What’s Going on in the Markets September 9 2016

On Friday September 9 2016, the S&P 500 index fell 2.4%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.1%.  This was the first “greater than 1%” sell-off since June, its worst single-session loss in more than two months. The drop ended a relatively quiet summer for U.S. stocks, which had touched new highs in mid-August. But despite Friday’s jarring downdraft, market internals remain solid and equity markets are within stones throw of their recent peaks. Of course, the press reports are describing it as a full-blown market panic.

Even if the short-term pullback in stocks persists, we do not believe the longer-term bull market—which has been underway since 2009—is dead. U.S. economic data has generally shown signs of strength, and an improving economy should support the stock market over the long term.

So what’s going on?  Efforts to trace the reason why quick-twitch traders scattered for the hills on Friday turned up two suspects.  The first was Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren, who sits at the table of Fed policy makers who decide when (and how much) to raise the Federal Funds rate.  On Friday, he announced that there was a “reasonable case” for raising interest rates in the U.S. economy.  According to a number of observers, traders had previously believed there was a 12% chance of a September rate hike by the Fed; now, they think there’s a 24% chance that the rates will go up after the Fed’s September 21-22 meeting. Oh the horror of a less than 1 in 4 chance of a quarter-point (0.25%) rise in short-term interest rates–sell everything!

If the Fed decides the economy is healthy enough to sustain another rise in interest rates—from rates that are still at historic lows—why would that be bad for stocks?  Any rise in bond rates would make bond investments more attractive compared with stocks, and therefore might entice some investors to sell stocks and buy bonds.  However, with dividends from the S&P 500 stocks averaging 2.09%, compared with a 1.67% yield from 10-year Treasury bonds, this might not be a money-making trade.

If the possibility of a 0.25% rise in short-term interest rates doesn’t send you into a panic, maybe a pronouncement by bond guru Jeffrey Gundlach, of DoubleLine Capital Management, will make you quiver.  Gundlach’s exact words, which are said to have helped send Friday’s markets into a tailspin, were: “Interest rates have bottomed.  They may not rise in the near term as I’ve talked about for years.  But I think it’s the beginning of something, and you’re supposed to be defensive.” My thoughts on this: pundits have been declaring the end of the bull market in bonds for many years and have been proven wrong time and time again. Statements like this are pretty worthless in my opinion. Could he be right? Sure, there’s a 50/50 chance.

Short-term traders appear to have decided that Gundlach was telling them to retreat to the sidelines, and some have speculated that a small exodus caused automatic program trading—that is, money management algorithms that are programmed to sell stocks whenever they sense that there are others selling.  After the computers had taken the market down by 1%, human investors noticed and began selling as well.

Uncertainty about central bank policy outside the U.S. was another potential cause for Friday’s volatility. On Thursday, the European Central Bank opted for no new easing moves and Japanese bond yields have continued to rise. The two events have sent a message to markets that quantitative easing (bond buying and other monetary stimulus) may have lost some of its efficacy and will not continue indefinitely.

For seasoned investors, a 2% drop after a very long market calm simply means a return to normal volatility.  This is generally good news for investors, because volatility has historically provided more upside than downside, and because these occasional downdrafts provide a chance to add to your stock holdings at bargain prices. I’ve been telling clients all summer long to expect a volatile and rocky September and October. Does that make me smart? Nope, historically, periods of calm like we’ve seen are always followed by volatility. September and October tend to be more volatile than other months of the year.  Markets have been unusually calm this summer, and prolonged periods of low volatility can make markets susceptible to news and rumors. Given the emphasis the market is now placing on Fed policy—and the uncertainty surrounding it—we wouldn’t be surprised to see markets continue to experience volatile swings when news or economic data suggest the Fed may, or may not, raise interest rates.

That doesn’t, of course, mean that we know what will happen when the exchanges open back up on Monday, or whether the trend will be up or down next week or for the remainder of the month.  Nor do we know whether the Fed will raise rates in late September, or how THAT will affect the market.

As for bonds, while rising interest rates can translate into falling bond prices—bond yields typically move inversely to bond prices—it’s important to remember that yields generally don’t move in tandem all along the yield curve. The Fed influences short-term interest rates, but long-term interest rates are generally affected by other factors, such as economic growth and inflation expectations. And even if the Fed does raise short-term interest rates again this year, I would anticipate that future rate hikes would be gradual, as inflation remains low and the U.S. economy is only growing moderately.

That said, periods of market volatility are a good time to review your risk tolerance and make sure your portfolio is aligned with your time horizon and investing goals. A well-diversified portfolio, with a mix of stocks, bonds and cash allocated appropriately based on your goals and risk tolerance, can help you weather periods of market turbulence.

All we can say with certainty is that there have been quite a number of temporary panics during the bull market that started in March 2009, and selling out at any of them would have been a mistake.  You must resist overreacting to swings in the market. Stock market fluctuations are a normal part of investing; panicking and pulling money out of the market may mean missing out on a potential rebound.

The U.S. economy is showing no sign of collapse, job creation is stable and a rise in interest rates from near-negative levels would probably be good for long-term economic growth.  The Institute for Supply Management survey for the manufacturing sector recently showed an unexpected decline, and the service sector moved down by more than economists had expected, so I will be monitoring upcoming survey results closely to see if this develops into a trend. The employment situation remains firm; new job openings hit a record high in July and new claims for unemployment remain near recent lows.

While it may be prudent to trim some profits, panic is seldom a good recipe for making money in the markets, and our best guess is that Friday will prove to have been no exception. Market volatility is unnerving, but it’s a normal—and normally short-lived—part of investing. If you’ve built a solid financial plan and a well-diversified portfolio, it’s best to ignore the noise and focus on your long-term goals.

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.

Sources:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-08/gundlach-says-it-s-time-to-get-defensive-as-rates-may-rise

http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurengensler/2016/09/09/stocks-fall-worst-day-since-brexit/#3a9ed7252961

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-09/split-among-fed-officials-leaves-september-rate-outlook-murky?utm_content=markets&utm

http://thereformedbroker.com/2016/09/09/dow-decline-signals-end-of-western-civilization/?utm

https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart-center/interest-rates/Pages/TextView.aspx?data=yield

The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

What’s Going on in the Markets January 7 2016

Have your long-term financial goals changed in the last four days?

Are American companies becoming less valuable because investors in China are panicking?

Is there any reason to think that because Chinese investors are panicking, that Chinese companies are less valuable today than they were a few days ago?

These are the kinds of questions to ponder as you watch the U.S. stock market catch a cold after China sneezed.  In each of the first four trading days of the year, China closed its markets due to a rapid fall in share prices—a move which may have made the panic worse, since it made investors fear being trapped in stocks that are seen as dropping in value.  It’s unclear exactly how or why, but the panic spread to global markets, with U.S. stocks falling 4.9% to mark the worst first-of-the-year drop in history.

For long-term investors, the result is much the same as if you went to the grocery store and discovered that the prices had fallen roughly 5% across the board.  At first, you might think this is a great bargain. But then you might wonder whether the prices will be even lower tomorrow or next week.  One thing you probably WOULDN’T worry about is whether prices will eventually go back up; you know they always have in the past after these sale events expire.

Will they?  The truth is, nobody knows—and if you see pundits on TV say with certainty that they know where the markets are going, your first impulse should be to laugh, and your second should be to check their track record for predicting the future.  Without a working crystal ball, it’s hard to know whether the markets are entering a correction phase which will make stocks even cheaper to buy, or whether people will wake up and realize that they don’t have to share the panic of Chinese investors on this side of the ocean.  The good news is there appears to be no major economic disruption like the Wall Street derivatives mess that triggered the 2008 downturn.  The best, sanest investors will once again watch the markets for entertainment purposes—or just turn the channel.

I overwhelmingly hear pundits predicting a bear market in 2016 (a bear market is defined as a 20% or more decline from the last market peak). “The bull market has gone on way too long, economic data is deteriorating, the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates, geopolitical events spell doom, we’re heading for a recession, oil is going to $1 per barrel” are all reasons our markets are headed for a tumble. Remind yourself that no one knows for sure what might happen, and while a bear market might assert itself in 2016, no one can reliably predict when it will come. All we know for certain is that it sets up opportunities

So what should you do? If you’ve enjoyed nice gains in your portfolio from this bull market, then you should consider cashing in some of those gains. It never hurts to take some money “off the table” and have some cash reserves to take advantage of better prices. Don’t panic sell–wait for the inevitable bounce that always comes after a multi-day selloff. You’ll be glad you did.

If you’d rather not tax the tax hit on your gains, there are ways to hedge your portfolio so you can at least sleep better at night. Speaking of that, if you’re up at night worrying about your portfolio, then you need to figure out whether you’ve taken on too much risk for your temperament and investing time horizon. You should first discuss all of this with your financial advisor/planner. Don’t have one? We’re glad to help.

As for our clients, we’ve been raising cash and doing some hedging ourselves over the past year. While there are some concerning recent economic trends and technical market anomalies, we don’t see signs of an impending recession on the horizon. We look for indications of a recession, because recessions usually lead to bear markets.

Nothing in this note should be construed as investment advice or a recommendation to buy or sell any security. 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.

Sources:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/f248931e-b4e5-11e5-8358-9a82b43f6b2f.html#axzz3wc533ghn

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/bc8c0d60-b54d-11e5-b147-e5e5bba42e51.html?ftcamp=published_links%2Frss%2Fhome_us%2Ffeed%2F%2Fproduct#axzz3wc533ghn

The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

As Inflation Fears Fade, Deflation Moves Front and Center

As the Federal Reserve winds down its massive bond-buying program, the widely predicted after effects — rising interest rates and inflation — have thus far failed to materialize. The yield on the bond market’s bellwether 10-year Treasury note, which started 2014 at 3.03%, had fallen to 2.33% as of October 29.1 Similarly, inflation, as measured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics key benchmark, the Consumer Price Index, has risen just 1.7% in the past year and has averaged 1.6% since the Fed first initiated its bond-buying program four years ago.2

Currently, concerns over inflation have been replaced by an opposite economic condition: deflation, defined as two quarters of falling prices within a 12-month period.3

Deflation, a Good News/Bad News Story

The paradox of deflation is that it can create good as well as bad conditions. When prices on essential goods and services drop, consumers are left with more disposable income to spend on nonessential items. Case in point: Plunging oil prices have spelled relief at the pumps, as the average national price for gas has now dropped below $3.00 a gallon for the first time since 2010.4

But when prices tend to fall across the board, the effect can turn negative for the economy, companies, and governments alike. Consumers put off making major purchases in the hope that prices will fall even further. That purchasing stalemate can be disastrous for a consumer-driven economy like the United States’, which garners about 70% of its GDP from consumer spending.

When spending stalls, companies’ revenues suffer and pressure mounts to cut costs by laying off workers, freezing or reducing wages, or raising the price of the goods they produce — all of which can further stymie consumer spending and deepen the deflationary cycle.

Debt is the other major problem associated with deflation. On the consumer side, when wages are stagnant or declining, consumer spending power declines, and it becomes more difficult to pay off debts — even fixed-rate debt such as home mortgages — because the value of that debt relative to income increases.

The same scenario plays out for corporations and governments, causing cash-flow shortages, tax revenue shortfalls, liquidity problems, and even bankruptcy.5 Deflation fears are particularly pronounced in Europe, where sluggish economic growth has much of the continent teetering on the brink of recession. To a lesser extent Japan and China are facing similar woes.

On the Right Side of the Problem

The good news/bad news nature of deflation has everything to do with what is driving the drop in prices of goods and services. For instance, if it is a lack of demand — as many economists say is currently the case in the Eurozone — deflation could be damaging. If, however, it is due to a boost in supply — such as the oil and gas boom in the United States — it can prove beneficial to economic growth.6

Either way, analysts say that U.S. investors should benefit from current conditions for the time being. The S&P 500 Index has gained 6.3% thus far this year (as of October 26), while the Stoxx Europe 600 Index has fallen 0.3%. Meanwhile, virtually all major currencies are devaluing against the dollar in an attempt to export deflation to the United States.6

If you would like to discuss your current portfolio asset allocation or 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.

I wish you great health and prosperity in 2015!

 

Sources:

1USA Today, “First Take: Beginning of the end of easy money,” October 29, 2014.

2U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index, September 2014.

3The Economist, “The dangers of deflation: The pendulum swings to the pit,” October 25, 2014.

4AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report, November 3, 2014.

5Yahoo Finance, “Why deflation is so scary,” November 3, 2014.

6Bloomberg, “U.S. Gains From Good Deflation as Europe Faces the Bad Kind,” October 26, 2014.

How Do the Markets Really Work?

We all do it.  But what do we really know about investing?  A recent post about investing wisdom features a lot of interesting (and often overlooked) facts and figures, plus some insights from Warren Buffett, Jeremy Siegel, William Bernstein, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and a few economists you may have heard of.

Regarding market predictions, the post had this to say: The phrase “double-dip recession” was mentioned 10.8 million times in 2010 and 2011, according to Google. It never came. There were virtually no mentions of “financial collapse” in 2006 and 2007. It did come. A similar story can be told virtually every year.

According to Bloomberg, the 50 stocks in the S&P 500 that Wall Street rated the lowest at the end of 2011 outperformed the overall index by 7 percentage points over the following year.

Many of the items offered insight into how our investment markets actually work.  For instance:

  • Since 1871, the market has spent 40% of all years either rising or falling more than 20%. Roaring booms and crushing busts are perfectly normal.
  • Apple increased more than 6,000% from 2002 to 2012, but declined on 48% of all trading days during that time period. (Investing is never a straight path up.)
  • Polls show Americans for the last 25 years have said the economy is in a state of decline. Pessimism in the face of advancement is the norm.
  • A broad index of U.S. stocks increased 2,000-fold between 1928 and 2013, but lost at least 20% of its value 20 times during that period. People would be less scared of volatility if they knew how common it was.
  • There were 272 automobile companies in 1909. Through consolidation and failure, three emerged on top, two of which went bankrupt. Spotting a promising trend and identifying a winning investment are two different things.
  • According to economist Tim Duy, “As long as people have babies, as long as capital depreciates, technology evolves, and tastes and preferences change, there is a powerful underlying impetus for growth that is almost certain to reveal itself in any reasonably well-managed economy.”

The post had a few zingers about some of the best-paid executives in the financial and investment community:

  • Twenty-five hedge fund managers took home $21.2 billion in 2013 for delivering an average performance of 9.1%, versus the 32.4% you could have made in an index fund. Hedge funds are a great business to work in — not so much to invest in.
  • In 1989, the CEOs of the seven largest U.S. banks earned an average of 100 times what a typical household made. By 2007, that had risen to more than 500 times. By 2008, several of those banks no longer existed.

And finally, if you want to understand the difference between daily fluctuation and the underlying growth of value in the markets, consider this:

Investor Ralph Wagoner once explained how markets work, recalled by Bill Bernstein: “He likens the market to an excitable dog on a very long leash in New York City, darting randomly in every direction. The dog’s owner is walking from Columbus Circle, through Central Park, to the Metropolitan Museum. At any one moment, there is no predicting which way the pooch will lurch. But in the long run, you know he’s heading northeast at an average speed of three miles per hour. What is astonishing is that almost all of the market players, big and small, seem to have their eye on the dog, and not the owner.”

If you would like to discuss your current portfolio or any 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.

Source:

http://www.businessinsider.com/things-everyone-should-know-about-investing-and-the-economy-2014-12

Should We Fear—Or Cheer—Plunging Oil Prices?

Chances are, you’re celebrating today’s lower gas prices.  AAA reports that the national average price of gas is $2.48 today, the lowest since December 2009.  The result: an estimated $70 billion in direct savings for U.S. consumers over the next 12 months.  At previous prices, the average American was spending about $2,600 a year on gasoline, so the 20% price decline would result in $520 more to save or spend.

It gets better.  Even though gas prices (and, therefore, the cost of driving) have plummeted, the Internal Revenue Service is raising the standard mileage rates that people can deduct on their tax return for business travel, from 56 cents in 2014 to 57.5 cents per business mile driven next year.

Only the investment markets seem to think that cycling an extra $70 billion into the U.S. economy is a bad thing.  This past week, large cap stocks, represented by the S&P 500 index, saw their prices fall by 3.5%—their biggest drop since May 2012. Why?  The only possible explanation is that rapid Wall Street traders believe that lower oil prices will harm the economies of America’s trading partners, and therefore impact the U.S. economy indirectly.

So let’s take a closer look.  While U.S. consumers are cheering the decline in oil prices, and non-energy producing nations like Japan and countries in the Eurozone are seeing a boost in their economies, who’s NOT celebrating?

As it turns out, some of the biggest losers are American domestic shale oil producers, who basically break even when oil prices are at their current $50-$60 a barrel levels.  Any further drop in prices would slow down domestic energy production, and probably create a floor that would keep prices from falling much further.

Another big loser is the socialist government in Venezuela (remember Hugo Chavez?), which needs oil prices above $162 a barrel to pay for all of its social programs.  You can also sympathize with Iran, which reportedly needs oil prices to move up to $135 barrel to stay in the black, due to continuing sanctions from the world community over its nuclear program, and the high cost of supporting Hezbollah and its own military ventures in the Middle East.

The biggest loser is probably Russia, which requires oil prices of at least $100 a barrel for its budget to withstand international sanctions and finance its own military adventures against neighboring nations.  Economists are projecting that Russia will fall into a steep recession next year, when GDP could decline as much as 6%.  The nation is experiencing what economists call “capital outflows” of $125 billion a year—a fancy way of saying that wealthy Russians are taking money out of Russian banks and either investing abroad or putting their rubles in banks located in more stable foreign jurisdictions.  And in the process, they are exchanging their rubles for local currency, as a way to protect against the recent free-fall in Russia’s currency.  Bloomberg News recently published the below graphic which many Americans will find entertaining, but which is probably not happy news for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Fear or Cheer Plunging Oil Prices

It’s interesting that the markets seem to be worrying about low oil prices when the economies with the most to lose are not only less than minor trading partners, but actual political enemies of U.S. interests. Cheaper oil will eventually be regarded as a plus for our economic—and political—interests, but the downturn suggests that Wall Street traders are hair-trigger ready to be spooked by anything they regard as unusual.

If you would like to discuss your current portfolio or any 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.

Sources:

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/5-countries-that-will-be-the-biggest-losers-from-oils-slide-2014-11-20?page=2

http://blogs.piie.com/realtime/?p=4644

http://www.accountingtoday.com/news/irs-watch/irs-raises-standard-mileage-rate-for-businesses-72990-1.html?ET=webcpa:e3476082:a:&st=email&utm_content=buffer4179f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

http://www.forbes.com/sites/northwesternmutual/2014/11/27/lower-oil-prices-give-a-gift-to-consumers/

Why Losses Really Do Matter

Everybody who told us that the steep market drops earlier this month wouldn’t last can rightly claim they’re right.  When the S&P 500 was down 7.4% during a two-week sell off, there was no way to know whether we’d have to endure more of the same.  Staying the course turned out to be exactly the right strategy, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned about downside risk.  In fact, during the downturn, all of us should have been working hard to keep our portfolios from falling as far and as fast as the American indices.

Isn’t this a contradiction?  There is no contradiction between holding on during market downturns and building portfolios that are unlikely to keep pace with a bear market free-fall.  You hold on because no living person knows when the stock markets will recover, but history tells us that they always do seem to recover and eventually deliver returns that are higher, on average, than the returns you get when the money is safely stored under your mattress.

But you also pay attention to downturns because the further your portfolio falls, the harder it is to recover.  There’s actually a rational reason why you tend to fear losses more than you enjoy your gains.

The mathematics show the asymmetrical effect of losses vs. gains.  If your $1 million portfolio loses 10%, falling to $900,000, then it requires an 11.11% gain to get you back where you started.  It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s how it is.  A 20% loss requires a 25% gain, and if your portfolio were to drop 40%, you’d need a subsequent 66.67% gain to climb back to your original $1 million nest egg.

Chances are, you know how we fortify portfolios against losses: we include a variety of different types of assets–including bonds which, against every single market prediction at the start of the year, are actually delivering positive returns almost all the way across the maturity spectrum.  We include foreign stocks, which haven’t exactly been knocking the lights out this year, but which will, someday, offer strong gains when the U.S. markets are weakening.  Also, we take profits on positions that have reached their price targets and hedge portfolios with inverse funds.  All of these different movements tend to have a calming effect on the portfolio’s returns, not always in every circumstance, but fairly reliably over time.

The result?  A smoother ride puts more money in your pocket.  If an investor experienced returns of +20% and -10% in alternate years over the next 20 years, a $100,000 portfolio would grow to just under $216,000.  If a more diversified investor experienced a smoother ride of 10% a year, her portfolio would grow to just under $673,000.  The power of steady compounding is a marvelous thing to see.  The drag of losses can be debilitating to a portfolio’s growth.

You won’t experience either of those trajectories exactly, of course.  But if you can somehow avoid the worst of the market’s falls, even if it means never beating the market during the up-cycles, you raise your chances of long-term success.  If you can do this and remain invested through a lot of uncertainty, like we experienced earlier this month, chances are you’ll enjoy better long-term returns than a lot of the “experts” you see screaming at you to buy or sell on the cable finance channels.

Oh, and that 7.4% drop?  The S&P 500 has to go up 8% to recover the ground it lost in that two-week period.  As of today, we’ve recovered that entire loss.

What’s Going on With the Markets-March 10, 2011

Since the beginning of last September, the stock markets have enjoyed a nearly uninterrupted bull uptrend which has been unprecedented in market history.  Fueled by improving economics and Federal Reserve actions, the uptrend has withstood many geopolitical, fiscal and news driven setbacks.  But today the political unrest in the Middle East, issues with Spanish debt repayment and a higher than expected weekly first-time unemployment claim number (497,000) were the 1-2-3 punch that the markets could not recover from and therefore we suffered a 1.5-2.5% setback.  Be it stocks, gold, silver or oil today, they were all down today.

Normally, up-trending bull markets such as the one we’re in take rest periods, or “corrections” as they’re called, every couple of months while individuals and institutions take profits on stock positions and reset stock prices back to normal levels. Corrections (usually 10-20% of an index value such as the S&P 500) are healthy for the market and while uncomfortable if you watch them unfold from day to day, allow the markets to set up for the next leg up.  Two years to the day yesterday into this bull run have seen us move up about 100% from the March 9, 2009 lows on the S&P 500 index. Without a doubt, this has been an incredible run and I hope you’ve been participating.

As I’ve discussed with clients and prospects recently, a correction in the market has been long overdue and anticipated.  While today was the first big down day where we really tested key levels in the indexes, there have been several signs of exhaustion in the market. Despite this, I cannot say with certainty whether we’ve definitively entered into a correction period (technically we have, but it needs to be confirmed with follow-through on Friday and next week.)  If the bulls get their act together tomorrow and “rescue” the market by pushing it back up through heavy volume buying, then this decline may be “all she wrote.”  If not, we could head down to test the 1275 level of the S&P 500 index (we closed at 1295 today).  A failure to hold the 1275 level means that large institutions have decided to continue selling and a drop to 1240 may need to exhaust sellers.

With the “Day of Rage” demonstrations scheduled for Friday in Saudi Arabia, rocketing oil prices and sovereign debt issues, the odds of avoiding a deeper correction are not very high.  Besides, this correction is long overdue and may occur regardless of how peacefully the Middle East situation is resolved or even if oil prices come back down to earth.

What do I think? As I’ve mentioned before, the Federal Reserve has made investing in anything but the stock market earn near zero returns. That is, the government wants us to buy equities, push the stock market (and IRA’s and 401(k)’s) higher, to make us feel richer and more confident and therefore spend more.  Spending more creates demand which in turn creates jobs and so on.  So I believe that the gentle (if somewhat invisible) hand will come in to help support the market and avoid a protracted decline that might scare off the latest entrants into the market. While my crystal ball is still in the shop, I believe that a decline beyond 1275 in the S&P 500 (another 1.5%) is a stretch.  While that would make it a very shallow correction, it may be enough to breathe new life into the stock market and help resume the uptrend.

So what should you do now in light of a possible correction?  Basically, you shouldn’t do much if anything since nothing is confirmed.  If you’re investing on your own, trying to time your “in’s and out’s” of the markets is nearly impossible and not recommended unless you’re an experienced trader.  If you have a profitable position and worry about it turning into a loss, you may decide to sell a portion or all of it.  More savvy investors may be able to hedge their positions with options or inverse ETF’s if the decline proves to be protracted.  From our end for our clients, I’m watching the market technical levels on a daily basis like a hawk and already have begun to harvest some profits and protect some positions. If a protracted downturn does materialize, I may also hedge portfolios with inverse ETF’s and selectively liquidate partial positions.  But we’re not there yet and I’m not making any recommendations.  And by no means do I think we’re entering another bear market (by definition, a bear market begins when we decline 20% from the last peak in a major index).  Non-clients should consult their current advisor (or me) if you’re unsure what to do in the event of a protracted decline and should not treat this as a recommendation to buy or sell anything (see disclaimer below).

Last year we declined nearly 15% from May through August amid sovereign debt worries and economic uncertainty and then proceeded to push up nearly 25% over the next six months. I still believe that we will end 2011 with double-digit gains in the markets as this economy matures from recovery to expansion.  All economic indicators point positively and last month we even added nearly 200,000 new jobs.  We may even see housing perk up a bit later this year.  Without a doubt, sustained oil prices above $125 per barrel and $4 gasoline for an extended period (6 months or more), will put a crimp into the expansion, but I don’t believe we’re heading for a long term spike in oil prices.  Let’s just say that the oil producing countries learned what supply constraints and speculation did to oil demand the last time oil spiked to $145 a barrel. More electric and hybrid cars is just one example of how we are learning to live with less demand for foreign oil.

I hope this message helps alleviate any anxiety over the recent down days in the market.  Remember that the media loves good negative stories to help sell newspapers and advertising. Avoid the noise and try to keep your sanity during the days when it seems like there’s always something bad going on in the world.  Middle Eastern concerns have been a worry for decades, if not centuries now, and likely won’t be resolved during our lifetimes.  Like every other world incident, the markets get back to normal and we get through them.

Enjoy the upcoming weekend and don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of any help.  If you’re not a client, your consultation with me is complimentary, no-pressure and with no obligation.  I’d love to talk to you whether or not you’re considering hiring a financial planner or money manager.

Sam H. Fawaz CFP®, CPA is president of YDream Financial Services, Inc., a registered investment advisor. Sam is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), Certified Public Accountant and registered member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) fee-only financial planner group.  Sam has expertise in many areas of personal finance and wealth management and has always been fascinated with the role of money in society.  Helping others prosper and succeed has been Sam’s mission since he decided to dedicate his life to financial planning.  He specializes in entrepreneurs, professionals, company executives and their families.

All material presented herein is believed to be reliable, but we cannot attest to its accuracy.  Investment recommendations may change and readers are urged to check with their investment advisors before making any investment decisions.  Opinions expressed in this writing by Sam H. Fawaz are his own, may change without prior notice and should not be relied upon as a basis for making investment or planning decisions.  No person can accurately forecast or call a market top or bottom, so forward looking statements should be discounted and not relied upon as a basis for investing or trading decisions. This message was authored by Sam H. Fawaz CPA, CFP and is provided by YDream Financial Services, Inc.

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