What is Value Averaging?

Value averaging is an investing strategy that works like dollar cost averaging (DCA) in terms of steady monthly contributions, but differs in its approach to the amount of each monthly contribution. In value averaging, the investor sets a target growth rate or amount on his or her asset base or portfolio each month, and then adjusts the next month's contribution according to the relative gain or shortfall made on the original asset base.

Understanding Value Averaging

For example, suppose an account has a value of $2,000 and the goal is for the portfolio to increase by $200 every month. If, in a month's time, the assets have grown to $2,024, the investor will fund the account with $176 ($200 - $24) worth of assets. In the following month, the goal would be to have account holdings of $2,400. This pattern continues to be repeated in the following month.

The main goal of value averaging is to acquire more shares when prices are falling and fewer shares when prices are rising. This is what happens in dollar cost averaging as well, but the effect is less pronounced. Several independent studies have shown that over multiyear periods, value averaging can produce slightly superior returns to dollar-cost averaging, although both will closely resemble market returns over the same period. The reason value averaging or DCA may be more attractive to an investor than using a set contribution schedule is that you are somewhat protected from overpaying for stock when the market is hot. If you avoid overpaying, your long-term returns will be stronger compared to people who invested set amounts no matter the market condition.

Challenges to Value Averaging

The biggest potential challenge with value averaging is that as an investor's asset base grows, the ability to fund shortfalls can become too large to keep up with. This is especially noteworthy in retirement plans, where an investor might not even have the potential to fund a shortfall given limits on annual contributions. One way around this problem is to allocate a portion of assets to a fixed-income fund or funds, then rotate money in and out of equity holdings as dictated by the monthly targeted return. This way, instead of allocating cash in the form of new funding, cash can be raised in the fixed income portion and allocated in higher amounts to equity holdings as needed.

While there are performance differences between value averaging, dollar cost averaging and set investment contributions, they are all good methods for long-term investment - particularly for retirement.