WHEN it comes to long-term investing, it is time - not timing - that is the critical factor, analysis reveals. Investors not out to make a quick killing can achieve solid results even if they pay no attention to market timing. This is highlighted by comparing the results of three investors using different strategies to place $10,000 a year into the Hang Seng Index between 1980 and 1996. Investor A invested on the best day - that is, when the Hang Seng Index was at its lowest - each year. Investor B invested on the worst day, or when the index was at its highest. Investor C took a stake in the market on the same day - April 1 - each year. Unfortunate investor B would have seen total compound growth of about 17 per cent from his total investment of $160,000. Investor C's unsophisticated but disciplined investment approach would have provided a better return, his investment growing to $853,605 at an annualised compound return of nearly 20 per cent. Lucky investor A's unique ability to pick the best possible day of each year to invest his lump sum produced the best return. His annualised compound growth was nearly 22 per cent, with his investment growing to $1,028,611. Director of Asia Pacific Financial Planning, Steve Cumming, said: 'There is no doubt that the investor who can consistently time the market and buy at the bottom and sell at the top would make more money. 'The likelihood of buying on the best day is almost non-existent. If you want to use market timing as a way of enhancing performance then you would be better off using an active fund manager. But even among the professionals, there are very few who get it right. 'There is also little doubt that if this crystal-ball gazer happens to get it wrong when the market is moving quickly - even once - this strategy could be very expensive.' Mr Cumming recommended investors adopt a disciplined approach and invest regularly, preferably monthly, with a good fund manager. Hong Kong has more than 1,000 funds and dozens of savings schemes to choose from. Many savings schemes for equity and fixed-interest investments do not require a lump-sum investment and have low monthly contributions. For example, HSBC Asset Management offers a monthly scheme from as little as HK$800, while Schroders' scheme has a monthly minimum of $2,000. Other groups, such as Fidelity Investments, offer a loyalty bonus by reducing charges on savings schemes after one year. 'For the personal investor, the most preferable first step is to find an independent adviser, set targets, and develop an investment strategy to achieve these targets,' Mr Cumming said. 'It is important that the adviser has access to adequate research and can satisfactorily justify the recommendations.' To prove that the same principle applies in different markets, similar analysis was carried out for the Australian stock market, with three investors placing $5,000 in the Australia share market each financial year between July 1, 1980 and June 30, 1994. The research, undertaken by Macquarie Bank, revealed that for the one who invested $5,000 on the worst possible day each year, the total invested amount of $70,000 would have been worth $173,258 by June 30, 1994. This is equivalent to an average annual return of 12.4 per cent. The investor with the foresight to pick the right day every year would have managed a return of $242,099. However, even the investor who paid no attention to market timing and placed his money on the same day every year would have received a return of $218,959. Investors should remember that conditions will vary and that past performance is no guarantee of future returns.