Bert Whitehead, M.B.A., J.D.
Finally we have seen some positive news on the financial front, and many optimists think we have hit the bottom and the stock market bounced off its low-point. It’s nice to be able to take a breath from the brutal onslaught of bad news over the past year.
We have been preaching about the dangers of being out of the market, even when it is falling, While it has been psychologically stressful to maintain equity positions over the past year, recent market activity points to the reason to refuse to market-time.
Interestingly, the average gain for the S&P 500 in the 1 year following the low close for the 8 bear markets that occurred in the last 50 years is +36.5%. The current bear market is the 9th bear market of the last half century. The closing low point (so far) of this 9th bear market was 677 and it took place 7 weeks ago on 3/09/09. In the last 7 weeks, the S&P 500 has gained 28.5% (not counting the impact of reinvested dividends.
Our clients pay us to ‘watch their backs.’ So without being an outright pessimist I think that we are still in a perilous financial situation. The future of the auto industry is teetering and we may see 2 of the ‘Big 3’ bite the dust in the next few weeks. The economic reality goes even deeper than that. We are restructuring our national economy to be able to participate in a global economy.
Our prosperity over the past 15 years was based on a world-wide spending spree, fueled by cheap credit and over-leveraged real estate. The current government nostrums are designed to spur more spending, but no meaningful programs have addressed the banking and real estate collapses. We see the impact of these issues everyday in the ‘For Sale’ and ‘For Lease’ signs in almost every neighborhood and commercial area.
Each client’s situation is different, and so the approach best suited to you depends more on what is going on in your own life. If the breadwinner in your family is out of work, or you have kids in college, or are faced with disability, or are retired (or hope to be soon) – these are the key factors in your investment allocation. While the stock market may look great, it is a mistake to be kicking yourself for having missed out on the steep increase recently.
For clients in transitional or distressed situations, we want to maintain an extra cash cushion. If your life situation is stable and your bond ladder is on-track, dollar cost averaging into the stock market is very advantageous. Now that tax season is over, we have scheduled appointments with each client to review your portfolio and make adjustments as appropriate.
It is a mistake to conclude, based on the past 2 months market activity, that you should now jump in with both feet. It is likely that we may not hit bottom until next year, and then it may take a couple of years to fully recover. Market timing is a futile waste of energy.
Treasury bond rates are low, and the feds are buying bonds to keep long term rates down, so it will be advantageous for many clients to refinance at lower rate (unless you owe more on your house that it’s worth). Jumbo mortgages (i.e. more than $417,000) however still carry very high rates and it is seldom worthwhile to refinance those.
This experience of living through the worst economic period since the Great Depression of 80 years ago will have a lasting positive impact on most of our clients. The losses will ultimately be recouped, and we are able to outlast even a continuing downturn. More importantly it has made many of us aware that we were frittering away money on things we didn’t really value. This lesson I think has to be re-learned by each generation as we discover that our Schwab statements aren’t the scorecard for our real wealth.