Walking on Egg Shells
The recent stock market rally has investors walking on egg shells. “Nervous Nelly” investors panicked on the way down last year, and now they are fearful and skeptical about the sustainability of the fierce six-month rally. The S&P 500 is up about 60% from the latest bear market lows, but I think the recent New Jersey Business News (NJBN) article captures the investor sentiment perfectly, “I’m scared, I’m scared, I’m scared,” investor Dania Leon said. “Why are we up, especially with unemployment as high as it is? I don’t feel great because I worry that we could have a 500- or 600-point drop in a day and I won’t be quick enough to pull out of it in time.”
Will investors ever be comfortable? Well yes, of course, exactly at the right time to sell. Calm and complacency will most likely settle in once the economic headlines are on a clear path to recovery. At that point, the market, like a game of chess, will likely have already anticipated the recovery.
Until then, the whipsaw syndrome seems to have taken effect on investors. The NJBN article goes onto expand on investors’ emotional scars:
“They’ve been traumatized twice,” said Michal Strahilevitz, a business professor at Golden Gate University who studies the psychology of individual investors. “First they lost a lot and got out. And now they’ve watched it climb up. It’s a lot of regret, and for people who are investing for their family, it’s a lot of guilt.”
Trillions of low yielding cash continues to sit on the sidelines, waiting for the inevitable 10% “pullback.” Strategist Laszlo Birinyi sees little evidence for an imminent correction, “Give me the evidence…in 1982 we went 424 days before we had a correction. In 2000, we went seven years before we had a 10% correction. In 2002, we went three or four years.” (For more on Mr. Birinyi, see http://is.gd/3xS5u)
At the end of the day, as great growth investor Peter Lynch said, it’s the direction of corporate earnings that will ultimately drive the market higher or lower. “People may bet on hourly wiggles of the market but it’s the earnings that waggle the wiggle long term.” Right now based on the strength of the rally, the market is telling us that third quarter corporate earnings should come in better than analyst expectations. Perhaps we get a yawner response (sell on the news reaction), or if improvement outright stalls, perhaps we will get the mother of all expected corrections?
All these mind games make for an extremely tiresome investing mental tug-of-war. I choose not to get caught up in this game of market timing, but rather I choose to let the investment opportunity-set drive my investment decisions. I have taken some chips off the table during this rebound but I am still finding plenty of other fertile opportunities to redeploy capital. As others nervously walk on egg shells, I opt to clean up the mess and look for a clearer investment path.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.