Searching for the Market Boogeyman
With the stock market reaching all-time record highs (S&P 500: 1900), you would think there would be a lot of cheers, high-fiving, and back slapping. Instead, investors are ignoring the sunny, blue skies and taking off their rose-colored glasses. Rather than securely sleeping like a baby (or relaxing during a three-day weekend) with their investment accounts, people are biting their fingernails with clenched teeth, while searching for a market boogeyman in their closets or under their beds.
If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is pick up the paper, turn on the TV, or walk over to the office water cooler. An avalanche of scary headlines that are spooking investors include geopolitical concerns in Ukraine & Thailand, slowing housing statistics, bearish hedge fund managers (i.e., Tepper Einhorn, Cooperman), declining interest rates, and collapsing internet stocks. In other words, investors are looking for things to worry about, despite record corporate profits and stock prices. Peter Lynch, the manager of the Magellan Fund that posted +2,700% in gains from 1977-1990, put short-term stock price volatility into perspective:
“You shouldn’t worry about it. You should worry what are stocks going to be 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now.”
Rather than focusing on immediate stock market volatility and other factors out of your control, why not prioritize your time on things you can control. What investors can control is their asset allocation and spending levels (budget), subject to their personal time horizons and risk tolerances. Circumstances always change, but if people spent half the time on investing that they devoted to planning holiday vacations, purchasing a car, or choosing a school for their child, then retirement would be a lot less stressful. After realizing 99% of all the short-term news is nonsensical noise, the next important realization is stocks are volatile securities, which frequently go down -10 to -20%. As much as amateurs and professionals say or think they can profitably predict these corrections, they very rarely can. If your stomach can’t handle the roller-coaster swings, then you shouldn’t be investing in the stock market.
Bear-markets generally coincide with recessions, and since World War II, Americans experience about two economic contractions every decade. And as I pointed out earlier in A Series of Unfortunate Events, even during the current massive bull market, a recession has not been required to suffer significant short-term losses (e.g., Flash Crash, Greece, Arab Spring, Obamacare, Cyprus, etc.). Seasoned veterans understand these volatile periods provide incredible investment opportunities. As Warren Buffett states, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.” Fear and panic may be behind us, but skepticism is still firmly in place. Buying during current skepticism is still not a bad thing, as long as greed hasn’t permeated the masses, which remains the case today.
Overly emotional people that make investment decisions with their gut do more damage to their savings accounts than conservative, emotional investors who understand their emotional shortcomings. On the other hand, the problem with investing too conservatively, for those that have longer-term time horizons (10+ years), is multi-pronged. For starters, overly conservative investments made while interest rate levels hover near historical lows lead to inflationary pressures gobbling up savings accounts. Secondly, the low total returns associated with excessively conservative investments will result in a later retirement (e.g., part-time Wal-Mart greeter in your 80s), or lower quality standard of living (e.g., macaroni & cheese dinners vs. filet mignon).
Most people say they understand the trade-offs of risk and return. Over the long-run, low-risk investments result in lower returns than high risk investments (i.e., bonds vs. stocks). If you look at the following chart and ask anyone what their preferred path would be over the long-run, almost everyone would select the steep, upward-sloping equity return line.
Yet, stock ownership and attitudes towards stocks remain at relatively low and skeptical levels (see Gallup survey in Markets Soar and Investors Snore). It’s true that attitudes are changing at a glacial pace and bond outflows accelerated in 2013, but more recently stock inflows remain sporadic and scared money is returning to bonds. Even though it has been over five years, the emotional scars from 2008-2009 apparently still need some time to heal.
Investing in stocks can be very scary and hazardous to your health. For those millions of investors who realize they do not hold the emotional fortitude to withstand the ups and downs, leave the worrying responsibilities to the experienced advisors and investment managers like me. That way you can focus on your job and retirement, while the pros can remain responsible for hunting and slaying the boogeyman.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds and WMT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.