cyclical markets

To Everything There is a Season

© Can Stock Photo / jordache

After a long and snowy winter, spring has finally arrived in Nebraska, and it is wasting no time. The weather may be nicer, but the sudden thaw and ensuing floods have turned much of our state into a disaster zone.

While tragic, this was a long time coming. Most folks saw how much snow had accumulated through March and knew that it would be trouble when the weather warmed up. We all know how the cycle of the seasons work, and it should be no surprise that winter is followed by spring.

The markets, like the seasons, are cyclical. After a certain point, a bull market turns into a bear market, and vice versa. Summer turns into winter; winter turns into spring. But investor behavior can sometimes overlook this important fact.

Imagine if someone looked around at how cold and snowy it was at the beginning of the month and said “There’s even more snow than there was last month! At this rate there will be two feet of snow on the ground by May!” Obviously, they would sound quite foolish.

But is this really any different than investors who, late in a market rally, say “The market is higher than ever! At this rate it will be even higher in a few months!”

We know how market cycles work. Like the weather, we are not able to predict exactly when the turning point will come. But we know that it will happen eventually, and as contrarians the stronger the trend is the harder we expect the turning point will be.

Sometimes we temporarily look foolish—a bubble may persist for years after we expect it to burst. The fellow predicting snow in May probably would have felt vindicated by how much snow got dumped on us the first half of March, after all. We would rather miss out in the short term than miss a key turn in the markets altogether, though.

To everything there is a season: a time to buy, a time to sell. Clients, if you want to talk about the markets (or the weather), please email us or call.


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

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

Up And Down Really Means Up And Down

© Can Stock Photo / webking

As long term investors we talk a lot about the need to weather short-term volatility in pursuit of long-term results. Our notion is that volatility is not risk, but an inherent feature of investing.

As years go by, many think of the market as having good years and bad years. This is based on the outcome for calendar years. The astonishing thing is how much movement there is during the course of the typical year.

“At least one year in four, roughly, the market declines.” We’ve said that about a billion times, to reiterate that our accounts are likely to also have good years and bad years, if one judges on annual returns. The object is to make a decent return over the whole course of the economic cycle, year by year and decade by decade.

But in those other three years out of four, the market also experiences declines during the course of the year. In an average year you may see a decline of 10 to 15% at some point during the year.

Our object is to leave long term money to work through the ups and downs, without selling out at a bad time. Three things help us do that:

1. A sense that everything will work out eventually, a mindset of optimism.

2. Awareness that downturns tend to be temporary, ultimately yielding to long term growth in the economy.

3. Knowing where our needed cash will come from, based on a sound cash flow plan.

Bottom line, even years that end up well can give us a rough ride. Knowing this can make it easier to deal with.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


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

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

 

The Happiness Assassins

© Can Stock Photo / Feverpitched

A professor at the Harvard Business School studies the connections between happiness and wealth. Since our immediate business here at 228 Main is wealth, and our primary object as human beings is happiness, we are paying attention.

Michael Norton’s research says there are two main questions people with money ask themselves when thinking about their level of satisfaction or happiness. “Am I doing better than before?” and “Am I doing better than other people?”

We recognize the comparison to others as ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ don’t we? And always doing better than before implies a treadmill of constant improvement, ignoring the natural ebb and flow of markets, business and the economy. These are high hurdles to happiness.

Somebody somewhere is always doing better than us. And we can never have enough, if we always want more. Perhaps this is why researchers have found that people feel if only they had two or three times as much money as they had, then they would be perfectly happy.

Being the best clients in the world, you as a group are a little different. You possess a certain kind of common sense, a groundedness, that has you considering your happiness in connection with what you need and with your natural aspirations for the future. You understand the “two steps forward, one step back” nature of the markets and economy. (You don’t always like it, but you do understand it.)

One friend quotes her granny on this point: “I have enough, and enough is as good as a feast.” This is sheer genius.

Clients, it is unimaginably more satisfying for us to work with you, instead of the kind of people these researchers talk to. If you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


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

It’s a Whole New Ballgame!

© Can Stock Photo / eric1513

When a team came from behind to forge a tie in the course of a game, a certain sportscaster in the last century would exclaim “It’s a whole new ball game!”

Games begin tied, zero to zero. So in a sense, a game that becomes tied in mid-course is a new game. We get the same sensation from the start of a new year. The coming of the new year is a good time to reflect on the year just ending, and to think ahead about the year to come.

2018 was interesting, to say the least.

• From a high point in January, the market became choppy and volatile. Some of the bargains we own got cheaper. Account values shrank over the course of the year.
• Some corporate earnings and economic indicators were strong, and interest rates rose.
• LPL Financial, our institutional broker dealer, used its increasing scale to reduce our overhead and improve the technology with which we serve you.
• We added staff at 228 Main, and started projects that will improve things in the years ahead.

2019 awaits.

• We will work to uncover potential opportunities as the economic cycle unfolds, and continue to monitor our holdings on a regular basis.
• Sorting out how to house a growing business in the years ahead will be a bigger issue as time goes on.
• We will continue to add systems and understudies to improve the sustainability and durability of the business. (I still want to work to age 92, after all.)

Your own look back and look ahead are about your own challenges and opportunities. Clients, if you would like to talk about those, please email us or call.


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

 

World’s Biggest Roller Coaster?

© Can Stock Photo / winnieapple

The biggest roller coaster in the world is Kingda Ka, at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. Sometimes investing provides a similar experience.

We have written before about the lovely decade of the 1990s, when the major stock market averages more than tripled. When you get up close and really look at what happened, however, it looks a whole lot different. We examined the data for the S&P 500 Stock Index.

During that decade, there were 1,171 trading days when the S&P went down. The total points “lost” on those days adds up to 5,228. Put that in perspective: the decade started at just 353 points! The down days “lost” more than fourteen times the beginning value1.

Who would knowingly stick around if, on the first day of the decade, we knew that 5,228 points would be “lost” on the down days?

There is a reason we put the word “lost” in quotation marks. It might be more appropriate to speak of temporary declines rather than losses. We say this, because of what happened on the other 1,356 trading days in the decade.

On those up days, the market went up a total of 6,344 points—or more than 17 times the beginning value1. If we knew only that piece of the future at the outset, money might have flooded in.

The bottom line is, here is how we got a triple in the market: it went up 17 times its original value, and down 14 times its original value, in totally unpredictable bits and pieces of rallies and corrections. Patient people prospered.

It is hard to argue with a triple. That is a fine result. This is why we talk incessantly about the long term, long time horizons, keeping the faith, following fundamental principles, and not panicking at low points.

During the decade, how many times did 10% corrections have to be endured? 20% bear markets? Were there any 30% or 40% losses? WHO CARES? It didn’t matter to long term investors.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this—or anything else—please write or call.

Notes & References

1Standard & Poor’s 500 index, S&P Dow Jones Indices: https://us.spindices.com/indices/equity/sp-500. Accessed October 3rd, 2018.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

 

It Works Until It Doesn’t

© Can Stock Photo / joebelanger

Money poured into tech stocks in the late 1990s. Then it went into residential real estate in the middle 2000s. No wonder: prices marched higher, year after year—until they didn’t.

We humans usually believe that recent trends will continue. When friends and neighbors and coworkers are getting in on the action, it is easy to join them.

A powerful narrative that seems to be creating a lot of wealth is hard to resist. “We have entered a new era.” “This time is different.” “You can’t lose money in real estate.”

Popularity pushes values farther and farther away from the underlying economics, and a reversal usually follows. The bubble pops; a great number of people are surprised. Some end up with losses instead of the gains they felt sure about making.

Our analysis suggests that a new kind of bubble is upon us. The zero interest rate policy or ZIRP of the Federal Reserve Board for most of the past decade led to a scramble for yield. This moved the valuation on many kinds of investments that pay income into very rich territory, in our opinion.

For example, we were recently pitched on a “cash substitute” with a 5% yield, in a supposedly liquid form. Sounds great, right? Perhaps too good to be true.

Indeed, when we took the proposition apart, we found it was made largely out of corporate bonds in financially weak companies—junk bonds, in other words. To make matters worse, the manager pursued opportunities in a thinly-traded part of the market—odd lots, small amounts of each bond that are unattractive to other buyers.

This idea will work until it doesn’t. When the next economic slowdown creates cracks in the theory, investors who believed they owned a “cash substitute” may be sensitive about losses of any size. As they cash out, the manager may be forced to sell into a market with even fewer buyers.

The silver lining for us is that dislocations bring opportunities. Prices overshoot in both directions. One of our roles is to try to spot these anomalies, and figure out which ones are attractive opportunities for you. (We have no guarantees of success in this.)

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

All investing, including stocks, involves risk including loss of principal.

Because of their narrow focus, sector investing will be subject to greater volatility than investing more broadly across many sectors and companies.

High yield/junk bonds (grade BB or below) are not investment grade securities, and are subject to higher interest rate, credit, and liquidity risks than those graded BBB and above. They generally should be part of a diversified portfolio for sophisticated investors.

 

Prepare for a Changing Market

© Can Stock Photo / kerdkanno

When we began in business twenty-one years ago, we recommended a wide variety of investment products. Over time, our efforts have increasingly focused on platforms in which our investment philosophy and research may be more effectively employed. Most of our time and energy now goes into the investment advisory services we offer through LPL Financial.

Clients, many of you have assets outside of LPL Financial. We believe it is time to re-examine these arrangements and determine whether they are still appropriate. We might have recommended strategies in the past that may not be the best ones for the future.

• A generous bull market over the past decade meant that other arrangements generally remained beneficial to you, in our opinion.
• But market conditions are likely to become more hectic, sooner or later.
• We have greater flexibility to seek bargains, avoid stampedes, and pick our spots when assets are in the LPL Financial platform, instead of another institution.

The better off you are, the better off we are likely to be—this has been a guiding principle at 228 Main. Our motivation is to be in the best position to keep your portfolio responsive to changing conditions.

If we may possibly improve your situation by taking a more active role in managing your assets, we welcome those duties. If you decide that outside investment accounts remain your best option, we’ll still be happy to work with you on that basis.

We would like to talk, having no pre-conceived notion about what is best for your specific situation. Please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful. All investing involves risk including loss of principal.

What’s Your Story?

© gajdamak / www.canstockphoto.com

Thinker Morgan Housel wrote recently about the power of narrative in “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” The essay focused on the narratives that affect the whole economy, the big-picture themes. The future of the country didn’t change much from 2007 to 2009, but employment, wealth, and the markets all got slammed. What caused it? The central narrative, how we understood our economy, changed dramatically from the peak of the boom to the bottom of the bust.

Investment manias have a story at their core. They may come true or not, but while the story holds sway, real values are driven by the story. Housel summarized it this way: “this is not a story about something happening; something is happening because there’s a story.”

Stories are how we organize and understand the world and our place in it. “Stories create their own kind of truth,” as Housel wrote. We believe the same idea shapes the lives of individuals just as certainly as it shapes economic and societal trends.

At 228 Main, we have stories. About people who save diligently and achieve financial independence. About folks who invest with increasing confidence and less worry over the years. About investors who learn to live with volatility, and hold on through the downturns. (These are stories, not promises or guarantees—you long-time clients know your own realities.)

I would not be able to work with you as effectively without those stories—and more importantly, the narratives of my own life.

I have a story about a vibrant business in the face of steep personal challenges. I have a story about working to age 92. I have a story about new ways of doing business in the 21st century.

These stories have enabled me to thrive while dealing with major issues, live healthier than I have for decades, communicate more effectively with you than ever before, and make plans for the decades ahead while some of my contemporaries coast toward retirement.

It feels to me as if the stories I have crafted in turn have shaped my life. I am not done creating stories; life goes on and things change. We do not know the future. But if we take control of our stories, we may be able to influence our futures. No guarantees.

How about you? What’s your story? Are there aspects of your narrative that we could help you with? Clients, please email us or call if you would like a longer discussion.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The Coming Boom?

© Can Stock Photo / devon

We wrote more than a year ago about the steady if slow growth of the economy. Just as a slow-burning fire might last longer than a raging conflagration, we expected that the economic expansion would persist longer than some commentators believed.

Another way to say it is, a bust is less likely without a boom first. The excesses that build in boom times usually contribute to the bust that follows.

For the first time in a decade, conditions may be ripe for a boom. The improvement in small business sentiment and increased money flowing into the equity markets had us on the lookout for signs of a boom. Then the tax law passed.

The tax law has pro-cyclical features that may strongly encourage economic growth now, but plants the seeds for a later slowdown. There may be political aspects that contribute to this syndrome, too.

Businesses investing in long-lived capital investments will be able to deduct the full cost up front, instead of taking smaller depreciation deductions over many years. This increases the financial attractiveness of projects; capital spending is likely to rise. A dramatically lower tax rate on corporate income, combined with a feature to bring overseas money back to the US, are further inducements for more business activity.

For two administrations in a row, the signature achievement of each has been done on a partisan, party line vote. When the minority party becomes the majority party, that achievement gets attacked and the unwinding begins. We’ve seen it with the Affordable Care Act; some Democrats are pledging to undo the tax law as soon as they are able.

So the favorable treatment of capital spending begins to phase out in a few years, and corporations may ‘get while the getting is good’ before the law gets weakened or unwound. These conditions might begin to affect things precisely when excesses from the boom have created more potential for a slowdown.

Boom, then bust. We know how this works. Clients, we will continue to monitor all of this, and work to take advantage of our thinking. No guarantees.

If you would like to discuss any of this in more detail, or have something else on your agenda, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The opinions expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of LPL Financial.

All investing, including stocks, involves risk including loss of principal.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

 

About Those Good Old Days

© Can Stock Photo / Chuckee

A client recently expressed a desire to return to the good old days, when we didn’t have all this turmoil and trouble. Wouldn’t we all like that?

But we human beings have some quirks. One of them is the universal sense that, back in the misty past, things were normal, or stable. This idea may not stand up to scrutiny.

If we confine our study just to the economy and markets, the history we’ve lived through has this to say:

1. In the early 1970’s, a mania centering on big blue chip stocks hit the market. It was thought that you could just buy them at any price, and own them forever while they went up and up—“one decision stocks” they were called. Prices ballooned to extremely high levels. The major stock market averages peaked, then sold off more than 50%1.

2. The 1970’s also saw a pair of Arab oil embargoes that resulted in spiking gasoline prices, shortages, gas stations out of gas, and rationing. Over the course of the decade, inflation rose, eventually going over 10%. Unemployment went over 10% in the mid-decade recession2.

3. The early 1980’s began with back-to-back recessions, 15% mortgage interest rates, and inflation at unprecedented levels. The unemployment rate went over 10% again. Long term bonds declined in price as interest rates rose. A mania in oil stocks that began in the 70’s ended badly early in the decade3. The biggest one-day plunge in the Dow Jones Industrial Average ever—22% in a single day—happened in 19871.

4. The 1990’s began with the cleanup from the savings and loan crisis. The Federal deposit guarantee fund had gone broke, along with thousands of financial institutions. The value of housing, which began to fall nationwide in the late 1980’s, didn’t recover until 19924. The bond market suffered its first annual loss in seventy years in 1994.

5. Clients, most of you remember the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000, the attacks on 9/11, and the so-called Great Recession of 2008-2009. You already know the fine points; it was not good fun for investors.

6. The current decade, free of recessions so far, has had a lot of ups and downs. The downgrading of US Treasury debt and the recurring Greek financial crisis were two of the main events. The zero-interest-rate policy of the Federal Reserve distorted prices in some sectors of the investment markets, some observers believe.

The resilience of the equity markets over these many decades is astonishing to us. We had all these challenges and issues, and somehow the country came out on the other side, every time. We suspect this general trend will continue. The problems of today will give way to solutions– and new problems–tomorrow. That seems to be how it works.

In the meantime, financial strategies that have worked through the decades may be the best way to approach the future. There will be winners and losers in every change and challenge. We may not be able to get back to those mythical good old days, but we can make the most of what we have to work with.

Clients, if you wish to discuss this, or your situation, please email or call.

1S&P Dow Jones Indices, https://us.spindices.com/indices/equity/dow-jones-industrial-average

2Federal Reserve Economic Data, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Unemployment and Inflation

3Federal Reserve Economic Data, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Oil Prices

4Federal Reserve Economic Data, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Housing Prices


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is comprised of 30 stocks that are major factors in their industries and widely held by individuals and institutional investors.