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.

BREAKING DOWN 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 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.

Pitfalls of Value Averaging

The biggest potential pitfall 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.