October, month of crashes, has brought out the bears. It has been three long years since the broader indexes have seen downside moves of 10 percent and just like clockwork, here it is October and we have finally come close to the much-anticipated correction. The selling has been attributed to a slow churn of worry, which started with concerns about global growth stalling, especially in Europe and China. The fear is that just as the US economy has found more solid footing, the rest of the world might drag down the economy and corporate earnings to boot. In the week prior, investors vacillated between confronting those fears head on, and thinking that perhaps the Fed might keep interest rates lower for a longer period of time, which would help buoy markets. The “Fed to the Rescue” rationale may have limited the initial damage to stock markets, but the bears took control last week and dumped out of stocks and poured into the safety of bonds.
It is always scary to see and hear about big point losses, but context is important. On Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by more than 460 points, which seems pretty close to the 508-point loss that occurred on October 19, 1987. That day came to be known as "Black Monday" because those 508-points represented a 22.6 percent loss in a single session, the greatest one-day percentage loss Wall Street had ever suffered.
When the Dow was at its lowest level of the day on Wednesday, it was down just 2.8 percent. In fact, at current levels, the Dow would have to plummet about 3,700 points in one day to match the damage seen in 1987. And although the financial crisis of 2008 was more severe and dangerous to the entire financial system than the crash of 1987, Black Friday remains the most dramatic day of trading that most have ever experienced on Wall Street.
Still, the October action has spooked many investors, leading some to worry that a crash—or even a bear market, which is defined as a 20 percent drop over two months, could be coming. The S&P 500 has experienced 12 bear markets since the crash of 1929, most of which occurred in, or around, economic downturns. According to Capital Economics, the current sell-off is unlikely to mark the beginning of the dreaded 20 percent drop, because bear markets do not normally occur in the middle of entrenched recoveries. “There’s nothing in the US data that has fundamentally altered our view on the outlook for the domestic economy…the near-10 percent fall in equity prices has sparked fears that something more pernicious lies ahead. But that drop in equity prices looks out of kilter with the health of the economy.”
Of course market drops could certainly wipe out a portion of household wealth, which may curtail consumer spending and hurt growth. But energy prices have plummeted alongside sagging stock prices and the net effect of lower prices at the pump should more than make up for the hit to the wealth effect from stocks. Still, for those who are worried that a crash or the next bear market is around the corner, the following aphorisms might be worth revisiting:
- Cash is King: For those investors near or already in retirement, a cash cushion of 1-2 years of living expenses can reduce the urge to panic and sell at the bottom.
- Planning is Queen: A thorough financial plan that contemplates both good and bad markets can help you navigate a crash and its aftermath.
- Diversification and rebalancing complete the Royal Family: Understanding your risk tolerance to build an asset allocation on a diversified basis, followed periodic rebalancing really can help protect your money when the next crash occurs.
MARKETS: It was a topsy-turvy week, which caused the volatility index (VIX) to surge to a 2014 high of 31.06 on Wednesday. By Friday, the VIX dropped to 22, a lot closer to its long-run average of around 20, but twice as high as the July low of 10.32 and up nearly 74 percent from a month ago.
- DJIA: 16,380 down 1% on week, down 1.2% YTD (-5.2% from all time high on Sep 19; correction at 15,615)
- S&P 500: 1886, down 1% on week, up 2.1% YTD (-6.2% from all time high on Sep 18; correction at 1817)
- NASDAQ: 4258, down 0.4% on week, up 2% YTD (-7.4% from 2014 high on Sep 2; correction at 4149)
- Russell 2000: 1082, up 2.8% on week, down 7% YTD (first weekly gain in seven)
- 10-Year Treasury yield: 2.2% (from 2.31% a week ago)
- November Crude Oil: $82.75, down 3.6% on the week
- December Gold: $1239.00, up 1.4% on the week
- AAA Nat'l average price for gallon of regular Gas: $3.12 (from $3.36 a year ago)
THE WEEK AHEAD: With stock markets wobbling, bond prices are rising, yields are falling and rates for mortgages are tumbling to the lowest levels in over a year. The housing market could use a boost, but the recent drop in rates will not provide any help until next month’s data are released.
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