Dealing with this situation

Blog post #435

 

The world has changed significantly, which has affected health concerns and investors’ finances.

What has happened?

The coronavirus outbreak was the first negative to impact global, then US stock markets, in past weeks.

On Monday, US and International stock markets were dramatically impacted by the unprecedented steps taken over the weekend by Saudi Arabia, to both increase oil production and reduce the price they charge for oil. These actions, along with the already reduced global demand for oil due to the coronavirus, caused the price per barrel of oil to plummet from $63 per barrel at the beginning of 2020 to around $33 at mid-week.

As this week has progressed, stock markets continued declining sharply as the reality of the Covid-19 outbreak and the lifestyle changes that will be required, have taken hold.  The economy will slow dramatically and many economic sectors will be greatly impacted.

Interest rates, which were already at historic lows, have fallen even further. Credit markets are concerned about weakening economies, companies that may have difficulties due to lack of demand due to coronavirus, as well as energy companies and their lenders, due to the huge decrease in oil prices.

What do we think going forward?

Clearly the world has changed significantly over the past few months, and even over the past week.

We do not know when financial markets will stop failing, when the coronavirus outbreak will be contained or mitigated, or when oil prices will return to rationale levels.

What we do know is that we must focus on key things…such as what we can control and what matters to each of us.  I will be blunt, the health issues are very concerning. I have tried to keep this mantra in mind, as I try to focus on what we can control, and not control. Our everyday lives are going to be disrupted for a period of time…and none of us know for how long. The health issues have now been compounded with financial concerns, due to the drop in stock values. Hopefully, our federal, state and local leaders, both medical and political, as well as those leaders across the globe, take serious, appropriate and necessary actions in the immediate future.

In terms of your portfolio, the pain of losing money is not pleasant for anyone. I am invested in similar or identical stock funds and fixed income securities as our clients, so my family has lost money in stocks and been cushioned by fixed income, just like you have.

To be a successful long term investor requires resiliency, which nearly every client we have has shown over the past weeks.  The coming weeks and months may continue to be very challenging. To reap the long-term rewards of the stock market, you need to remain invested during both good and bad markets.  No matter how difficult, this will be temporary.  There will be medical solutions and an economic recovery from this health outbreak.

When we meet with clients at or near retirement age, we frequently discuss their allocation to fixed income and their withdrawal rate. We remind them that their fixed income assets should last them for many years, and in many cases, for 10 or more years.  We call this your foundation. This means that if you can live off of your fixed income assets for a long time, you have a strong foundation and you don’t need to be as worried about what the stock market is doing today, or even over the next few years.

The reality of living through a sharp and scary decline like we are experiencing can still be difficult, so let’s go through the scenario and then some history. These are important concepts.

For example, if someone has a $3 million portfolio and is allocated 50% to stocks and 50% to fixed income, they would have $1.5 million of fixed income investments. If this hypothetical client was withdrawing $150,000 per year from this portfolio, that is a 5% withdrawal rate. That is realistic. The $150,000 per year is 10 years of their fixed income assets ($150,000 / year x 10 years), not including any interest earned on the fixed income. Thus, they don’t need to actually use the stock market investments for at least 10 years. There will be time for the stock investments to recover from periods of decline, such as we are incurring now. This is the type of portfolio and mentality that we want to develop with all of our clients.

If you are younger, and in the accumulation and savings phase of your life, you should continue to invest and save for the long term.  You should want to buy when others are scared and are selling. Keep adding to your retirement and regular savings plan. Make contributions now, for retirement plan contributions that may be due later in 2020 or even 2021.

We don’t know when global stock markets will recover, but we are confident that they will. We are quite confident that 3-5-10+ years from now, diversified holdings of global stock markets will be higher than they are today.

Some facts and history….

Since 1979, the US Russell 3000 Index (the 3,000 largest US traded companies) has averaged about a 14% decline at some point during each year (called an “intra-year” decline). While we invest in a globally diversified portfolio and the 2020 intra-year decline has now far exceeded 14%, this data is still instructive.

  • About half of the years since 1979 have had declines of more than 10%.
  • About 1/3 of the years had declines of more than 15%. (Significant declines are not fun, but more normal than most of us realize).
  • However, calendar year returns were positive for 34 of the 41 past years.**

This shows that intra-year declines are normal, but positive years and recoveries are even more the norm. While the cause for the steep decline is different this time, as it is health related,  we don’t think the long-term effect will be different….there will be a recovery.  You will need to be patient and are advised to adhere to your asset allocation plan.

From July, 1926 until December 2019, for almost 100 years, the broad US stock market has returned around 9.6% per year, before fees and trading costs. Obviously, there has been great year-to-year variability (many up and down years) to reach that 9.6% per year average.

As the chart below shows, after declines of 10%, 15% and 20%, the broad US stock market (comparable to the Russell 3000 Index) has generally performed better than average in the 1, 3 and 5 year periods following such declines. Stocks generally show strong returns after steep declines.*** This is the reward for the risk and volatility you need to endure.

What are we doing and recommending?

Most importantly, we are here for you, if you want to talk to us. Please call or email us. We know this is a difficult time, and may likely continue to be, especially with both health and financial concerns.

To save you future taxes where possible, we have placed trades all week to recognize tax losses, especially for newer clients and those that have added money to their accounts this year and in recent years, depending on the specific investment. We are not waiting until later in the year or until year end to do this. We aggressively monitor your taxable accounts for these opportunities…..providing a silver lining to the market turbulence, whenever possible.

We will be reviewing client accounts for stock purchasing opportunities, by rebalancing or if you add new money to your investments. For the long term, the coming weeks and months offer times to buy. We can never know when the market bottom will be. But just as investments were very profitable for those that had the courage to buy during the declines of 2008-09, we expect those that buy over the coming days and weeks will be rewarded in the long term. We call this rebalancing, as your fixed income allocation has increased and your stock allocation has decreased in the past month, we would recommend to sell fixed income and buy stocks.

As interest rates have dropped, if you have a mortgage that is above 4-4.5% and you plan to stay in that home for at least 3-5 years, you should consider refinancing. If you want to discuss this with us, please contact us.

If other tax or financial changes are enacted in response to this situation, we will update you on those as they occur.

We are prepared to work remotely, if that is recommended or required. If that becomes a reality, we will provide clients with the necessary contact information. We have procedures in place and each member of our firm has worked and done business remotely many times in the past, within a secure technological environment. We have also discussed these scenarios with our business partners and are confident that we can function property and be able to provide you with excellent service, remotely.

We hope each of you and your families stay in good health.

Sources:

** Recent Market Volatility, Dimensional Fund Advisor’s, Issue Brief, March 4, 2020.

***US Equity Returns Following Sharp Downturns, Dimensional Fund Advisors, March 9, 2020.

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