The Long Forgotten Bear Market Cycles
It’s one of those days when we feel like it’s important to look at market history to refresh memory again. With almost daily US stock indexes like S&P 500 or Nasdaq hitting record highs, the long bear or flattened previous market periods are in some distant memory for many investors.
Long bear or flat stock market periods
Let’s first take a look at the 93 plus year S&P 500 total return (dividend reinvested) chart since 1928.
Notice that the above chart uses a log scale to better show growth rates. A natural not log scale chart would greatly skew more recent returns as the numbers in recent time periods become much bigger. In general, it’s a good practice to look at log scale chart to understand growth.
We can roughly divide this 90 plus period into 3 periods: the Great Depression period, The post World War II growth period and the tech period:
We all know the famous Great Depression in 1929.
- It took 29 years for S&P 500 to recover back to its 1929’s high
- if just measured from the start of 1928, the index recovered back to this level 9 years later and then saw the same level again in another 9 years (1946). It was not until 1954 (26 years later) that the index finally rose from this level for good.
In the post World War II growth era, market rose to record highs in 1968, it then started another long and painful secular bear market that lasted more than 24 years: from 1968 to 1992. For those who invested within 1965 to 1968, it took more than 20 years for them to finally recover their loss in this era.
The technology driven period started in 2000 and it took more than 14 years for S&P 500 to recover back its loss. Of course, we don’t know whether the index will permanently leave the 2000 level. Regardless, it does look like we are close to or already in a very secular peak period.
In reality, many investors continued to earn income and invest in those periods and thus they felt less impact. The hardest hit group of investors are those who retired around these peaks or the start of these periods. They were the ones who really experienced multi-decade depressing returns and probably had very little time to see the recovery. We certainly hope we are not in one of those times. Unfortunately, the above chart clearly shows currently it’s very likely to be one of those secular peaks.
Mini bull markets in those secular periods
Well, as always, things are not as bad as they look (oddly, the other saying, ‘not as good as they look’, is also true in some other cases). If we look at those periods more closely, we can see that there are multi-year mini bull markets within.
The nearest ones are that from 2003 to 2007 or from 2009 to now (the longest bull market in history).
Another gigantic market period is from the low of 1982 to the high in 2000, if we exclude the 1987 short big crash (that took 2 years to recover, from November 1987 to Aug 1989).
The period since 1982 to now just happened to coincide with the secular loose interest rate declining period:
So the 10 year Treasury note interest rate has declined from over 15% in 1981 to 1.3% right now. Talk about the loose monetary policy.
There are also many multi-year mini bull markets in other periods: 1970 to 1972, 1953 to 1957 etc.
Another important observation: from 1974 recession low to the next next recession in 1980, the ‘bull’ market was essentially flat. The next one from 1980 recession to 1981 recession, S&P 500 actually lost money. So there’s no guarantee for gains from once recession low to the next recession.
What to do?
In a bigger historical timeframe, what we found in the above is not surprising. First of all, nothing lasts forever. Though it might seem like the current bull market is invincible, it’s obvious that markets can not just keep going up.
However, we also recognize it’s near impossible to precisely predict markets. History has shown more often than not, even great investors have made numerously wrong calls. For example, even though that the statement ‘the current bull market cannot last forever’ is almost likely to be true (frankly, we believe it’s true), a more important question is when. Unfortunately, as we have stated many times before, no one can be certain.
So again, as always, what counts is whether one can deal with such uncertain and unpredictable markets and achieve some reasonable returns without suffering from some big interim loss. To emphasize, we recognize it’s impossible to predict markets. But can we achieve our goal: reasonable returns without large interim loss?
We believe the answer is yes. Of course, to be precise, we need to define ‘reasonable returns’ and ‘large interim loss’.
For us, reasonable returns means returns that are inflation beating, compatible with or better that long term stock market returns. To give us some idea, the S&P 500 total return (nominal) has been around 10% or so in its 90 plus years history. Also, as stated many times before, we know given long enough time (but sometimes might need to be more than 20 years or even longer, as we see in the above), stocks (like S&P 500 index) will achieve inflation beating returns. This is because otherwise, many investors will opt to invest in bonds that are safer and some entrepreneurs will abandon unprofitable or low profit businesses and leaving the rest businesses to make better profits.
Regarding ‘large interim loss’, we believe any loss more than 30% or so is too gut wrenching for an average investor.
Finally, in closing, we present the following table and chart on two of our representative model portfolios to show that our Tactical Asset Allocation(TAA) and improved Asset Allocation Composite (AAC) based portfolios can achieve this goal. These strategies uses trend scores to decide to invest in some major asset class funds like US stocks, foreign stocks, emerging market stocks, Real Estate Invest Trusts( REITs) and several bond segments. It avoids big loss when markets are decisively in a downtrend. Because of their tactical or dynamic nature, these portfolios can take advantage of mini bull markets in major assets to capture reasonable returns.
|1Yr AR||3Yr AR||5Yr AR||10Yr AR||15Yr AR||Since 1998|
|P Composite Momentum Scoring Global Risk Assets||13.4%||35.6%||18.0%||16.7%||13.4%||15.0%||16.2%|
|P GS Global Tactical Include Emerging Market Diversified Bonds||11.5%||22.7%||6.6%||8.1%||7.3%||10.0%||11.9%|
|VFINX (Vanguard 500 Index Investor)||17.6%||39.6%||18.5%||17.4%||14.7%||10.8%||8.5%|
- P Composite Momentum Scoring Global Risk Assets: AAC based. Rotation among major asset index funds
- P GS Global Tactical Include Emerging Market Diversified Bonds: TAA based. Rotation among major asset index funds
Not only our portfolios have outperformed VFINX (Vanguard S&P 500 index fund) by some good margins 3-8% annually since 1998, they also have some very acceptable maximum drawdowns (a peak to a subsequent trough loss): about 20-22%, compared with S&P 500’s whopping 55% (see this detailed comparison data).
We are now officially entering Q2 earnings report season. Investors’ expectation is overwhelmingly uniform and optimistic: this should be another blow out quarter. For now, markets are again in good shape: stocks are breaking records almost daily while bond yields are declining, indicating a more subdued inflation expectation. We’ll just ride along the wave for now with our eyes set on possible weakness in the future.
We are again cautiously optimistic and reiterate the following practice:
- For strategic allocation (buy and hold) investors, ignore the current market behavior. Remember, as what we have emphasized numerous times, when you choose and commit to a strategic portfolio, you essentially know and commit that your investment horizon (or the time you need to utilize this capital) is 20 years or longer. As we pointed out, if your investments are those diversified (index) funds such as an S&P 500 index fund (VFINX, for example), you know your money is in some solid ‘business’ that eventually (20 years later) will deliver some reasonable returns. As long as you are comfortable with this thesis, you should sit tight and forget about the current gyration.
- For tactical investors, again, you have to ignore the current market noise. Furthermore, you should follow your strategy rigorously, especially in a time like this. Human emotion, both optimistic and pessimistic, and human desire, both greedy and fearful, are your worst enemies. This has been shown to be true time and time again.
Stock valuation is still extremely high by historical standard. For the moment, we believe it’s prudent to be cautious while riding on market uptrend. However how serious a correction might be, we have confidence in the US economy in the long term and thus in the stocks in aggregate. We just need to manage through interim losses carefully.
We again would like to emphasize that for any new investor and new money, the best way to step into this kind of markets is through dollar cost average (DCA), i.e. invest and/or follow a model portfolio in several phases (such as 2 or 3 months) instead of the whole sum at one shot.
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–Thanks to those who have already contributed — we appreciate it.
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- April 11, 2016: Construction of Sound And Conservative Portfolios
- March 28, 2016: Total Return Bond ETFs Review
- March 21, 2016: Small And Large Company Stock Performance In Different Economic Expansion Cycles
- March 14, 2016: Are Tactical And Timing Strategies Losing Steam?
- March 7, 2016: Defined Maturity Bond Fund Analysis
- February 29, 2016: Smart Strategic Asset Allocation Rebalance When Market Trend Changes
- February 22, 2016: Be Cash Smart
- February 15, 2016: Bond ETF Portfolios
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- February 1, 2016: Total Return Bond Fund Portfolios In A Volatile Period
- January 25, 2016: Alternative Portfolios Review
- January 18, 2016: Strategic Asset Allocation: A Cautious Outlook
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- November 30, 2015: Investors and Speculators Combined
- November 23, 2015: Active Stock Fund Performance Consistency
- November 16, 2015: Permanent, Risk Parity And Alternative Portfolios Review
- November 9, 2015: Broad Base Core Mutual Fund Review
- November 2, 2015: Broad Base Index Core ETFs Review
- October 26, 2015: Total Return Bond Fund Review
- October 19, 2015: Advanced Portfolio Review
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- August 24, 2015: Market Rout And Your Portfolios
- August 17, 2015: ETF or Mutual Fund Based Portfolios
- August 10, 2015: Updated Newsletter Collection
- August 3, 2015: Slippery Asset Trends
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- July 13, 2015: Pain in Tactical Portfolios
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- June 29, 2015: Core ETF Commission Free Portfolios
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- May 18, 2015: Portfolio Update
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- April 27, 2015: Long Term Treasury Bond Behavior
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- April 13, 2015: Total Return Bond Funds As Smart Cash
- April 6, 2015: The Low Return Environment
- March 30, 2015: Brokerage Specific Core Mutual Fund Portfolios 2
- March 23, 2015: Investment Arithmetic for Long Term Investments
- March 16, 2015: Brokerage Specific Core Mutual Fund Portfolios
- March 9, 2015: Newsletter Collection Update
- March 2, 2015: Total Return Bond ETFs
- February 23, 2015: Why Is Global Tactical Asset Allocation Not Popular?
- February 16, 2015: Where Are Permanent Portfolios Going?
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- February 2, 2015: Risk Management Everywhere
- January 26, 2015: Composite Portfolios Review
- January 19, 2015: Fixed Income Investing Review
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- November 17, 2014: Retirement Spending Portfolios Update
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- June 23, 2014: Newsletter Collection Update
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