Today marked the fourth day in a row of intense selling in the stock markets immediately after the markets gave a technical “buy” signal last Tuesday. Last Wednesday, the markets staged a hard reversal to the downside and have not yet recovered.
Economic indicators of late have been coming in worse than expected with recent slowdowns in manufacturing and hiring and higher unemployment claims. Last Friday the labor department reported the creation of 54,000 new jobs during the month of May while analysts were projecting 150,000-175,000 new jobs created. Needless to say, the markets were disappointed and continued the sell-off that started last Wednesday.
While there are many possible reasons discussed for the market’s indigestion (e.g., the end of the Federal Reserve’s bond buying program in June, the earthquake in Japan, continued sovereign debt woes in Europe, lack of agreement in Congress on extending the debt ceiling, lower consumer confidence, high joblessness), no one really knows the exact reason why the markets sell off on any particular day. As I indicated in a previous message, institutions take profits periodically on positions to help reset prices and make the market more enticing for those standing on the sidelines waiting to buy at lower prices. While the institutions (who make up the bulk of buying and selling in the markets) may view slower growth as reasons to sell, they have not been selling with wild abandon by any means. So one could say that the correction has been somewhat orderly (but any declines in prices are never pleasant). In other words, institutions don’t appear to be positioning for a bear market or a recession in the near future.
My intermediate and longer term indicators are still bullish even as this 5% correction (so far) may get to 10%. As a reference point, the markets corrected 13-15% last summer and that set us up for much higher stock prices. While the gains we’ve seen so far will likely not be repeated, I still expect a respectable finish for the year with a positive return in the stock markets (though my crystal ball is in the shop, so please don’t make any investing decisions based on this prognostication.) The summer months tend to be volatile and of low volume, so market swings are frequent and sometimes abrupt. I believe that corporate earnings (which ultimately drive stock prices) will continue to surprise to the upside (if they’re not hiring, then costs stay low). The effects of the tragic Japanese earthquake, which caused a hiccup in the markets this quarter, will begin to wane and offer opportunities for companies to help with the rebuilding, and thereby also help with future corporate earnings. Finally, the costs of oil and other commodities overall have come down and will ultimately reduce inflation pressure.
How should you handle this correction? For most, doing nothing may be the right answer and simply “ride out” this correction. For my clients, I have once again begun hedging portfolios in case the correction proves to be more protracted than expected. I have already become more defensive by reducing more risky types of positions and adding more defensive ones. But in an overall stock market correction, ultimately 3 out of 4 stocks will follow the market down, so there’s no good place to really hide. As this correction plays out and support wanes for certain sectors, I will slowly scale out of those positions and wait to buy them back at lower prices as appropriate. If necessary, I will add more to our hedges to reduce our overall equity exposure and risk. New positions are on hold until a new uptrend is confirmed. This is by no means a recommendation of what you should do with your portfolio if you’re a “do-it-yourselfer”, so please consult with a professional (like me!) if you’d like to protect your portfolio or figure out what you should do. Every investor and his or her goals are different, and that’s how we handle each client–individually. In any case, the correction may take us down to the 1250 level in the S&P 500 index (the March 2011 Japan earthquake low) or down to 1200 (less likely in my opinion).
With four down days in a row, we might see a bit of a relief rally tomorrow (Tuesday), but I’m not expecting any type of big reversal. With the amount of selling that has been going on lately, I just don’t expect the markets to turn around that quickly and “rip” to the upside without a catalyst. Ultimately, corrections are healthy for the markets and they will recover in time. It’s just never fun to watch the markets (and our portfolios) go down, but if you’re a long term investor, this is merely a bump in the road. If I see that circumstances have changed and my technical indicators flash warning signs, you can bet that you’ll hear from me again and I’ll be taking appropriate action.
I welcome your questions and feedback. If you’re not yet a client, keep in mind that your first consultation is complimentary and comes with no pressure and no obligation whatsoever. As a fee-only advisor, I put your interests first and work as your fiduciary. Not all advisors can make this statement.