In the weeks following news of the corona virus outbreak, the S&P 500 lost over one third (34%) of its value (between February 19th and March 23rd).
Unemployment figures so far have fallen to 6.7% for the month of November, down from 11.1% in June, yet the S&P 500 has rallied 61.87% from the March 23rd low (through November 30th).
Markets and the economy seem to have decoupled—should we be worried? Have we seen this before? Let’s look at past major market declines to see how markets and economic measures have acted in the past.
In the 1973–74 market crash, the S&P 500 bottomed on October 3rd, 1974, and started to rally forward while unemployment continued to increase until May 1st, 1975, seven months later.
In the aftermath of the tech bubble bursting in the early 2000s, the S&P 500 bottomed on October 9th, 2002, after dropping 49%; and it began a swift rise while unemployment rates also continued to increase for nine months until June 2003.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis just over a decade ago, the S&P 500 bottomed on March 9th, 2009, after losing over 56% of its value. The markets began a lasting bull market while the news and data grew worse. Unemployment continued to increase through October 2009 (eight months later), GDP continued to decline through June 2009, and bankruptcies of banks continued at record rate throughout 2009 and into 2010. Again, the stock market seemed to have “decoupled” from economic data.
The stock market is considered a “leading economic indicator.” The news and measurements of the economy determine what has happened while the market looks forward to what may be coming.
There is precedence for what is happening with markets rebounding before we see the elusive “light at the end of the tunnel.” History shows that markets have typically rebounded ahead of economic measurements.
So, what is next?
The events that have unfolded in 2020 emphasize how unpredictable the future is and will continue to be. While many knew that the possibility of a global pandemic existed, we had no idea when it would strike, causing the 34% drop in February and March while fear took control of the markets. Further, economic measurements did not signal when markets would begin a recovery. Once again, there was no “light at the end of the tunnel” to signal the 62% market surge from March 23rd through November 30th.
We may not yet be through the worst of this pandemic. Markets may drop again, possibly even further than they did in March. Perhaps the roll out of the vaccine will change things more quickly than previously expected. Maybe the market will continue to grow from here.
The future is fundamentally unpredictable, and the world is always changing; yet the very real effects of fear and greed that each of these cycles elicits is predictable and consistent. We know that fear and greed create chemical reactions in our brains that lead to poor decision making. We need a disciplined framework to lean on to keep from making decisions we later regret.
The best strategy for capturing the highest risk-adjusted returns remains keeping your money invested in a massively diversified portfolio, rebalancing when your allocation deviates from its target. This will have you take advantage of market swings.
At Merriman, our rebalancing sensitivities were triggered in March and April for many portfolios. This generally had us buying stock funds after the big decline with proceeds we pulled from bond funds after they had rallied in response to the fear of current events. Going further back, rebalancing had us trimming from stock funds throughout the more than decade-long bull market that started with the recovery from the financial crisis of 2008 to add to our bond funds, preventing greed from taking those profits back.
Rebalancing has us buying asset classes at low prices when fear can make it difficult, then selling asset classes after they have grown to higher prices when greed can have us wanting more.
Rebalancing is a disciplined framework that helps us with the number one goal of investing: Buy Low, Sell High.
Feel free to reach out to us if you’d like to discuss how to apply rebalancing to your specific situation!
Past performance is not indicative of future results. No investor should assume that future performance of the S&P 500 will be similar or equal to previous years/periods. The S&P 500 is a market capitalization-weighted index of 500 widely held stocks often used as a proxy for the U.S stock market. S&P 500 performance data was obtained from Yahoo Finance.