Scrapes on the Sidewalk
Baron Rothschild, an 18th century British nobleman and member of the Rothschild banking family, is credited with the investment advice to “buy when there’s blood in the streets.” Well, with the Russell 2000 correcting about -14% and the S&P 500 -8% from their 2014 highs, you may not be witnessing drenched, bloody streets, but you could say there has been some “scrapes on the sidewalk.”
Although the Volatility Index (VIX – a.k.a., “Fear Gauge”) reached the highest level since 2011 last week (31.06), the S&P 500 index still hasn’t hit the proverbial “correction” level yet. Even with some blood being shed, the clock is still running since the last -10% correction experienced during the summer of 2011 when the Arab Spring sprung and fears of a Greek exit from the EU was blanketing the airwaves. If investors follow the effective 5-year investment playbook, this recent market dip, like previous ones, should be purchased. Following this “buy-the-dip” mentality since the lows experienced in 2011 would have resulted in stock advancing about +75% in three years.
If you have a more pessimistic view of the equity markets and you think Ebola and European economic weakness will lead to a U.S. recession, then history would indicate investors have suffered about 50% of the pain. Your ordinary, garden-variety recession has historically resulted in about a -20% hit to stock prices. However, if you’re in the camp that we’re headed into another debilitating “Great Recession” as we experienced in 2008-2009, then you should brace for more pain and grab some syringes of Novocaine.
If you’re seriously considering some of these downside scenarios, wouldn’t it make sense to analyze objective data to bolster evidence of an impending recession? If the U.S. truly was on the verge of recession, wouldn’t the following dynamics likely be in place?
- Two quarters of consecutive, negative GDP (Gross Domestic Property) data
- Inverted yield curve
- Rising unemployment and mass layoff announcements
- Declining corporate profits
- Hawkish Federal Reserve
The reality of the situation is the U.S. economy continues to expand; the yield curve remains relatively steep and positive; unemployment declined to 5.9% in the most recent month; corporate profits are at record levels and continue to grow; and the Fed has communicated no urgency to raise short-term interest rates in the near future. While the current headlines may not be so rosy, and the Ebola, eurozone, and Chinese markets may be giving you heartburn, nevertheless, the stock market has steadily climbed a wall of market worry over the last five years.
As the great Peter Lynch stated (see also Inside the Brain of an Investing Genius), “Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.” Stated differently, Value investor Seth Klarman noted, “We can predict 10 of the next two recessions,” which highlights pundits’ inabilities of accurately predicting the next downturn (see also 100-Year Flood ≠ 100-Day Flood). As Lynch also adds, rather than trying to time the market, it is better to “assume the market is going nowhere and invest accordingly.”
Now may not be the time to dive into stocks headfirst, but many stocks have fallen -10%, -20%, and -30%, so it behooves long-term investors to take advantage of the correction. It’s true that buying when there is “blood in the streets” is an optimal strategy, but facts show this is a difficult strategy to execute. Rather than get greedy, long-term investors may be better served by opportunistically buying when there are “scrapes on the sidewalk.”
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
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