When is it Safe to Get In The Market?

Risk ImagePerhaps one of the biggest challenges that investors face is determining if “right now” is a safe time to invest (meaning not just the present, but any time). What makes it difficult for investors is a twofold issue: first, is a lack of historical knowledge and perspective, and second, their own emotions. Actually, if one looks back on an historical basis, it would have appeared that there was no safe period in which to invest. Investors are really funny in this regard (actually most advisors are really no better). In 2009 investors were in shell shock coming out of the 2008 financial debacle. By 2013 it was really too good and couldn’t last. Last year the market had been going up for five years and that was just too good to be true and something had to come crashing down soon. And this year, there has been volatility and fear mongers from day 1. What investors are looking for is something that does not exist—ever—a “Goldilocks” market!

I’m going to take some historical facts and figures to provide some historical context that may enable my clients to feel more comfortable when faced with the ongoing question of “is it safe.”
The first issue that investors must confront is that there is no such thing as a “safe” investment and this applies whether funds are invested in equities, bonds, government fixed income, gold, real estate, your mattress or in a coffee can in the back yard. Your money is always subject to one form of risk or another. For a more complete discussion on this subject read Main Street Money by Mark Matson. If you don’t have a copy let me know and I will get you one.
In this blog, I’ll confine myself to discussing equities and fixed income contained within a diversified portfolio that is periodically rebalanced, with dividends and capital gains reinvested, because that is what we do with our client’s money. Let’s take a decade by decade look at all the challenges investors have faced.

1920’s
• 1917-23 Russian Civil War
• 1922 Mussolini takes control of Italy (eliminates private ownership, total government control!! Hmm!)
• 1923 Hyperinflation in Germany
• 1926+27 Chinese Civil War
• 1929 Wall Street Crash
• 1929-39 Great Depression
A horrible period to be invested in the market—manic market followed by the 1929 crash. Yet a fully diversified portfolio had $100,000 growing to $135,000 at the end of the decade.

1930’s
• 1932-33 Holodomor Starvation
• 1933 The Nazi Party come into power
• 1933-45 The Jewish Holocaust
• 1935 US Presidential Candidate Assassinated (Huey Long)
• 1935-1936 Italian/Abyssinian War
• 1936-38 Stalin Purges (including Gulag Death Camps)
• 1936-39 Spanish Civil War
• 1937 The Hindenburg Airship Explodes
• 1939-45 World War II
Talk about a horrific period to begin investing? Probably the worst ten year period, economically we have ever experienced. Yet, $100,000 invested at the beginning of the decade grew to $152,000.

1940’s
• 1933-45 The Jewish Holocaust continued
• 1939-45 World War II continued
• 1945 President Roosevelt dies before the war ends
• 1945 Eastern Europe is dominated by Communist USSR
• 1949-1993 The Cold War
What could be a worse time to begin investing as Word War II was starting, followed by the beginning of the Cold War. Let me interject an investment factoid here. The renown international investor, Sir John Templeton made his initial reputation by borrowing $10,000 and buying 100 shares of every stock on the New Your Stock Exchange selling for less than $1 at the start of the war.
If you had controlled your anxiety, like Sir John, and invested $100,000 at the start of the decade, you would have been amply rewarded by seeing that investment grow to $336,000!

1950’s
• 1949-93 The Cold War continues
• 1950-53 The Korean War
• 1951 Mao Zedong takes power in China
• 1956 Suez Canal Crisis
• 1956 Russian quashing of the Hungarian Revolution
• 1959 The Cuban Revolution
• 1959-75 The Vietnam War
This was supposedly the boring decade under President Eisenhower. However, international events didn’t take a holiday and they continued to swirl about us creating many excuses for avoiding the assumption of any investment risk.
Nevertheless, investors who ignored events and invested $100,000 at the start of the decade had $393,000 in their portfolios at the end of the decade.

1960’s
• 1949-93 The Cold War continues
• 1959-75 The Vietnam War continues
• 1961 The Berlin Wall built
• 1962 The Cuban Missile Crisis
• 1963 JFK Assassinated
• 1964 China explodes its first nuclear bomb
• 1967 Six Day Israeli/Egypt War
• 1968 MLK and RFK assassinated—rioting in major cities
• 1969 Libyan Revolution—Khaddafi comes to power
This was the decade where we got to watch both national and international occurrences in almost “real time” thanks to the expansion of television and global communications. An event filled decade both home and abroad. Plenty of excused could be found as to why it was not safe to invest. Yet again, $100,000 invested at the start of the decade produced a portfolio worth $259,000 by the end of the decade.

1970’s
• 1949-93 The Cold War continues
• 1959-75 The Vietnam War continues
• 1970 The beginning of Terrorism in the world
• 1972 Kidnap and murder of Israeli Athletes at Olympics Games
• 1972 President Nixon resigns
• 1975-79 Khmer Rued in Cambodia (Genocide)
• 1979 Saddam Hussein comes to power
• 1979-1981 Iranian kidnapping of U.S. Embassy and diplomats
This decade begins with Vietnam, followed by the Nixon resignation, then the Iranian Embassy kidnapping, and ends with President Carter’s “malaise.” Gas lines, international problems, national embarrassment and a Russian bear looking more ominous.
Yet somehow if one was courageous enough to invest $100,000 at the beginning of the decade, it would have grown to $271,000.

I could go on with the history lesson, but suffice it to say that the 80’s decade rewarded $100,000 by growing to $453,000. In the 90’s it grew to $338,000.
This last decade, which was sort of known as the “lost decade” because of the dot.com/tech bubble, the real estate bubble. This resulted in two severe bear markets. Still investors were rewarded by having their portfolio vastly outperform the underlying cost of living and inflation.
So the lesson for all is that if one pays attention to events, you can always find a reason why it is not a good time to invest—and historically, you would have always been wrong!! I will not say anything about the world we find ourselves in today because we have always found ourselves in difficult times both domestically and globally—there have always been challenges and there always will—it is just the nature of the species.
As to the basic question: Is it safe? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions!

By Steve Smartt

References

Source of returns figures for the various asset classes utilized in the hypothetical portfolio: DFA Returns Software 2.0, Feb. 2011. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Performance included reinvestment of all dividend and capital gains.

1.Taylor, Fred. “Commentary: Is It Safe?” Message to the author. 6 Aug. 2014. E-mail.

2. Matson Money. But This Time it Really is Different. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF. https://www.matsonmoney.com/

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