Up, Up and Away – Why Not to Fear New Market Highs

2018 started off with NYE fireworks that have continued. It took only 3 trading days in the New Year for the Dow to surpass 25,000. It took another 8 trading days to close above 26,000.

Do you take your money off the table or do you say, laissez le bon temps rouler?

I’m not a soothsayer (more of a historian), so let’s step back and remember that a day or a month does not make a year.

Performance-wise, 2018 marks a phenomenal start for the Dow index. As of January 16th, the Dow was up ~ 5% YTD, on the heels of being up ~ 25% in 2017. The Dow jumping from 25k to 26k was the quickest 1,000 point move ever. Wow! The Dow is like the Golden State Warriors (as of recent) – we’re seeing some outstanding moves and records achieved.

It’s best to keep everything in check though. We only have to look back 2 years to the beginning of 2016 – the Dow had its worst 10 day start since 1897. The Dow lost 5.5% in January 2016 and 93% of investors lost money, if not more than the Dow that month, according to CNN_Money.

Back then, global economic worries pushed investors away from risky assets. Now an apparent synchronized global pick-up has investors jumping in and seeking risky assets, such as stocks, fearing they’re missing out on the next leg up. It’s a melt-up, the opposite of a market melt-down.

When people know that I’m a wealth manager, they often ask me what I think about the stock market. Often it’s along the lines of “I have cash that I could/should put to work but have been waiting for a pull back as the market is at an all-time high, so I just sit tight.”

I often proffer that “the best time to invest was yesterday and the second best time is today,” in addition to, “it’s about time in the market, not timing the market.”

We’ve been constantly hitting new highs since taking out the old high on the Dow back in October 2007 (Dow 14,093) in early 2013, a span of ~ 5 ½ years to be back in black. Now we’re close to another 5 years since then, and close to 9 years in on a really impressive bull market run.

For those old enough to remember the Nifty 50’s, the Dow climbed 240% during the decade of the 1950s. For me, I remember the Roaring 90’s and the spectacular run we had during that decade. In 1999 alone, the Nasdaq composite rose 86%, the biggest annual gain for a major market index in U.S. history, while the Dow gained 25%, a record 5th year in a row that the index posted a double-digit percentage gain. That’s what a market topping process looks like.

Historically, the stock market has had its share of peaks and troughs, from bull to bear back to bull again, taking out previous highs and setting new ones. How long does that take? It depends on many circumstances but I would say that while the past is no fortune teller, it does offer clues.

Wharton School Professor Jeremy Siegel studied the ‘Nifty 50’ stocks of the early 1970’s. These were much sought-after stocks that got to ‘nose bleed’ valuation levels and then had a melt-down. However, they ultimately turned around and by 1996, they had offered up annualized double digit returns. (you can read the full study here: https://www.aaii.com/journal/article/valuing-growth-stocks-revisiting-the-nifty-fifty)

So even if you believe you are purchasing stocks at high valuation metrics, over a long period of time those securities will reward investors (caveats of diversification, etc. are always warranted).

There will be bubbles – Dutch tulip bulbs, dot-com stocks, and now we’re in the throws of a cryptocurrency craze. And yes, many U.S. stocks are currently stretched, valuation-wise, and probably will be for a while longer as there’s momentum from investors adding to stocks and away from bonds.

As economist John Maynard Keynes stated back in the 1930s, “The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.” At this juncture, that means a tricky part of putting money into a bearish bet is the timing. You can be right that a market or sector is overvalued but wrong on the timing.

My best answer to investing near or at market highs is to stay steadfast – continue to invest or get started in doing so. Dollar-cost averaging helps as well. Investors with a long runway before they need to draw on their assets should hold a good amount in stocks in their overall asset allocation.

One should take a diversified investment approach and forgo timing entry points. One’s time and energy is better served on focusing on a factor that has been shown to have a greater impact on returns – one’s asset allocation. That should be based on one’s long-range financial goals and needs as well as knowing one’s limitations. A wealth manager who has an informed view of a client’s total financial picture can then position the client to best hew to his or her overall financial plan.

In financial literature we often speak of a “rational investor” but we all know that humans are emotional beings (we’re not Vulcans!). It’s really difficult for human beings to envision what might happen in the future. That’s why we have a very tough time taking money we earn today and saving or investing it for some far-off point. But doing exactly that is what’s required if you want to reach big financial goals.

If you want to get or stay on track to reach your long term goals, feel free to reach out to me (or a fellow Naples Asset Management advisor in your local area) about any adjustments your plan may need.

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” ~ Ayn Rand

Author: Eric Linser

Eric Linser, CFA, is a San Francisco-based Private Wealth Manager with Green Valley Wealth Advisors, an affiliate of Naples Asset Management Company, LLC, a federally registered investment advisor (RIA). Eric’s expertise is in providing comprehensive wealth management services such as investment counseling, financial planning, and retirement plan services to individuals, families, businesses, and foundations. A particular focus is on generating income for retirees, and keeping savers on track to fund future goals. For over two decades, Eric has helped provide wealth planning guidance so that his clients could achieve financially secure retirements. He is trained, experienced and credentialed to design and execute a plan that best meet your aims. Plan for your future; invest in what matters.

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