Investing & Diversification: When Less is More

Dear Mr. Market: download

In many of our letters to you we discuss the ups and downs of the stock market. In doing so, we often times will share basic knowledge and investing reminders to our readers to help guide them. Without question, even a rookie investor will have learned the simple advice of diversifying their portfolio. “Do not put all your eggs in one basket!”

While that “advice” is intuitive and seems to make sense, it’s mainly regurgitated by every financial advisor because of one alarming reason. Yes, on one hand it’s with the intent of managing risk but part of the dark reality is because most people (pros included) don’t know what they’re doing. This last sentence may sound harsh but our job is to be candid and also share ideas and truths that you may need to know yet not always hear elsewhere.

If you stop reading this article right now do yourself a favor and at least spend seven minutes when you have more time. The seven minutes we want you to spend are watching the following clip of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. Click here to view it and learn their basic belief that most investors over diversify and are simply “protecting themselves from ignorance”. Continue reading

Why buy Gold and Why Now?

Dear Mr. Market:download

We have commented many times on how people have short memories. In the case of recent stock market behavior, however, there is no way one could forget what a ride we’ve all been on. Our job today is not to draw attention to the very obvious past but to one area of the market that is not always directly connected to stocks or bonds.

Do you have gold in your portfolio and if so, should you buy more, hold on to what you have, or dump it? Continue reading

Has the Stock Market reached Capitulation?

Dear Mr. Market:Worst Days Ever for S&P 500

We are living in scary times, as investors and as human beings in general. With stock markets cratering and the uncertainty surrounding Coronavirus, it’s hard to remember when things were this bad or uncertain. How and when will things get better?

Regarding the market, there are no absolute rules, but it’s generally agreed investors have to fully capitulate before a bear market downturn can find its low point and eventually turn back the other way. The idea is that all the bad news, expectations and fear have to hit their worst point, so there is finally nothing else to drive the market lower. After that, anything remotely positive or even just “not bad” starts the base for the ensuing bull, and the market can begin climbing again.

The dilemma is that no one sounds an “all-clear” signal to let you know when that point has been reached. Think about the low point of the last bear, March of 2009. President Obama was freshly inaugurated (cause for optimism or pessimism, depending on your political leaning). Chrysler, GM, and Ford were near bankruptcy. Unemployment was climbing. A massive stimulus package had just been signed, but no on knew how effective it might be. Investors wondered if their portfolios would ever recover to where they had been. Those were troubling times, but we all know the market turned sharply upward that month and the bull continued for 11 years. It’s all much more clear looking back in the rearview mirror but at the time it was certainly not so.

Returns 1,3,5,& 10 years after Worst Days

Stock Market returns 1,3,5, and 10 years after Worst 1 Days Ever

There is no saying what will bring about capitulation with the current market. In our last column we noted how drawn out the 2000-2002 bear was. Things could get worse before they hit their inflection point. But it will come…if it hasn’t already. Yesterday was the third worst day in the history of the stock market and many threw in the towel. We’ve also advised that panic is never a strategy, and keeping your head as an investor right now is absolutely the right thing to do. One cannot change the past or the fact that this event took on disastrous proportions that nobody could have imagined. This is different than a standard bear market in that it’s more like an unforeseen natural disaster but in this case one that is not specific to some other part of the world; it’s truly global and caught the entire globe flat footed.

Human instinct is to seek shelter when danger is imminent, and that gives us the urge to abandon our better instincts. Sell all your stocks! Go to cash! End the pain! This might provide short-term comfort or relief, but assuming you need some amount of growth to reach your goals, you now have the dilemma of when and how to get back in.

We would advise staying the course, while being prudent. Strategic rebalancing can make sense, but not drastic changes to your allocation. If you have a plan in place that you felt good about during the market highs a month ago, stick to it, and revisit it if needed. Heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” The market is definitely throwing some serious punches right now. How will you answer the bell?

Lastly, we’re seeing two sets of behaviors right now; one group of people is scrambling to buy toilet paper while another is doing whatever they can to buy stocks. Mark our words in that this will be an inflection point and one where your decisions/behavior today will truly impact where you sit 10 years from now.

Panic is never a strategy…

Dear Mr. Market:5 years

Today marks the anniversary of the stock market bottom 11 years ago. How ironic is it that on March 9th 2009, when the market and everyone in finance was curled up in a fetal position, we now are witnessing a market drubbing like we haven’t seen in years on that same anniversary date? For those with short-term memory lapses, 11 years ago the Dow Jones went from 14,164 in October of 2007 down to 6,547 on March 9, 2009. The “Financial Crisis” of that period effectively saw a -53.77% decline in the stock market.  What has ensued since then happens to be the longest bull market run in history. Continue reading

Keep Calm and Invest On

Dear Mr. Market:Unknown-4

We always chide you for having such a volatile temper. Your unpredictability is both alluring yet often makes the most intelligent person seem like an imbecile. What’s your next move? Who will you reward in 2020 and who will you punish?

As an investor, it’s always hard when the market is volatile. Do what you must to relax – deep breathing, a nice long walk, maybe yoga. Try to ignore the talking heads on the financial news channels. You’ll get through this. Now is not the time for rash action based on emotion.

What’s that you say? You’re not worried? Hasn’t the market been up nicely for the last year?

Of course it has, and that soothed a lot of the fears stock investors had coming off a rough end to 2018. But it actually has been volatile. It’s just that upside volatility naturally feels a lot better than downside! However, both can lead to bad decision making.

Think about how you feel as an investor today, as compared to a year ago. Odds are that last year you were questioning having too much stock exposure, and now you may be wishing you had more. Both extremes can be dangerous. Imagine you gave into your fear during the late 2018 correction, and lightened up on stocks “just to wait for more clarity,” or something along those lines. The S&P 500 zoomed out of the gates in early 2019 and was up over 20% by the end of July! Then it finished up better than 30% for the full year. Giving in to fear and waiting for clarity would have kept you from participating in that upside.

Now imagine you were a disciplined investor, following an asset allocation plan for the long-run. Say your target is 70% stocks / 30% bonds, and you (or your advisor) rebalance toward that allocation at set intervals or deviations. After December 2018, you (or your advisor) would have taken money from bonds and added to stocks, since the 70/30 balance would have been out of whack. Yes, you would have added to stocks during a period of high uncertainty! In hindsight it would have looked like a great timing move, but in reality it would have been simple discipline.

Unknown-6That brings us to today. The market has been up and worries seem low. Likely your stock allocation has gotten out of whack again, but this time to the upside. What is the prudent investor to do? Again, ignore emotion and follow your plan. If this means selling stocks to rebalance, so be it. Maybe your gut says, “let the winners keep running.” You could do that, but ask yourself how good your gut has been at timing the market in the past.

From an investor psychology standpoint, staying disciplined when things feel comfortable can be a good exercise for when the market inevitably goes a little haywire. Warren Buffett is credited with saying, “Be greedy when others are fearful, and fearful when others are greedy.” Good advice…but if you focus more on discipline than market timing, your decision-making will not be driven by either extreme.

Continue reading

Where is the Recession?

Dear Mr. Market:Recession

Chalk it up to the “dog days of summer” but we haven’t written a letter to you in a while. Perhaps this is in part to the wild ride you’ve sent investors on since the whipsaw action and insane volatility we saw this past December. For those of us with short-term memory issues, the year ended in brutal fashion with the worst December in 80 years. If you sold out of your investments, threw in the towel and fell prey to your emotions, you then missed the best January the stock market has seen in 80 years. 

If you still haven’t paid much attention then perhaps the opening of this past week also hasn’t phased you…or should it?! Continue reading

What to do if the Stock Market Correction turns into a Bear Market?

Dear Mr. Market:

We typically write you letters about your volatile actions and the erratic behavior you bestow upon us as investors. Many of our letters also try to put certain economic events into perspective so that people don’t let your wild stock market swings force them into making bad decisions. All that said, it’s come to our attention that we can finally roll out the answer to a question that is not always obvious:

What should an investor do if a standard stock market correction turns into a bear market? shutterstock_262478570

First off, let’s revisit the basic definition of a correction versus an official bear market. Click here for an article we wrote during the last correction in February, which incidentally at the time felt like the end of the bull market had finally come. Although the market sold off almost -10% in a short span, it clearly came back to reach record highs until October came around.

So…can we now apply the four most dangerous words in investing? Continue reading

Stock Market: You have 6 months before you can panic…

Dear Mr. Market:th-22

Let’s get this part out of the way…You’ve made a lot of people ill the past few days. As a matter of fact you’re following through on staying true to form by making October another historically miserable month.

After a two day blood bath we’re seeing a little bounce leading into the weekend but the stock market basically negated what was a surprisingly pleasant summer stretch. We’re now sitting around July levels and the previous correction in February of this year is suddenly somewhat deja vu. What’s not much different is the fact that most financial advice remains the same : “Stay the course. Don’t panic” Diversify.”

What happens in September often follows through and even intensifies in October. That being said just because “X happened last time” doesn’t mean “Y will happen this time”. We believe there will be more anxiety than normal this time around. The stock market and it’s bull run are not only long in the tooth but we also have mid-term elections coming up which regardless of real substance…they will stir up emotions and uncertainty.  If we get a “red wave” you’ll likely see the market advance even higher for a few months and if we get a “blue wave” it’s our opinion there will be a sell-off. This is not a political opinion on which party is “better” so please remain calm; it’s simply a fact that if we have a meaningful shift in power there will be political gridlock for a couple of years. Long story short…one result will cause increased volatility and in our opinion the other will lead to that long grinding slow down where we actually could see the stock market finally roll over and enter a new cycle.

So…”don’t panic”? Well….sort of.

We’re going to share some of that same counsel but with hopefully a bit more actionable advice; do something! Continue reading

May Gray turns into June Gloom

 

Dear Mr. Market:Unknown-3

We have discussed many times how emotionally driven you are. On some days you tempt us with your record setting high wire acts and on others we have our lips virtually wrapped around the barrel of a gun in desperation; the stock market is a wicked playground.

We don’t believe that computers or sophisticated investment algorithms can completely mitigate the perils of the stock market or protect everyone from getting out of their own way, but it can at least be used as a starting point. My Portfolio Guide relies on some very unique tools that assess the stock market each month with a fresh set of eyes. While our method of “reading the tea leaves” is not necessarily a crystal ball, it’s definitely not what most investment advisors use….which is the rear view mirror. Sadly enough, many investment advisors are just like you…they’re human and they chase recent returns and mistakenly look back in history as to what has done well. While this method of analysis is the easiest to sell clients (and themselves) it’s not as effective as taking a completely fresh look at what is happening right now and how that is statistically likely to play out in the near-term. Continue reading

What is “long-term investing” anyway?

Dear Mr. Market:th-19

Why is the number 15 important for us to share with you today? In our opinion it’s because everyone seems to have a different idea of what “long-term” investing means. The notion that investors should think long-term is fine, and fairly generic advice, but that time frame has never been concretely defined; until now!
My Portfolio Guide defines long-term as being able to invest for at least a 15 year time horizon.
Using our definition even at retirement you could definitely be considered a “long-term investor”. Granted, you may be closer to needing to live on a fixed income or simply not have the stomach for the ups and downs of the stock market, but by our definition you are a long-term investor.
The average person is living longer so if you hung up the work boots at age 65, for example, going out 15 years puts you at age 80. Assuming you need investment funds to last at least to that age it would be wise to have a decent portion allocated towards growth investments. Putting your investments into bonds, CDs, or cash is a losing proposition once you factor in taxes and the silent and ever-growing killer of inflation.
 
168036_600Look…we get it…the stock market can make you lose your lunch. The roller coaster analogies are plentiful and with a 24/7 news cycle it seems like the slightest hiccup can create a bloodbath on Wall Street.  All that being said, the odds of the stock market being positive over time are overwhelmingly in your favor and it’s still the place to be if you want to grow your wealth. Over one-year periods, between 1926 and 1997, Ibbotson found that stock returns were positive in 52 out of 72 years, or roughly three-quarters of the time. Even so there is obvious risk and volatility with the best year having stocks return +54% and in the worst -43%.
 
But now let’s turn to longer periods. Ibbotson looked at five-year rolling cycles over the same era (1926-30, 1927-31, etc.). Out of 68 separate, overlapping periods, stock returns were positive 61 times which works out to be almost 90% of the time! Over 15-year rolling periods (there were 58 of them) stock returns were positive every time.
Since 1926, the stock market – as measured by the S&P 500 with dividends reinvested, has never had a 15-year rolling calendar period with a loss. If that fact doesn’t register…please read it again. Never once in history has the stock market lost money over a 15 year period. The longer your time horizon the more likely it is that you’ll make money in a diversified stock portfolio. 
One of the reasons financial advisors use other instruments in a portfolio outside of stocks is to diversify; that is also a nice way of saying it’s because they know you will likely be an emotional train wreck when volatility enters the arena. If there was a two horse race and we had to bank our entire livelihood on either the Bond horse or the Stock horse…it is without question which we would choose.
Furthermore, imagine if you could only open your investment account statements once every 15 years? Not only would you most likely be a less stressed and more successful investor, but the odds are substantial that you would have positive returns no matter what happened in the world.