This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (October 1, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
“Anyone can run a hundred meters, it’s the next forty-two thousand and two hundred that count.”
Investing is a lot like running a marathon…but it’s not a sprint to the retirement finish line. The satisfaction of achieving your long-term goal can be quite rewarding, but attaining ambitious objectives does not happen overnight. Along the hilly and winding course, there can be plenty of bumps and bruises mixed in with the elation of a runner’s high. While stocks have been running at a record pace in recent years, prices have cramped up recently as evidenced by the -2.6% decline of the S&P 500 stock index last month.
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But the recent correction should be placed in the proper perspective as you approach and reach retirement. Since the end of the 2008 Financial Crisis the stock market has been racing ahead at a brisk rate, as you can see from the total return performance below (excluding 2015):
This performance is more indicative of a triumph than a catastrophe, but if you turned on the TV, listened to the radio, or surfed the web, you may come to a morefrightening conclusion.
What’s behind the recent dip? These are some of the key concerns driving the recent price volatility:
- China: Slowing growth in China and collapse in Chinese stock market. China is suffering from a self-induced slowdown designed to mitigate corruption, prick the real estate bubble, and shift its export-driven economy to a more consumer-driven economy. These steps diminish short-term growth (albeit faster than U.S. growth), but nevertheless the measures should be constructive for longer-term growth.
- Interest Rates: Uncertainty surrounding the timing of a 0.25% target interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve. The move from 0% to 0.25% is like walking from the hardwood floor onto the rug…hardly noticeable. The inevitable move by the Fed has been widely communicated for months, and given where interest rates are today, the move will have a negligible impact on corporate borrowing costs. Like removing a Band-Aid, the initial action may cause some pain, but should be comfortably received shortly thereafter.
- Politics: Potential government shutdown / sequestration. The epic political saga will never end, however, as I highlighted in “Who Said Gridlock is Bad?,” political discourse in Washington has resulted in positive outcomes as it relates to our country’s fiscal situation (limited government spending and declining deficits). The government shutdown appears to have been averted for now, but it looks like we will be blanketed with brinkmanship nonsense again in a few months.
- Biotech/Pharmaceuticals: Politics over lofty drug prices and the potential impact of future regulation on the biotech sector. Given the current Congressional balance of power, any heavy-handed Democratic proposals is likely to face rigorous Republican opposition.
- Emerging Markets: Emerging market weakness, especially in Latin America (e.g., Brazil). These developments deserve close monitoring, but the growth in the three largest economic regions (U.S., Europe, and China) will have a much larger effect on the direction of global economic expansion.
- Middle East: Destabilized Middle East and Syria. Terrorist extremism and cultural animosity between various Middle East populations has existed for generations. There will be no silver bullet for a peaceful solution, so baby steps and containment are critical to maintain healthy global trade activity with minimal disruptions.
Worth noting, this current list of anxieties itemized above is completely different from six months ago (remember the Greece crisis?), and the list will change again six months into the future. Investing, like any competitive challenge, does not come easy…there is always something to worry about in the land of economics and geopolitics.
Here’s what the world’s top investor Warren Buffett said a few decades ago (1994) on the topic of politics and economics:
“We will continue to ignore political and economic forecasts which are an expensive distraction for investors and businessmen. Thirty years ago, no one could have foreseen the huge expansion of the Vietnam War, wage and price controls, two oil shocks, the resignation of a president, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a one-day drop in the Dow of 508 points, or treasury bill yields fluctuating between 2.8% and 17.4%.”
In a world of 7.3 billion people and 196 countries there will never be a shortage of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (F.U.D.) – see events chart in The Bungee Market. In an ever-increasing, globally connected world, technology and the media continually amplify molehills into mountains, thereby making the next imagined Armageddon a simple click of a mouse or swipe of a smartphone away.
Today’s concerns are valid but in the vast majority of cases the issues are completely overblown, sensationalized and over-emphasized without context. Context is an integral part to investing, but unfortunately context usually cannot be explained in a short soundbite or headline. On the flip side, F.U.D. thrives in the realm of soundbites and headlines.
While investors may feel fatigued from a strong flow of headline headwinds, financial market race participants should take a break at the water stop to also replenish themselves with a steady tailwind of positive factors, including the following:
- Employment: The unemployment rate has been cut from a recession peak of 10.0% down to 5.1%, and the economy has been adding roughly +200,000 new monthly jobs on a fairly consistent basis. On top of that, there are a record 5.8 million job openings versus 3.7 million two years ago – a sign that the economy continues to hum along.
- Housing/Commercial Real Estate/Mortgage Rates: Housing prices have rebounded by about +30% from the 2012 lows; Housing starts have increased by +25% in the past year and 120% in the past four years; and 30-Year Fixed mortgage interest rates sit at 3.85% – a highly stimulative level within a spitting distance from record lows.
- Auto Sales: Surged to a post-recession record of 17.8 million units in August.
- Interest Rates: Massively stimulative and near generational lows, even if the Fed hikes its interest rate target by 0.25% in October, December or sometime in 2016.
- Capital Goods Orders: Up for three consecutive months.
- Rail Shipments/Truck Tonnage: Both these metrics are rising by about 3-4%.
- Retail Sales: Rising at a very respectable pace of 7% over the last six months.
- Low Energy & Commodity Prices: Inflation has remained largely in check thanks to plummeting commodity prices. Low oil and gas prices are benefiting consumers in numerous ways, including the contribution to car sales, home sales, and/or debt reduction.
While the -10% dip in stock prices from mid-August might feel like a torn knee ligament, long-term investors know -10% corrections historically occur about one-time per year, on average. So, even though you may be begging for a wheelchair, the best course of action is to take a deep breath, stick to your long-term investment plan, rebalance your portfolio if necessary, and continue staying on course towards your financial finish line.