losses

Harvesting tax losses is another strategy that can help investors mitigate the impact of negative returns. This involves selling investments that have experienced a loss in value and using the realized capital losses to offset capital gains from other investments.

By strategically harvesting tax losses, investors can lower their overall tax liability and potentially reduce the financial impact of negative returns.

It's important to note that tax laws and regulations vary by jurisdiction, and investors should consult with a tax professional to determine the most appropriate tax strategies for their specific situation.

The Bottom Line

Negative return refers to a loss in the value of an investment or asset, which can be caused by various factors such as market downturns, poor investment choices, or economic factors.

To minimize the potential for negative returns, investors should focus on diversification, risk assessment and management, and regular monitoring and adjustments.

By employing tax strategies such as capital losses and tax deductions, tax-efficient investments, and harvesting tax losses, investors can mitigate the financial impact of negative returns.

Experiencing negative returns is a common and unavoidable part of investing. However, by understanding the factors that can lead to negative returns and implementing strategies to minimize their impact, investors can better navigate the ups and downs of the market.

Negative Return FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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