Monday, August 24, 2015
Tools For Navigating the Market Pullback
On August 24th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average opened the day decreasing in value by 1,000 points. One of the most volatile days in memory continued, with the DOW fighting back to nearly even by mid-day, down only 98 points. Unfortunately, the bounce couldn’t be maintained through the market close with the DOW ending the day down 588 points, off about -3.5%.
How are investors to deal with this level of uncertainty? First and foremost, remember that this is what diversification is for. It is easy to look at a major market index like the DOW or the S&P 500 and equate the performance of those assets to the performance of your portfolio. However, the first thing investors should remind themselves is that they don’t have a portfolio consisting of only large cap stocks, which is what is measured by both the DOW and S&P 500 index.
In fact, most investors don’t have a portfolio consisting of just stocks. Many investors who are nearing or enjoying retirement may have a portfolio that is closer to only 50% or 60% stocks. If an investor only has 50% of his portfolio invested in stocks, only 50% of the portfolio is invested in the asset that declined in value by -3.5% on August 24th, meaning the individual’s portfolio likely only decreased by about -1.75%. While a -1.75% decline is not pleasant, it is hardly catastrophic.
The next step is to remind ourselves that temporary sharp market declines are common. Morgan Housel, one of my favorite financial writers, noticed that the correction the market is currently experiencing is currently about half as bad as the correction that took place near the beginning of 2011, which no one now remembers or cares about. These market pullbacks will always come and go, and the world will continue to turn.
Additionally, it is useful to acknowledge that while we tend to remember dramatic and shocking market decreases, stocks tends to be an efficient investment over time. As Ben Carlson pointed out in his blog, when investors think of the ‘80s the first thing that comes to mind is usually the crash of ’87. However, U.S. stocks were up over 400% during the decade. Similarly, even though stocks are up 200% since March of 2009, many investors have spent the last five years trying to anticipate the next 10% - 20% correction. In retrospect, an investor would have clearly been better off riding the equities rollercoaster during both the good and bad times and ending with a 200% gain rather than being out of the market in an attempt to avoid a small temporary decline. Given a long enough investment time frame, this has always been true and will continue to be the case.
Finally, as I pointed out in a previous post, it is useful to recall that market corrections are actually a good thing for long-term investors. Fear amongst investors is what creates the equity risk premium that enables stocks to produce superior investment results when compared to investments with no risk such as CDs and money markets, which essentially experience no growth after accounting for inflation. When investors forget that equities can go both up and down in value, everyone wants to invest their money in stocks. This excess demand inflates asset purchase prices to the point that owning equities is no longer profitable. Market declines reintroduce risk to the investing public, and it is the presence of risk that makes stocks an appreciating asset. Thus, for those who don’t intend to sell their investments for 10+ years, short periods of volatility are a positive because they recreate the equity risk premium which raises rates of return over time.
These are all logical steps for mentally dealing with market corrections. For those who need it, Josh Brown proposes a less logical step for tricking your mind into embracing the market pullback. During scary market environments, Mr. Brown proposes that you identify a couple of stocks you’ve always felt you missed out on. Have you always wished you got in earlier on Apple, Google, Netflix, Chipotle, etc? A market correction like we are experiencing might be the perfect opportunity to become an owner of a great stock at an attractive price. Why not set a number for each of these stocks – say, if they drop in value by 20% - and if those targets are met you commit to buying some shares?
This strategy truly enables you to use lemons to make lemonade. It provides an opportunity to buy shares of companies that you have always wanted without overpaying for them. This mental trick can actually cause you to hope that the market correction continues because you are now hoping for a chance to buy. Rooting for a further correction can certainly make volatile market periods more tolerable.
As I mentioned, this mentality isn’t completely logical because the rest of your portfolio will likely need to decline in value in order to afford you the opportunity to purchase those coveted stocks. However, implementing this strategy is a bit of a mental hedge that enables you to get something good out of whichever direction the market turns. Think of betting money against your favorite sports team – of course you don’t want your team to lose, but even if they do you still get something positive out of it.
I’m confident that most of my clients already know that selling in the middle of a market correction is not a good idea. Still, I acknowledge that doing nothing as the market seems to be collapsing around you can be nerve-racking – even though it is the appropriate response. Hopefully these mental strategies and tricks enable you to stick to your long-term buy-and-hold investment strategy which has always proved to be profitable given a long enough time frame.