The Secular Market Cycle Change
Recent market loss must have frustrated most investors as it seems that everything has been sold off. A true risk-off mode these days. Moreover, recent financial market behaviors might signal a major inflection point for economy and financial markets: the secular market cycle change which, as many readers of this newsletter might have known, we have brought up several times in the past. In this newsletter, we want to discuss this in more details.
The end of cheap money and cheap cost
Though we are not economists nor even qualified financial analysts, we do believe one can make some very intuitive observations to see how global economy system has evolved for the past decades. The following are itemized key points in this exercise:
- Globalization started in early 80s as countries like China started to open up their economies to the world. It then accelerated after the end of the Cold War in late 80s and early 90s. The world since then has enjoyed a relatively peaceful time without major global scale wars.
- During this period, companies in developed countries started to shift their labor intensive work to developing countries to reduce cost. This resulted in improved efficiency and reduced cost at the expense of resilience or redundancy in terms of inventory and supply.
- Meanwhile, this had occurred under the backdrop of an ultra loose monetary policy environment, i.e., (ultra) low interest rates and periodical fiscal stimuli.
- The result: persistently high profit margins for businesses and high stock valuation multiples (thus high prices) for most of the last 40 years. People who are regular readers of John Hussman’s newsletters should be familiar with this subject.
- Unfortunately, the geopolitical tensions between Russia/China and the west, the war between Russia and Ukraine, the pandemic, the stagnated income growth in middle class and the rising inequality are now all lined up to reverse this secular trend.
- This leads to higher inflation as supply is severely limited because of the war, the pandemic lockdown and the trade conflicts and tension.
- Unfortunately, one can see that the supply chain limit is not a blip: though it will be somewhat lessened if the pandemic and the current Ukraine/Russia war end, the geopolitical tension, trade conflicts and the domestic income inequality and stagnation will be here to stay for a long time.
- Thus, we can see that the era of cheap labor and cheap money is ending. Higher cost means lower profit margins and slower profit growth and higher inflation. Higher interest rates means no more cheap money.
The above simplified description is a process that doesn’t complete overnight, but it has started to show up in recent developments, evident in high inflation and the financial market turmoil. This fundamental change signals the end of the 40 plus years cheap labor, cheap money induced financial market boom that saw both stock and bond prices rose faster than their historical averages (note, to be precise, a bond price, unlike stocks, can’t rise forever as in essence its return should be really the interests accrued during its limited lifetime with some likelihood of defaults for non government bonds, but constant exchange or roll over to longer or same maturity bonds like a bond fund can indeed obtain capital gain (price appreciation) as bond interest rates drop).
To fight against the current high inflation, central banks have to resort to raising interest rates and quantitative tightening (i.e. reduce/stop open market bond purchases). This won’t solve the supply limit issue but instead, it will reduce demand which results in slower economic growth. Unfortunately, this might tip economy into recession, i.e. negative growth. We have seen one quarter negative GDP growth and if this continues or persists, it could spell much bigger trouble to financial markets.
Be prepared for more volatilities and frustration
At this very moment, stocks and bonds are decisively in a downtrend. Here are some data (all are as of 5/9/2022):
- Major assets loss year to date are now double digits, fast approaching the popular bear market threshold of -20%:
|Ticker/Portfolio Name||1 Week
|1Yr AR||3Yr AR||5Yr AR||10Yr AR||15Yr AR|
|VTI (Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF)||-4.7%||-17.2%||-6.0%||12.7%||12.2%||13.1%||8.8%|
|VNQ (Vanguard REIT ETF)||-5.8%||-16.8%||0.4%||7.4%||7.4%||8.1%||5.6%|
|VEA (Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF)||-4.7%||-16.4%||-13.8%||5.1%||4.2%||6.1%|
|VWO (Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF)||-5.9%||-17.3%||-20.1%||2.3%||2.9%||2.5%||2.3%|
|QQQ (PowerShares QQQ ETF)||-6.7%||-25.3%||-8.2%||17.9%||17.4%||17.7%||14.1%|
|ARKK (ARK Innovation)||-18.0%||-56.5%||-60.0%||-2.7%||11.0%|
|BND (Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF)||-0.1%||-9.6%||-8.3%||0.4%||1.5%||1.7%||3.2%|
|HYG (iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bd)||-1.9%||-9.0%||-5.8%||1.7%||2.8%||3.9%||4.5%|
|TLT (iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond)||-2.1%||-21.7%||-14.5%||-0.8%||1.4%||2.2%||4.8%|
|GLD (SPDR Gold Shares)||-0.4%||1.1%||0.4%||12.6%||8.3%||0.8%||6.5%|
- Nasdaq 100, dominated by the mega cap companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Tesla, have lost year to date over 25%, now more than the ‘standard’ bear market definition (loss of 20% or more).
- The representative of high growth stocks, ARK Innovation ETF ARKK, has lost more than 56% year to date. In fact, it has lost almost 3 quarters (75%) of its value from its all time high. Many high fly stocks like Teladoc, Zoom, Coinbase have lost more than 70% this year, a phenomenon only seen during the dot-com or technology bear market in 2001-2003.
- The trend scores of all 9 US styles (large to small cap, growth to value) are now firmly negative though value stocks have fared much better than growth stocks.
US Equity Style Trend (as of 5/09/2022)
|Description||Symbol||52 Weeks||Trend Score|
|Russell Largecap Value||IWD||-2.67%||-5.14%|
|Russell Midcap Value||IWS||-4.43%||-6.31%|
|Russell Smallcap Value||IWN||-10.5%||-9.36%|
|Russell Largecap Index||IWB||-5.25%||-9.43%|
|Russell Midcap Indedx||IWR||-10.14%||-10.96%|
|Russell Largecap Growth||IWF||-7.81%||-13.48%|
|Russell Smallcap Index||IWM||-19.21%||-15.19%|
|Russell Midcap Growth||IWP||-20.43%||-19.67%|
|Russell Smallcap Growth||IWO||-27.51%||-21.03%|
- Sector wise, energy, consumer staples and utilities are still of positive trend scores. If the downtrend continues to deteriorate, we expect these sectors will be the last to fall too. See 360° Market Overview for more details.
- US dollar has risen against almost all other currencies, signaling a flight to safety in currency world. See 360° Market Overview for more details.
However how gloomy this might seem, we want to remind our readers if the current weakness manifests to a full blown recession and a bear market, the loss could potentially be way steeper than what we have seen so far. Here are some ways to visualize by looking at previous cycles: Courtesy of the famous Michael Burry (the ‘big short’), the following chart shows the 10 year S&P (and Dow Jones Industrial index for 1929) price charts leading to the beginning of three periods: the start of the Great Depression 1/10/1930, the start of the tech bubble burst 8/12/2000 and now:
The chart doesn’t show what happened afterwards: S&P proceeded to drop almost 80% to its bottom in June 1932, two years later while for the year 2000 period, it went on to drop almost 50% to reach its bottom in late 2002 and early 2003, again, about 2 years later.
So just imagine the following two years till 2024!
Of course, we are also reminded that it remains to be seen whether the current weakness can persist till the end of the month when our portfolios are rebalanced. It’s still possible that markets can reverse themselves before that or in other scenarios, they don’t go down in a straight line.There will be many mini sharp falls and rises.
At the moment, we call for patience.
To summarize, we are in the process of secular market (and economy) cycle change. This is the ending of a 40 plus year cycle that has seen cheap money, cheap labor and low interest rates. We are now in a less rosy new world full of uncertainties. At the moment, preserving one’s capital should be the highest priority (in fact, it should have always been the number one priority in investing as what Warren Buffett’s investing rules say: “Rule Number One: Never Lose Money. Rule Number Two: Never Forget Rule Number One“.
As for earnings growth, the last quarter’s rosy growth is fast forgotten as markets are now in a risk-off and fast forward looking mode: based on Factset, even though 9.1% blended growth rate for S&P 500 companies is way better than the original 3.8% expected, forward earnings growth expectation is the focus now. Unfortunately, it was reported that % of S&P 500 companies Issuing negative EPS guidance for Q2 is above average: of the 72 companies that issued earnings guidance for Q2 2022, 69% have issued negative guidance, higher than 5-year average of 60%. In a rapidly developed market condition, we expect these numbers can quickly deteriorate.
We again call for patience and ask investors to stay the course:
- 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 preferably much longer given the current high valuation. 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 and preferably many more 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 has dropped. However, it is still high by historical standard. For the moment, we believe it’s prudent to be extra cautious. 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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- 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?
- February 9, 2015: How Have Asset Allocation Funds Done?
- February 2, 2015: Risk Management Everywhere
- January 26, 2015: Composite Portfolios Review
- January 19, 2015: Fixed Income Investing Review
- January 12, 2015: How Does Trend Following Tactical Asset Allocation Strategy Deliver Returns
- January 5, 2015: When Forecast Fails
- December 22, 2014: Long Term Asset Returns: How Long Is Long?
- December 15, 2014: Beaten Down Assets
- December 8, 2014: Implementing Core Asset Portfolios In a Brokerage
- December 1, 2014: Two Key Issues of Investment Strategies
- November 24, 2014: Holiday Readings
- November 17, 2014: Retirement Spending Portfolios Update
- November 10, 2014: Fixed Income Or Cash
- November 3, 2014: Asset Trend Review
- October 27, 2014: Investment Loss, Mistakes And Market Cycles
- October 20, 2014: Strategic Portfolios With Managed Volatility
- October 13, 2014: Embrace Volatility
- October 6, 2014: Tips For 401k Open Enrollment
- September 29, 2014: What Can We Learn From Bill Gross’ Departure From PIMCO?
- September 22, 2014: Why Total Return Bond Funds?
- September 15, 2014: Equity And Total Return Bond Fund Composite Portfolios
- September 8, 2014: Momentum Based Portfolios Review
- September 1, 2014: Risk & Diversification: Mint.com Interview
- August 25, 2014: Remember Risk
- August 18, 2014: Consistency, The Most Important Edge In Investing: Tactical Case
- August 11, 2014: What To Do In Overvalued Stock Markets
- August 4, 2014: Is This The Peak Or Correction?
- July 28, 2014: Stock Musings
- July 21, 2014: Permanent Portfolios & Four Pillar Foundation Based Framework
- July 14, 2014: Composite Portfolios Review
- July 7, 2014: Portfolio Behavior During Market Corrections
- June 30, 2014: Half Year Brokerage ETF and Mutual Fund Portfolios Review
- June 23, 2014: Newsletter Collection Update
- June 16, 2014: There Are Always Lottery Winners
- June 9, 2014: The Arithmetic of Investment Mistakes
- June 2, 2014: Tips On Portfolio Rebalance
- May 26, 2014: In Praise Of Low Cost Core Asset Class Based Portfolios
- May 19, 2014: Consistency, The Most Important Edge In Investing: Strategic Case
- May 12, 2014: How To Handle An Elevated Overvalued Market
- May 5, 2014: Asset Allocation Funds Review
- April 28, 2014: Now The Economy Backs To The ‘Old Normal’, Should Our Investments Too?
- April 21, 2014: Total Return Bond Investing In The Current Market Environment