Sunday, September 1, 2013

Short-term worriers should be worried - OR - How wonderful it is to have a plan...

The U.S. government runs out of money the end of this month if Congress doesn't act (it will). We'll conk our heads on the debt ceiling by Halloween if Congress doesn't act (it will). Emerging market currencies are taking the kinds of hits we haven't seen since the '90s. Syria---who knows? And to top it all off it's September---the historically worst month for stocks.

So shouldn't we be very short-term nervous? Well, before I answer, I have to say that if you're truly a long-term investor, you should never be short-term nervous---but of course we have to live in the real world, the world where self-proclaimed long-term investors often become short-term nervous. Okay, so if one is short-term nervous, does one have cause? Unequivocally yes, but not for the reasons cited above: short-term worriers should be worried because there doesn't seem to be that much short-term worry out there (I'll explain in a minute).

Sure, the Dow's off 5% from its recent peak, but that's nothing in the historical scheme of things. The major indices have taken 10% hits on average once every 12 months. Therefore, given that---historically speaking---we're way overdue, wouldn't you think that all of the above would easily send the market into double-digit-down territory?

The thing is, when it comes to Congress, everyone "knows" it will kick the can. When it comes to emerging markets, everyone "knows" the pain is close to running its course. When it comes to Syria, everyone "knows" that no one wants this to turn into another Iraq. And when it comes to September, everyone who played the "worst month" card (sold in late August) in 2012, 2010, 2009, 2007 (I'll stop there) got burned as history's worst month delivered nice gains for the long-term investors who didn't succumb to short-term worries.

So why should we be worried about a lack of worry? Because, my friends, worry---other people's that is---is very healthy for the market. Worry keeps people very liquid, while a lack of worry keeps them fully invested. And if Congress doesn't, and the emerging market pain isn't, and if Syria escalates, those short-termers who entered the month sanguine can turn hysterical in a heartbeat.

All that said, the data suggest that, despite the apparent sanguineness, cash levels remain quite healthy. It'll be interesting to see how all that money that fled the bond market recently (stock funds have posted net outflows recently as well) treats the next correction in stock prices---lots of folks (and hedge funds) have missed out on the latest bull market (it's been dubbed history's most hated). The question is, will they view the next sizable selloff as their signal to jump in in hopes of catching up?

As for you, if you're truly a long-term investor employing strategic asset allocation, all of the above is utterly meaningless. If overconfidence meets with surprise and a bear market ensues, you'll rebalance your way into cheaper stocks. If there's no earth-shattering event(s) and the market continues its ascent, you'll rebalance your way out at higher levels. Either way you have a plan. How wonderful it is to have a plan!

No comments:

Post a Comment