As you well know, investors just experienced one of the worst weeks in recorded history in the stock market as fears over COVID-19 (Coronavirus) ramped up, and the number of confirmed cases increased. Over the last week, we saw 3 out of 4 days in which declining stocks outnumbered advancing stocks by more than an 8:1 margin. That has not occurred since 1939!
Is it time to batten down the hatches and prepare for a bear market (a bear market is one that declines at least 20% from the last peak)? I don’t think so, at least not until we get more evidence pointing in that direction.
While I’m no medical student, Coronavirus could prove to be a temporary setback. But if it indeed accelerates the economy into a recession due to supply chain disruptions or causes demand for goods and services to fall off for more than 1-2 calendar quarters, then I think that we could fall into a bear market. Therefore, we cannot underestimate the potential effect of a disruption of the economic cycle.
At this point, we can only identify this as a probable market correction (something less than a 20% decline from peak to trough). In other words, we do not have definitive confirmation of a recession ahead, and we cannot yet say whether the final bull market top is in place.
From an economic standpoint, the risk of recession was low prior to the Coronavirus outbreak fears, and while there will undoubtedly be an economic impact from the virus, the signs of an economic contraction (negative gross domestic product or GDP) are still notably absent. In fact, Friday’s Consumer Sentiment report from the University of Michigan shows that optimism reached the second-highest level of this cycle in February. There will need to be a breakdown in confidence before a recession becomes probable.
On the market structure (technical) side, the data obviously deteriorated greatly last week in line with the correction in the market. The selling has been widespread and brutal. That being the case, the market has reached a deeply oversold reading, indicating that a robust rebound rally of some type should develop in the next few days, if not on Monday. The strength and breadth of that rally will be vital in assessing: 1) How much damage has been done to investor confidence, and 2) the probability that this bull market may be over.
If you are finding that your risk tolerance for this kind of market action is lower than you thought, then you should consider reducing your exposure to the stock market on any bounce. Of course, you should first consult with your financial advisor and not consider this investment advice or a recommendation to buy or sell any security.
Obviously, anything can change the landscape, especially a bazooka of money fired at the markets or a reduction in short-term interest rates by the federal reserve and other central bankers around the world. The markets were down much more on Friday before rallying hard in the last 30 minutes, a positive sign that we may be seeing the pace of selling slowing or abating.
Regardless, it is certainly possible that we may have seen the highs for the year (my crystal ball is still in the shop), but I’m open to what the market tells me. I’m not married to a single way of thinking (bullish or bearish) and neither should you. If the market can retrace over 60% of this decline on any sustained rally, then we might have a shot at targeting old highs. But that’s a tall order, and it’s going to take a while to happen if it does. Much of the technical damage has to be repaired, and a lot of disappointed regretful buyers are going to want their money back on any rally, greatly increasing the supply of shares for sale in the short term.
Any first step in the right direction starts with arresting the current decline and successfully bounce this market for more than just a few hours or just a day. Based on the Sunday night futures markets, the current outlook looks to be for a positive open on Monday morning, despite the increase in the number of reported Coronavirus cases over the weekend. I suspect that market followers are expecting an announcement of an interest rate cut sometime on Monday.
For our client accounts, we have been reducing equity exposure for several weeks and adding hedges to our portfolios. We will continue to be defensive until we see signs that the market is stabilizing, and that a durable market low has been formed. For your part, don’t be a hero: it may be too late to sell and it may be too soon to buy (but it may be OK to nibble a little). Again, I cannot advise you personally unless you become an investment-management client :-).
Over the long term, the market has always moved up, but volatility has always been the cost of enjoying higher returns in the stock market. With risk highly elevated, it may be time to do very little. Just know that this too shall pass, and better times may only be a few days, if not a few weeks away.
For now, just keep washing those hands frequently and stay home if you’re sick. I can safely say that without needing a medical degree.
If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.