Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the S&P 500’s bottom during the global financial crisis. The 2008 Financial Crisis may still be fresh in many people's minds and therefore seem like it was only yesterday. From its pre-crisis record close of 1565.15 on October 9, 2007, the S&P 500 declined nearly 57% to its March 9, 2009 closing level of 676.53! The savings of millions of households were decimated in the process and the ramifications of which were exacerbated by the collapse of housing prices and the highest levels of U.S. unemployment in nearly 30 years.
On October 6, 2008 the S&P 500 was already down more than 32% from its 2007 peak. That morning on NBC's TODAY show, Jim Cramer was frantically heard saying, “Whatever money you may need for the next five years, please take it out of the stock market right now, this week. I do not believe that you should risk those assets in the stock market right now.” While I have no way of knowing how many people actually followed Mr. Cramer’s advice that day, I do know that many investors threw in the towel sometime during the financial crisis and some became so fearful that they never reentered the stock market. That action alone has had devastating consequences to the financial wealth of many investors.
I recently discovered the chart below and boy was it an eye opener. This one picture sums up the negative impact of not having faith in your investment plan and abandoning it when the talking heads on TV tell you that; "The end is near!" "This time it's different!" "Sell everything and move to cash until the dust settles."
The above chart depicts what would have happened to a $100,000 investment in the S&P 500 that was made on September 30, 2007 - right before the market's high point. You then see how that investment was cut in half by the end of February 2009. What transpires next depends on how you would have reacted to this rather swift market plunge. If you had headed Jim Cramer's advice and moved to cash, your investment would be worth just under $52,000 on December 31, 2018. If instead, you moved your investment dollars to bonds, your investment would be worth just over $71,000 at the end of 2018. Both of those decisions would leave your portfolio well below your initial $100,000 investment.
Contrast that with the investor who ignored the urge to sell their S&P 500 investment in a panic and instead held on to their investment through this financial crisis. Their portfolio would have been worth over $208,000 at the end of 2018! Granted, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see the immense benefit of such a decision. However, at that time, there was a very real feeling among many people that the sky was indeed falling. Depending on where you were in life during this period, you may or may not have an appreciation for the pervasive fear that existed from Main Street to Wall Street. There were a number of events surrounding the financial crisis that had never occurred and/or were believed to be “impossible”. For example, the fall of Lehman Brothers and the nationwide collapse of home prices, which led to speculation that the global economy could collapse.
Even after the US equity market had hit what we now know was its bottom in 2009, there was still no shortage of headlines that would have given all but the most steely, disciplined investors qualms about deploying capital into the market. An April 3, 2009 New York Times headline read, “663,000 Jobs Lost in March; Total Tops 5 Million.” Chrysler filed for bankruptcy on April 30th, followed by General Motors in early June. All of this to say, that even as the recovery of the US equity market was underway, there were still plenty of reasons to be skeptical that the worst was over.
As the chart above shows, an equally important part of this equation is having a plan for re-entering the market. In an environment like the one that existed in 2009, making the call to get back in may be the part that requires more intestinal fortitude and why you need to have your plan for both halves of the equation worked out well in advance. As we’ve seen, only having a risk-off plan (ie. moving to cash or bonds) will probably be worse in the long-term than having no plan at all. Many investors become paralyzed by a rising market. They think, "Wow! The market has risen pretty quickly. I better not get back in now because it will probably fall from here." Then the market falls a little and they feel vindicated. Unfortunately, this cycle repeats itself over and over again all the while they are on the sidelines while the market trudges higher.
It's human nature to get nervous when your portfolio plunges quickly. Loss aversion (it hurts twice as much to lose a dollar as gain a dollar) is hardwired into human psychology. But history has proven there are three things all investors must do in order to use the incredible wealth compounding power of the market to achieve their financial dreams. The first is not to panic, and remember that corrections are normal, healthy parts of market cycles. They are usually over quickly and don't stop the market from rising in nearly 75% of all years.
By far the most important thing investors can do is stick to a smart, long-term investing strategy that was developed before stocks start dropping. This strategy needs to factor in your risk profile, time horizon, goals, and thus develop an asset allocation that works best for you. It's that asset allocation and portfolio construction, not market timing (which history shows is essentially impossible to do), that will ensure your wealth is protected during corrections and bear markets. So, avoid market timing like the plague, no matter how tempting it may seem or how confident some analyst or economist is in his/her short-term predictions. If someone had a system for perfectly identifying market tops and bottoms, they would be a fool to share it. It would be like giving away a treasure map.
Finally, remember that market volatility has a major silver lining. That would be the opportunity to buy great companies at bargain prices. Even deeply undervalued stocks can fall further.
It is important to remember that a prudent investment plan is like the navigation system in your car. It provides a route to get you to your destination with as few detours as possible. However, you may find the first route it suggests isn’t necessarily optimal for you. If you’re a right-lane-of-the-highway, cruise-control-set-to-60 type of driver, then a route that has you zipping through city streets may not be the best route for you, even if it would get you to your destination five minutes sooner. The point is, the best navigation system or investment plan is the one that gets you to your destination and does so by providing a route that you will follow. After all, you’ll arrive at your destination much later if you abandon your aggressive through-the-city route halfway through than if you had just taken the slightly longer highway path in the first place.
As you are probably very well aware, there has been a notable pickup in market volatility recently. This increased volatility feels even more pronounced following 2017, which was one of the least volatile markets in history. But is the volatility that we are experiencing right now in 2018 outside of historical norms?
I did some investigation into past market numbers to see what I could find. Interestingly enough, when I looked at the historical numbers, I found that 2018 is definitely not outside of the historical norm. I know. It certainly doesn't feel that way. But in the moment, things always seem tougher than they actually are.
So far in 2018, there have been 57 days in which the Standard & Poors 500 Index (S&P 500) moved at least 1% up or down. For comparative purposes, this is actually seven times the amount of such moves that we saw during the relatively calm period that was 2017. However, we need only look back to 2015 to find a year in which we had more days of market moves up or down of 1% or more. In that year the market recorded 72 such days. With only 15 trading days remaining in the year, the S&P 500 would have to move at least 1% every day until the end of the year to equal that mark.
That being said, just looking at the number of days in which the market moved more than 1%, doesn’t necessarily give us a complete picture of overall volatility. For example, on Tuesday this week (12/4), we had a day where the S&P 500 was down 3.24%. So, I wondered if we could be experiencing a market that is having an abnormally high number of larger daily moves. As it turns out, not really. So far in 2018, there have been 15 days when the market changed by at least +/- 2% and there have been five days when it moved at least 3%. Again, comparing this year to 2015, we see that there were ten days of +/- 2% moves and three days of +/- 3% moves. We don't need to go far to find a year that exceeded these numbers. It happened only seven years ago. In 2011, the S&P 500 had 96 days of +/- 1% moves, 35 days of +/- 2% moves, and 12 days of +/- 3% moves. Another interesting tidbit? Each of the three years preceding 2011 also recorded more 1%, 2%, and 3% days, than we have seen so far in 2018.
Zooming out a little farther, we can see that since 1928 the S&P 500 on average has moved more than 1% on 60.26 days each year, more than 2% on 16.76 days each year, and more than 3% on 6.58 days each year. Therefore, while the recent volatility has been painful, from a historical perspective, what we have been experiencing in 2018 has been in-line with historical averages.
Here are a few more interesting historical data points:
* 1932 had more 1% days, 2% days, and 3% days than any other year with counts of 181, 132, and 94 respectively.
* 1964 was certainly a far cry from 2018. It was the calmest year on record, with just three 1% days and no 2% or 3% days.
* Since 1928, there have been 11 years, including 2017, that did not have a day when the S&P moved 2% or more.
* There have 35 years in which the S&P 500 did not have a single one-day move of 3% or more.
It is also worth noting that there have been zero days in 2018 that fall into the largest one day changes in the closing price of the S&P 500. The index's largest one-day gain in 2018 was 2.72%, on March 26th. Since 1928, there have been 1,040 bigger one-day gains. Conversely, the S&P 500's largest single-day decline of 2018 was -4.10% on February 5th. This ranked as the 414th largest one-day drop in the index's history.
So what's the point of all this? It is a fact that stock market volatility often drives investors to make rash and untimely decisions. I hope that this bit of historical context can help to keep you on track as 2018 comes to a close.
With Friday's close, the S&P 500 Index is 9.3% off of its closing high that was set on September 20, 2018. We are almost at a 10% correction in the S&P 500. What is interesting is that the index has fallen almost 10%, but the average S&P 500 stock has fallen over 16% and the average Top 1000 largest stock has fallen over 18%. If we do see the S&P 500 fall further, it will be the second time in 2018 that the market has fallen more than 10%. While this most recent pullback has been relatively swift, it is not an uncommon occurrence, especially in bull markets.
The following graphic is one of my favorites, as it sums up our expectations and experiences pretty well. We envision our investment plan to resemble the smooth uphill journey in the upper panel. While in reality, the lower panel resembles our actual journey. We will reach our destination, but there will certainly be "bumps" along the way. October 2018 is clearly represented below. While things seem "scary" right now, the prudent thing to do is stay the course.
As strong as the stock market was in the 1990's, there were numerous pullbacks along the way. As a matter of fact, the S&P 500 experienced a 5% pullback on 24 different occasions in the 90’s. Seven of those pullbacks resulted in a correction of 10% or more. So, for the 10-year period of the 1990's, there were seven times the S&P 500 corrected at least 10%.
2018 is displaying strong parallels to 1994. The year 1994 was labeled as a stealth bear market, because the major stock market indexes were basically flat for the year. Unlike the averages though, the average stock experienced a lot of pain (not unlike what we’re seeing this year). Looking back at 1994, the S&P 500 had two corrections (one for -8.93% and another for -6.44%). Far greater was the decline of the average economic sector; over 18% that year. In 2018, the S&P 500 has had two corrections (one of -10.2% and the current one of -9.3%), but the average sector has declined over 15%.
Another parallel to 1994 is that the Federal Reserve sharply raised interest rates, through six rate increases. The Federal Funds rate actually doubled in 12 months. The past couple of years have seen a steady rise in interest rates as well, with three increases taking place in 2018. That being said, the interest rate headwinds made it difficult for bond investors in 1994, as well as 2018. The Aggregate Bond Index ETF's (AGG) total return was down 2.92% in 1994 and currently it's down 2.07% in 2018.
As Mark Twain famously once said, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes." So while every year is different, there are some parallels between today and previous years. Of course, things could turn out differently this time and instead of a 1995 style rally, things could look a lot like the early 2000's or 2011. For now, I will continue to pay attention to my indicators and follow the discipline that has served me well in the past.
Typically, pullbacks during bull markets tend to be viewed as buying opportunities as opposed to wholesale shifts towards defensive asset classes. Some pullbacks were steeper than others, but the bull market remained intact until the end of 1999. The structural bear or fair market of the 2000's looked much different in terms of the number of pullbacks and the magnitude of those pullbacks. For example, while the S&P 500 pulled back 5% or more 24 times in the 90's, in the decade of the 2000's, the market pulled back 5% or more 47 times and 20 of those times resulted in double-digit declines.
Prudent investment portfolios are constructed with the knowledge that there will be corrections or "scary" times in the market. Market history, as well as our own experiences tell us that. A diversified portfolio expects to experience "scary" markets. We don't know when or why these corrections will happen. Just that they will. Since weeks like these last few are to be expected, your portfolio should not be changed because of short-term market fluctuations. Investment portfolios are not designed to avoid all volatility and drawdowns. If they were, the portfolio would experience very minimal upside. Short-term volatility is the admission price for higher expected returns. As an example, your savings account at the local bank avoids all volatility. It also avoids providing you with a high return. It is important to remember that while short term volatility is uncomfortable and cannot be eliminated, the long term probabilities are skewed heavily in your favor. (see the chart above) Keep a long-term perspective, because months like October will try to knock you off of your game.
Halloween has arrived early! You would think this if the recent stock market action was any indication of such.
It is entirely normal to have a reaction to yesterday's stock market drop - probably a very, very strong reaction. It is human nature. We are wired to do so. There really is nothing you can do about preventing that reaction. I can tell you though, what you are experiencing has everything to do with feelings and nothing to do with thinking.
If you have ever taken a course in Psychology, you probably learned about the Fight-or-Flight Response. The term "fight-or-flight" represents the choices that our ancient ancestors had when faced with an imminent danger in their environment. They could either stay and fight or run away. In either case, the physiological and psychological response to this stress prepares the body to react to the danger. So why does a bad day in the stock market trigger a stone-aged response in our bodies. As I said before, it is just the way that we are wired. It is an automatic response and there is nothing that we can do to prevent it from happening.
Enough about feelings. Let's do some thinking. If we zoom out a little and take a look at what is really going on we note the following two facts: U.S. corporate earnings are surging, and the U.S. economy as a whole is also surging.
There is also much noise out there to trying to throw you off of your game. For example, this Fortune Magazine cover from a couple of months ago:
The article makes for a catchy cover story, and certainly entices people to buy the magazine. But it has the potential to seriously scare and mislead investors. Why? Because, as the author himself says, nobody, including most notably economists, has been able to accurately predict economic and market downturns. So, time and time again, market “timers” have gotten burned.
My view is that the strength in U.S. stocks can continue until the Federal Reserve makes a deliberate move to slow the economy. From every indication we have from the Fed, that is still a ways off. As you know, I do not care for predictions. I am a strong believer in "What is, is." And what is right now, is the fact that despite recent volatility, U.S. stocks continue to remain the strongest asset class of the six that I follow on a daily basis. Not cash. Not bonds. Not commodities. It is U.S. stocks. I remain vigilant every day for changes that are truly long-term in nature and will adjust our portfolios accordingly.
Investment success comes from ignoring the short-term noise and following a plan. Emotions can and will wreak havoc on your portfolio. I know that it is tough to do, but try to ignore the short-term market fluctuations that will severely tempt you to abandon your plan. There will be bad days for sure. Fight the urge to react to your feelings. Think instead. The prudent and best way to maximize long-term wealth-building is to stay fully-invested in a broadly diversified portfolio.
I have often said that it is important to ignore the short-term "noise" so often heard in the markets. This noise emanates from the financial media as well as from some very highly paid professionals. (Please note: the size of one's paycheck does not signify brilliance.) While catching up on some reading over the weekend, I came across an article on MarketWatch titled, Chart of Shame: The S&P 500 vs Everyone Who Said the Market Was About to Crash. This article contained the following graphic compiled by Jon Boorman of Broadsword Capital.
Wow! This chart says it all. There are over 25 quotes from some highly paid and well respected stock market pundits from 2012-2018. All of them warning about an upcoming market crash that never materialized. Total and complete wrongness. I especially love the two "Sell everything!" directives in 2016. Since 2016, the S&P 500 has climbed an impressive 40%! If you had heeded their warnings and moved your money to cash, your investment portfolio and possibly your long-term financial goals would have taken a serious hit as you sat on the sidelines during this strong market rally.
The financial media's main mission is not to help you succeed as an investor, but instead to generate digital clicks or old-fashioned magazine sales. It's about them, not you. Sensational headlines like "The Big Crash is Coming!" sells many more magazines than a more useful headline such as "Everything is Fine. Stay the Course". Yes, I know that these headlines are usually backed up by some very credible sounding and well-researched rationale. However, the track record of these stock market pundits' predictions is horrendous.
Economist John Maynard Keynes famously said, "The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable." Let's take a look at the accuracy of some of these so-called forecasting experts. The website Econlife.com provides a very telling report card on their past performance. When they looked at 12 month market predictions (i.e. what the "expert" thought the market would do over the next 12 months) made between 1998 and 2016, they found that 92% of the time the "market expert" predicted that the market would rise. The stock market has historically gone up more than it has gone down, so this was a pretty safe prediction from a probability standpoint. Not surprisingly, they were right 92% of the time. Most investors are more concerned about knowing ahead of time when the market is going to drop. So how did the "experts" do when it came to accurately predicting market downturns in the coming 12 months? Only 9% of the predictions accurately predicted the market downturn. Utterly worthless! Why would anyone ever listen to these people?
My portfolio methodology does not rely on forecasts. I think that we can clearly see that there is little benefit to listening to the well-paid "experts". Instead, I rely on a methodology that is based on the laws of supply and demand. We all understand why there are lemonade stands in the summer and hot chocolate stands in the winter. When there are more buyers than sellers willing to sell, prices must rise. When there are more sellers than buyers willing to buy, prices must fall. It's easy to follow the rules of a methodology when things are going well, but it's when the going gets rough that we need the rules the most. I don't listen to the "experts" who are telling us what the market should do. And either should you. I listen instead to what the market is saying. When U.S. stocks are no longer in demand, that is when I will know that it's time to alter our allocation or raise cash in our portfolios.
Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the S&P 500’s bottom during the global financial crisis. The 2008 Financial Crisis may still be fresh in many people's minds and therefore seem like it was only yesterday. From its pre-crisis record close ...