A week or so ago, the patio furniture on my front porch was covered in pollen. So much pollen, in fact, that I wouldn’t dare to sit down for fear that my clothes would turn green – or that I would begin to start sneezing uncontrollably. It seems that I’m not alone with my spring sneezes.
Almost like an uncontrollable allergic reaction – rather than rational thought -- the stock market has reacted to spring with another sneeze. This year marks the third in a row where the S&P 500 experienced a greater-than-10% decline, a move often referred to as a “correction”. In the previous two years, the volatility and unease lasted into the summer months, and it looks like this may be the case again this year.
So why is this happening? Because individual investors are reacting to their worries and are getting out of the market. Year-to-date, there has been more selling in 2012 than we experienced in the same timeframe in 2008, according to ICI data. In fact, we have seen selling in every one of the last 12 months—a new record for investor pessimism. But is this entirely justified? Is a market collapse inevitable?
A spectacular collapse always seems to have been just around the corner:
- The hazards of the Cold War and the Sputnik-technology gap with the U.S.S.R. preoccupied U.S. investors in the late 1950s.
- Cultural clashes and the Vietnam War drove anxiety in the 1960s.
- In the 1970s, the energy price shock and the secular shift in manufacturing haunted markets.
- The worriers in the 1980s fixated on fading American strength as the Japanese bought up iconic U.S. properties and debt soared in corporate America with corporate raiders financing leveraged buyouts with junk bonds.
- Geopolitical stresses of terrorism and the first Gulf War in the early 1990s gave way to the emerging market crises in Mexico and Asia in the mid-1990s and Y2K paranoia as the decade drew to a close.
Certainly, present challenges should not be underestimated. But when compared with the likely real threat of the current slate of problems, our anxiety seems disproportionately high. Perhaps our worries are magnified by 24/7 news coverage. We have learned through past trying times that the worst-case scenario that feels so sure to happen is also a highly unlikely one. For example, contrary to common fears, the Cold War ended without nuclear annihilation, the 1960s counter-cultural radicals became Baby Boomers and bought BMWs, inflation was quickly tamed after the late 1970s and remains so, the world did not run out of oil in the 1980s, Japan did not come to own all of America by the end of the 1990s, and Y2K proved to be a non-event on January 1, 2000.
There is no shortage of current speculation and worst-case scenarios being discussed: Will the Eurozone fall apart? Will the United States fall off the fiscal cliff? Will the Chinese economy crash after running so fast for so long? Are we headed toward war with Iran? These questions do lead to anxiety and may not be definitively answered by the end of the year—or even the end of the decade. However, on the positive side, the U.S. economy is growing, albeit somewhat sluggishly, and so are corporate profits. Despite worries, consumers continue to spend with retail sales posting solid growth and housing prices finally rising once again nationwide. While confidence in policymakers is at a low, hopes will likely rise as the U.S. elections draw near.
In contrast to the latest crowd of pessimists who envision a spectacular collapse just around the corner, long experience and extensive financial market analysis suggests to me that though 2012 may be volatile, it is also unexceptional. Every age has its uncertainties; this age is not any different. When it comes to investing, success is measured by not only coping with uncertainties, but also viewing them as opportunities.
About this column: Steve Davis is a local CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ who has been helping clients in Mansfield, Foxboro, Easton and other local communities for more than twenty years. You can find out more about Steve and his company, Davis Financial at www.talkwithdavis.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/davisfinancial
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The economic forecasts set forth in the presentation may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful. Securities offered through LPL Financial Member FINRA/SIPC