Broken Clocks and Market Timing

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Pshenichka

The first quarter of 2016 is drawing to a close, and as of this writing the S&P 500 Index is roughly where it was at the start of the year, hovering a meager half a percent under the December 31 close of 2043.94 after having peaked half a percent higher earlier last week.

One might conclude that it has been a very boring three months for the stock market—we’ve spent 90 days to get back to where we started from. But we’ve had quite a rollercoaster in-between. In the first half of the quarter the S&P dropped about 10%, only to have an equally dramatic bounce back.

We had some calls from worried clients after that drop. (Not many, though—we know our clients, and they know us and our philosophy.) We would certainly like to take credit for having righted the ship and reversing the decline. But the truth of the matter is that there is a lot of random noise in market movements. We believe that we may be able to capitalize on long-term market trends; we do not pretend to be able to predict what the market will do day to day or month to month.

We do know that every once in a while there will be a short-lived 10% correction in the market, so we don’t believe in panicking when the markets take a dip. But we don’t know when, or how long, or how deep a periodic correction will be.

They say that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Market timing often feels the same. Even if you have a deeply held conviction that a market is due for a move, you may have to wait an unpleasantly long time before you turn out to be right. In hindsight market moves seem obvious, and it is tempting to look back and curse having missed the opportunity to sell at a top or buy in at a bottom. But at the time, nobody knew that they were at the top or the bottom. If we could accurately predict when the top or bottom would hit, we wouldn’t be here dispensing financial advice. We’d be sitting on a beach somewhere in the tropics, having rum runners dispensed to us.

Maybe someday we’ll get a better crystal ball that can make those predictions. Until then, we’ll just settle for getting rich the slow way and leave market timing to the gamblers and bookies.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.