October is not only a scary month for trick-or-treaters during Halloween, but October is also a scary month for investors.
Boo! Scared yet? Well if not, need I remind you of the market crashes of 1929 and 1987 also occurred during this ghoulish month? With a wall of worry and concerns galore overwhelming myopic traders, it’s no surprise nervous memories become shortened in anxious times like these.
The financial crisis of 2008-2009 is seared into the minds of investors and every Greek debt negotiation creates fresh new Armageddon fears. But perhaps history will repeat itself in a shorter-term more positive way? Just last year, I wrote about the excessive pessimism in July 2010, when “de-risking” was the buzz word of the day and hedge funds were bailing in droves – right before the +30%+ QE2 (quantitative easing) melt-up. Despite a massive expansion in earnings growth over the last few years, the S&P 500 just touched 1074 a few weeks ago – putting the index at similar trading levels as in Fall 2009 (see chart below).
Will Europe crater the U.S. into an abyss, or will Bernanke need to pull a QE3 rabbit out of his hat? I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I do know it’s better to follow the wisdom of Warren Buffett who says to “buy fear and sell greed.” If a 2% 10-Year Treasury, elevated VIX, and trillions in swollen cash reserves do not represent fear, then I may just need to pack my backs and head out to the Greek island of Santorini – that way I can at least enjoy my fear on a sunny beach.
Regardless of the Q4 outcome, I thought my friend Mark Twain could provide some insight about history’s role in financial markets. Here is an Investing Caffeine flashback from the fall of 2009 which also questioned the extremely negative sentiment at the time (S&P 500: 1069):
As Mark Twain said, “History never repeats itself, but it often rhymes.” There are many bear markets with which to compare the current financial crisis we are working through. By studying the past we can understand the repeated mistakes of others (caused by fear and greed), and avoid making similar emotional errors.
Do you want an example? Here you go:
Today there are thoughtful, experienced, respected economists, bankers, investors and businessmen who can give you well-reasoned, logical, documented arguments why this bear market is different; why this time the economic problems are different; why this time things are going to get worse — and hence, why this is not a good time to invest in common stocks, even though they may appear low.”
Although the quote above seems appropriate for 2009, it actually is reflective of the bearish mood felt in most bear markets. We have been through wars, assassinations, banking crises, currency crises, terrorist attacks, mad-cow disease, swine flu, and yes, even recessions. And through it all, most have managed to survive in decent shape. Let’s take a deeper look.
1973-1974 Case Study:
For those of you familiar with this period, recall the prevailing circumstances:
- Exiting Vietnam War
- Undergoing a recession
- 9% unemployment
- Arab Oil Embargo
- Watergate: Presidential resignation
- Collapse of the Nifty Fifty stocks
- Rising inflation
Not too rosy a scenario, yet here’s what happened:
S&P 500 Price (12/1974): 69
S&P 500 Price (8/2009): 1,021
That is a whopping +1,380% increase, excluding dividends.
What Investors Should Do:
- Avoid Knee-Jerk Reactions to Media Reports: Whether it’s radio, television, newspapers, or now blogs, the headlines should not emotionally control your investment decisions. Historically, media venues are lousy at identifying changes in price direction. Reporters are excellent at telling you what is happening or what just happened – not what is going to happen.
- Save and Invest: Regardless of the market direction, entitlements like Medicare and social security are under stress, and life expectancies are increasing (despite the sad state of our healthcare system), therefore investing is even more important today than ever.
- Create a Systematic, Disciplined Investment Plan: I recommend a plan that takes advantage of passive, low-cost, tax-efficient investment strategies (e.g. exchange-traded and index funds) across a diversified portfolio. Rather than capitulating in response to market volatility, have a systematic process that can rebalance periodically to take advantage of these circumstances.
For DIY-ers (Do-It-Yourselfers), I suggest opening a low-cost discount brokerage account and research firms like Vanguard Group, iShares, or Select Sector SPDRs. If you choose to outsource to a professional advisor, I recommend interviewing several fee-only* advisers – focusing on experience, investment philosophy, and potential compensation conflicts of interest.
If you believe, like some economists, CEOs, and investors, we have suffered through the worst of the current “Great Recession” and you are sitting on the sidelines, then it might make sense to heed the following advice: “Some people say they want to wait for a clearer view of the future. But when the future is again clear, the present bargains will have vanished.” Dean Witter made those comments 77 years ago – a few weeks before the end of worst bear market in history. The market has bounced quite a bit since March of this year, but if history is on our side, there might be more room to go.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in JPM, or any other security referenced in this article.