THE MARKET IS ALWAYS right. It may have a different opinion tomorrow—perhaps radically different—but that doesn’t mean current prices aren’t the right ones.
Holler all you want that the stock market ought to be far lower. I do a fair amount of that myself (though the shouting is more akin to grumpy mumbling). But whether we like today’s share prices or not, they reflect the collective wisdom of all investors—and, if we want to buy or sell,
IF THIS TURNS OUT to be a major bear market, there will be a slew of articles to be written. It’s the negative correlation enjoyed by every financial writer: Even as our portfolios shrink, our potential for pontification soars.
But what if the market bounces back? It’s almost too painful to contemplate. Think of all the articles that won’t get written. If the past week’s rally continues, here are 10 stories that will have to wait for the next market downturn:
WARREN BUFFETT ONCE quipped that, “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.”
I’ve been thinking about this idea over the past two weeks, as markets around the world have given up all their year-to-date gains and then some. Since peaking on Jan. 26, the U.S. market, as measured by the S&P 500, has lost 8.8% of its value.
When the tide goes out like this, the emotional impact can be powerful—and the headlines just make it worse.
AFTER THE WILD RIDE of the past two weeks, stock investors are in search of reassurance. Will this movie have a happy ending?
If we’re venturing into the stock market, we should ideally have at least a 15-year time horizon. That gives us 10 years to make money and another five years to look for the exit. Those final five years may prove crucial if the first 10 years don’t turn out so well.
SO WE’RE ALL POORER, right? The S&P 500-stock index has fallen 10.2% over the past nine trading days. Yet all we’ve done is give back a sliver of the huge gains notched since 2009. My contention: Not only is much of the handwringing unjustified, but arguably it’s also wrongheaded.
Seasoned investors don’t get nervous when the market declines. Rather, they get excited by the prospect of buying shares at much cheaper prices. So far,
WHEN MARKETS GO crazy, financial writers feel compelled to dust off the keyboard and cook up profound insights. But I am writing this at 5 a.m., while still ingesting my first cup of coffee, so I’m setting the bar a little lower. Here are 12 modest observations following yesterday’s 4.1% plunge by the S&P 500:
1. I don’t know. You don’t know. Nobody knows. The market turmoil of the past six trading days feels like a sea change after 2017’s remarkable calm.
I FEAR I’M GROWING wealthy at my children’s expense. My investing life began in the late 1980s. Yes, there have been stock market bumps since then, notably the 2000-02 and 2007-09 market crashes, and even a minor hiccup over the past week. But if you look at the broad trend, it’s been three decades of rising stock market valuations.
From year-end 1987 to year-end 2017, the S&P 500’s price-earnings multiple climbed from 13.8 to 24.6,
THE STOCK MARKET had a great 2017, gaining more than 20%. But was that kind of gain justified—or should it worry us, especially after the market had already tripled in recent years? I think it’s useful to understand the range of viewpoints, so we’re better prepared for 2018 and beyond. Here are the bull and bear cases:
Bull Case. As measured by the S&P 500 index, the U.S. market gained nearly 22% last year.
WE CAN VIEW INVESTING as an argument between two competing opinions: What we think an investment ought to be worth—and what the market currently says. It’s an argument the market usually wins.
While we can be highly confident what, say, a certificate of deposit or a Treasury note is worth, it’s much harder to put a value on stocks, gold, high-yield junk bonds and other riskier investments (and, I’d argue, all but impossible with bitcoin).
IF YOUR INVESTMENTS climb in value, hold the champagne—until you figure out whether it’s a onetime gain or a repeatable performance.
Suppose your foreign stocks post gains because the dollar weakens. Or your bonds climb because interest rates fall. Or stocks rise because price-earnings ratios head higher. Or corporate earnings increase because profit margins expand. Or stocks jump because the corporate tax rate or the capital-gains tax rate is cut.
Sound familiar? All of these things have either happened over the long haul or helped drive share prices higher this year.
I HEAR SO MANY compelling investment arguments. That U.S. stocks are destined to generate lackluster returns because valuations are so rich. That there’s no need to own foreign stocks because you get enough international exposure with U.S. multinationals. That interest rates have nowhere to go but up.
And yet U.S. stocks keep clocking gains, U.S. and foreign shares often generate radically different annual results, and interest rates show no signs of heading significantly higher.
OVER THE 50 YEARS through year-end 2016, the per-share profits of the S&P 500 companies rose a cumulative 1,604%, equal to 5.8% a year, while inflation ran at 4.1%. If share prices had climbed in lockstep with corporate earnings, $1,000 invested at year-end 1966 would have been worth some $17,000 at year-end 2016. On top of that price appreciation, investors would also have collected dividends.
But in fact, over this 50-year stretch, investors fared far better.
INVESTMENT contrarians are having a good year—but not a great one. In 2016, U.S. stocks outpaced foreign shares, smaller companies outperformed their bigger brethren and value stocks beat growth stocks. In 2017, all those roles have been reversed, with foreign shares, big-cap stocks and growth companies topping the performance charts.
For those of us who like to see the mighty fall and the downtrodden lifted up, this has been quite satisfying, except for one small issue: Even as the stock market’s leadership has changed,
“IF YOU DON’T MIND, I have a question for you,” wrote a former colleague. “Should folks be getting out of the stock market? This Trump bump seems like such a crazy bubble.”
Lots of folks are asking this question. How to respond? I fall back on three key points.
First, I believe U.S. stocks are expensive, while foreign stocks are cheap. But that doesn’t tell you anything about short-term performance and only a modest amount about long-run results.