Living with a bear.
On the survival series “Alone,” the tension ratchets higher whenever participants encounter bears. Some participants live warily alongside bears, while others tap out. A similar thing happens among investors when they encounter a bear market.
What is a bear market?
People define bear markets in different ways. Some people say a share price decline of 20 percent is bear market territory. Last week, the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index was down 19.6 percent before Friday’s rally, according to Ben Levisohn of Barron’s, and the Nasdaq Composite was already down more than 20 percent.
Other people say a bear market occurs when more investors are bearish than bullish. That’s certainly the case today. The Association of Independent Investors’ Consumer Sentiment Index found 49 percent of investors were bearish and 24 percent were bullish last week. Other sentiment indicators, including the Consensus Bullish Sentiment Index cited by Barron’s, also show that investors and investment professionals are feeling more bearish than bullish.
So, it’s safe to say we’re either in a bear market or quite close to one.
The decisions investors make today can affect long-term outcomes
While it is never comfortable to watch the value of savings and investments drop, as they do during a bear market, it’s important to remember that the decisions you make today can have a significant effect on the value of your portfolio over the long term. During bear markets, investors may choose to:
- Sell. The thinking behind selling is usually something like this: If I sell, I will cut my losses and preserve what I have. These investors are willing accept a loss of principal, which may hurt their ability to reach long-term financial goals.
- Stay invested. Investors who remain invested recognize that a market decline is not the same as a loss of principal. By remaining invested, they create an opportunity to regain lost value should the market change direction.
- Look for opportunities. Some investors recognize that bear markets often create buying opportunities. These investors work with their advisors to identify ways to position for gains should the market recover. The goal of investing, after all, is to buy low and sell high.
A few words of wisdom
If you’re feeling uncertain, this is a good time to revisit the words of Randall Forsyth and Vito Racanelli of Barron’s. In 2008, they wrote, “The good news is that once the decline reaches that arbitrary 20% mark, based on history, the market has suffered most of its losses. The bad news is that the decline typically drags on for some time, and time may be the worst enemy…as the decline wears down investors' psyches, they tend to bail out at the market's nadir, when things look bleakest – and when the greatest opportunities present themselves.”
Last week, major U.S. stock indices finished lower. Rates on U.S. Treasuries moved lower, too, as risk-averse investors moved assets into Treasury bonds, reported Samantha Subin and Vicky McKeever of CNBC.
Here’s the most important question: Do you think the stock market will recover?
The editors of Business Week once thought the answer was a resounding, “No.” On August 13, 1979, the cover of the magazine declared: The Death of Equities: How Inflation Is Destroying the Stock Market. The S&P 500 Index closed at 107 that day. As it turned out, they were wrong, and equities weren’t dead. The value of the S&P 500 Index rose significantly over the next few decades.
Over the last 50 years, there have been other events that caused investors to think the worst. For example:
- Black Monday. At the end of trading on October 19, 1987, stock markets around the world had experienced the biggest one-day decline in history, according to the Federal Reserve. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 22.6 percent that day and finished at 1,739. (The Dow had gained 44 percent during the previous seven months.)
Last week, the Dow closed at 32,197.
- The Dotcom Bubble. In the 1990s, everyone wanted to participate in the commercialization of the internet by investing in technology companies – even those that weren’t profitable. A speculative bubble formed and popped, reported Adam Hayes of Investopedia. The Nasdaq Composite Index lost almost 77 percent from March 2000 to October 2002, when the Index moved up from a low of 1,114.
Last week, the Nasdaq finished at 11,805.
- The Housing Market Crash. The subprime mortgage market grew fast in the early 2000s, following a change in regulations. Lower-quality mortgages were often included in mortgage-backed securities. When home prices fell, borrowers defaulted, and financial markets were disrupted, reported Paul Kosakowski of Investopedia. The S&P 500 fell from 1,565 in October 2007 to about 1,276 in March 2008.
Last week the S&P 500 finished at 4,024.
The weight of evidence accumulated over time supports the idea that holding a well-allocated and diversified portfolio focused on your financial goals is a sound choice. During periods of volatility, like this one, it’s important to stay focused on your long-term goals.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Weekly Focus – Think About It
“A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.”
―Warren Buffet, investor and philanthropist