market volatility

Why Don’t We Just Pull Back?

photo shows a foggy bend in a road

Clients sometimes ask why we don’t just pull back when the market starts going down.

It is a fair question. We are thinking about a number of things in formulating investment strategy and tactics:

  1. The average decline in the course of a calendar year in the major market averages is about 13% (per Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, S&P Dow Jones Indices). Basically, the market is always going down—and up.
  2. A wag once noted that the market has predicted nine of the last five recessions. In other words, it may decline 10 or 20% without signifying anything about the health of the economy.
  3. The times when it seems to make the most sense to sell out often turn out to be good times to be invested.

In short, the ups and downs are part of investing. We each face a choice between stability of values and long term investment returns. There is no way to get both of these things on all of our money, although we may have some of each.

It is important to know where our money will come from, the funds we need in our pocket. For investors, it is also important to know that our long-term portfolios will go up and down.

We mentioned above that the average stock market decline in the course of a year is 13%. Let’s be clear about what that means: a $13,000 drop on a $100,000 portfolio; $65,000 on $500,000; $130,000 on $1 million.

Here’s some solace: by the time you notice we’ve been skewered, we are closer to recovery than when the decline began. One year out of four, on average, the market (measured by the S&P 500) declines. Think about it—three years out of four, on average, it has gone up.

We don’t pull back because we do not want to miss the rebound. Our experience has been that we can live with the ups and downs. It isn’t always easy, but our experience has been that it works out over time.

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

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.

This is a hypothetical example and is not representative of any specific situation. Your results will vary. The hypothetical rates of return used do not reflect the deduction of fees and charges inherent to investing.


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This text is available at https://www.228Main.com/.

A Luck-Proof Mindset

photo shows the question mark on the "Chance" square on a Monopoly game board

Once there was a farmer. Their horse ran away, and the neighbors cried, “What bad luck!” 

“Maybe,” said the farmer.  

The next day, the horse returned and brought with it some wild horses. The neighbors cried, “What good luck!” 

“Maybe,” said the farmer. 

The next day, the farmer’s grown child was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke their leg. “How unfortunate!” the neighbors cried. 

“Maybe,” said the farmer. 

The next day, the army came to the village to conscript all eligible individuals. The farmer’s child was passed over for their broken leg. “How fortunate!” cried the neighbors. 

“Maybe,” said the farmer. 

• • •

The Taoist parable of the farmer, relayed above, may have lessons for our experience in the market. Of course we’re interested in improving your positions over the long haul, but those twists, turns, and rumbles along the way… We don’t sweat day-to-day analysis. What we call things isn’t so important at that level, and the labels only matter when we zoom out. 

Let’s consider an example. A downturn may bring some immediate and seemingly negative impacts, right? But downturns also end up tilling the soil for future bargains. And a dip in one area inevitably sows the seeds of the next burst of progress. 

Would we ever characterize that cycle as all good or all bad? No way. Things become more relative in the long view. 

We’re certainly not suggesting that the best we hope for is a toss-up. But there’s no percentage trying to factor “good luck” or “bad luck” into our strategies and tactics. 

Instead, we can make a plan that keeps the seasons, the cycles, and the nature of change in perspective. Do we think this mindset will continue to serve us well? 

“Maybe.” 


Investing involves risk including loss of principal. 

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.


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Feeling the Burn and Staying Fresh: One Sneaky Benefit of Stress

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My reading habits, always eclectic, have gotten a lot of exercise during the pandemic. I just read about an interesting health phenomenon, one that illuminates the things we like to talk about here. 

“Autophagy” is the body’s way of recycling older or damaged cells and doing cleanup and maintenance. It seems to promote regeneration of new, healthy cells. The stresses of physical exertion and fasting are known to trigger increased autophagy, a sort of survival mechanism. 

What could this possibly have to do with investing? 

We recently chose to take advantage of a volatile day in the stock market to clear out a few holdings. It was cleanup and maintenance. Those sales freed up money with which to invest in newer ideas and opportunities.  

Just as stresses trigger autophagy in the body, market volatility and economic change tend to trigger cleanup and maintenance in our portfolios. 

Autophagy is believed by some to be a sort of an anti-aging process, keeping the body younger. Likewise, with our portfolio management, we strive to keep our holdings fresher, more in tune with the times. “In shape.” (No guarantees, of course. Autophagy does not guarantee perpetual youth, and our work does not guarantee returns.) 

When you are ready to talk about the health of your portfolio, call or email us. Let’s talk.


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What Comes Next? Three Paths

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Psychologist Shawn Achor wrote about crisis and adversity, recurring features in both the markets and life. Stuff happens, as they say.

Achor says there are three alternate mental paths in the aftermath of crisis.
The first one leads nowhere. We simply expect the crisis conditions to continue. The second one leads downward to more trouble, a continuation of the trend. We humans do tend to believe current conditions or trends will continue.

Finding the third path is difficult when times are tough. Many people do not see it because they do not believe it exists. The third path leads from the challenging conditions to greater strength, capabilities, opportunities and success. Think of it as falling forward.

Studies show those who conceive of failure as an opportunity for growth are more likely to find the third path, and experience that growth. Others have talked about the same concept with words like resilience and grit, or more vividly, post-traumatic growth.

We see this pattern in the investment markets. Although historically the stock market has recovered sooner or later from every downturn, some investors do not recover. Those who can only see the first two paths have a hard time staying invested. If they sell out at low points, believing the crisis conditions will continue or worsen, what might have been a temporary loss becomes permanent.

By the time they see the third path, the market may have already recovered. Their diminished pool of capital can only get reinvested at higher prices, perhaps to repeat the cycle of crisis and loss.

Fortunately, here at 228 Main you clients tend to have productive attitudes toward investing. You can see the third path, which is a big advantage. If you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and 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.

Silver Lining Playbook

© Can Stock Photo / AnglianArt

Recent market action featured normal stock market volatility in a remarkably compressed time period. (We all know which direction the volatility took us, don’t we?)

Some clients see a silver lining in stock market downturns. They are able to do Roth IRA conversions on a more favorable basis. These transactions are taxed on the value transferred from traditional IRA or rollover accounts into Roth IRA accounts.

Think about $60,000 invested that temporarily declines to $50,000 before bouncing back to $60,000. If the conversion happens at the low point, tax is paid on $50,000 but the Roth ends up with $60,000 of assets. This is a way to build after-tax wealth over the long term. If the rules are followed, gains in the Roth are never taxed, even when withdrawn.

By intentionally selecting the specific holdings with the most potential to snap back, an additional edge may be gained. (Of course, we have no guarantees on the selections we make.)

Many of you are looking at the lowest tax brackets in years, due to recent tax reform, changes that are scheduled to disappear in the years ahead. And income tax rates may rise anyway, as the government seeks to deal with record borrowing and national debt.

So the silver lining in the stock market decline is a pair of potential advantages in Roth IRA conversions: we may be converting assets at a temporary market value discount, taxed at temporarily low tax rates.

We have a crystal ball. It does not work. We could be wrong about future tax rates, and nobody knows their own specific future tax situation. And there is no guarantee that depressed investments rise again. We just do the best we can with what we know.

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


Content in this material is for general information only and 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.

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.

Traditional IRA account owners should consider the tax ramifications, age and income restrictions in regards to executing a conversion from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The converted amount is generally subject to income taxation.

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.

 

Minesweeper, Free Cell and the Nature of Life

© Can Stock Photo / paulgrecaud

I recently upgraded my primary computer, a Microsoft Surface tablet. After using only a touchpad and touch screen for a few years, I decided to try using a mouse again. One quick way to acclimate is by playing games in my downtime.

The solitaire card game FreeCell has a fundamental difference from the puzzle game Minesweeper. Any game of FreeCell may be won, with enough thought or trial and error. You may go back to it as many times as you want to solve it. It is possible to win every game, sooner or later.

Minesweeper, on the other hand, forces you to make decisions from a position of uncertainty. You can know many things about the terrain, but not everything. You can learn more by leveraging what you know. But in the final analysis, you must act even though you cannot know everything you want to know. Sometimes you set off a mine, and that game is lost.

If investing were like FreeCell, all we would have to do is study and think enough, and every holding would be a winner. But investing is like Minesweeper—we cannot know everything we would prefer to know, and sometimes things blow up.

Some approaches to investing try to make it look like FreeCell: charts and graphs and computer models, all very scientific. But you know and we know it is like Minesweeper, prone to periodic blowups. There is no point in trying to disguise the nature of the game. The markets go up and down. Some years are down years. Volatility is an inherent part of long-term investing.

In other words, investing is a lot like life itself. We do the best we can with what we have, and deal with the surprises as they come up.

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.

Buy Low, Sell High

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If you watch a lot of sports journalism, sooner or later you will see someone deliver some variation on this nugget of wisdom: “If we want to win, we just have to score more points than the other team.”

In investing terms, the equivalent is “If we want to make money, we just have to buy low and sell high.” This is just math: if you sell something at a higher price than what you paid for it, you make a profit.

The “sell high” part is usually easy for most people to grasp. Sometimes someone in a hot rally may get wrapped up in watching their gains go up and up and forget to cash out before things inevitably come crashing back down. But generally taking profits is fun and comes naturally to people.

It is the “buy low” part of the equation that people tend to struggle with more. Something in the news for being popular and making money is probably not trading at a low price. Buying low often means a metaphorical dumpster dive to find the unwanted dregs of the market. It is often not pleasant or easy to put your money in something that has a reputation as an unattractive investment. But if you want to buy low, that is where you frequently need to go.

The upshot is that this makes it a lot easier to get excited about a down market. It feels good to participate in a rising market, but it can be difficult to find spots to buy in when markets are up. For a value investor, market selloffs may lead to buying opportunities.

Clients, many of you already know what we are talking about. We are in business with you for a reason—we think you are the best clients in the world. We know it is not always easy to make disciplined investing decisions. But we think you have what it takes.

If you have questions about this or any other topic, please call or email us.


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

The Rip Van Winkle Effect

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Rip Van Winkle is a character in a Washington Irving short story written nearly two centuries ago. You might know the story: Rip sleeps for twenty years up in the mountains, eventually returning home to find that much had changed.

One of the most dynamic companies in the world emerged on the scene a little over twenty years ago. An investor who purchased it on its first day of trading would have made several hundred times his original investment, had they held all the way through.

In spite of the incredible long-term result, it would have been very difficult to achieve even if one had bought in early. If you carefully looked every day to see how it was doing, as of November 12th this is what you would have experienced:

• On 1,346 of the days of ownership, the value would have been less than 50% of its previous peak. This is nearly one day in four, out of the 5,410 trading days in question1.
• On 494 of the days, the value would have been down 80% from the prior peak.
• The worst drop from a prior peak would have been 94%.

It isn’t always easy to hold an investment that has declined in value. We strive to own bargains, even when they become better bargains. (Once upon a time, a client asked me “What kind of moron would watch a stock go down from $11 to $7, dropping day after day, and do nothing?” Of course, I am that kind of moron.)

We have noticed that a certain few of our clients use the Rip Van Winkle effect, to their benefit. In the example above, they would have accepted in advance they would be under water at times, and just held for the long term. They enjoy the long-term result, without the day to day anguish of fluctuating values—they did not need to look every day.

We work diligently to understand what we should own, and why. Sometimes we change our opinion and sell at a loss. But often the Rip Van Winkle effect would help us. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please call.

Notes & References

1. Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, S&P Dow Jones Indices. Retrieved November 12th, 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.

This is a hypothetical example and is not representative of any specific situation. Your results will vary. The hypothetical rates of return used do not reflect the deduction of fees and charges inherent to investing.

Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

The Three Investment Strategies

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Great thinker Morgan Housel recently wrote that there are only three legal investment strategies.

1. Be smarter than others.
2. Be luckier than others.
3. Be more patient than others.

Does one of these jump out at you as being a lot more accessible than the others?

Luck falls where it may. We do not control the luck we have. Smarts? We do what we can to improve our odds. Reading, studying, analyzing, thinking…we do our best to understand what we can. But there will probably always be somebody smarter, somewhere.

The edge that anyone may choose is patience. We talk endlessly about the long view, about waiting out the downturns, about hanging in there when times seem rough. Anyone may choose patience, but it is not always easy!

After decades, we have yet to see a fool-proof indicator that will tell you which way the market is going to go in the short run. Nor have we seen evidence that any person can reliably predict the direction of the market. But we do know a couple key things:

• In the past, the broad market has tended to go up about three years out of four, and down about one year out of four.1
• Over extended periods, these ups and downs have potential gains for those who are patient.

Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, of course, so it takes some courage to exercise patience. We appreciate that in you.

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

Notes & References

1. Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, S&P Dow Jones Indices. Retrieved November 26th, 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.