Investing at Market Highs

Blog post #482

At the end of April, 2021, most US stock market indices are near their all-time highs.

What does that mean for your current, and future, investments?

As Exhibit 1 below indicates, when the S & P 500 has reached highs in the past (for data from 1926-2018), the S & P 500 went on to provide positive average annualized returns over the one, three, and five years following new market highs. And those returns were significant, averaging over 14% during the subsequent one year and around 10% over the subsequent three and five year time periods.

Please see Exhibit Disclosures below.*

What does that mean for you today? It means there is justification, based on historical financial data of almost 100 years, that new market highs today are NOT a sign of negative returns to come over the next 1-5 years, on average. While none of us can predict what will occur in the next few weeks, months or years, this type of rational optimism is the basis for remaining invested for the future.

We believe in broadly diversified portfolios, investing in much more than just the S & P 500, which represents only large, US based companies. However, we feel this data should give you confidence to remain invested for the long-term, with a stock allocation that is appropriate for your personal circumstances and time frame.

While some asset classes are at high levels, other asset classes may not be at highs or have valuations which are significantly below the valuations of US large stocks. This is where our discipline and planning can benefit you.

When you begin as a client with us, we develop a target asset allocation plan, based on your personal goals and time horizon, say 65% stocks and 35% fixed income. As stocks have increased, your stock allocation may have grown from 65% to near 70%. As this occurs, we are disciplined. We would review your account and consider selling some asset classes of stocks to bring your stock allocation back to 65%.

This is called rebalancing. It is the discipline to sell when stocks increase and buy when they decline. We review this on an overall basis, on a US and International level, as well as at each asset class level. We balance the tax ramifications of selling versus the increased risk of allowing your stock allocation to grow way higher than the risk target level we planned with you.

As stocks have recovered since March 2020 and are now significantly higher, in general, we are actively reviewing client accounts that need to be rebalanced. This is the discipline and one of the values we provide to you. We will take profits and keep your stock allocation in line with your asset allocation target.

In addition to our rebalancing discipline, we want to remind you about expected volatility that is normal with investing in stocks.

You should expect that in most year’s there will be a decline of around 10% in stock values, from a peak. This does not mean that the full year will be negative, it just means that at some time during most years there are declines of around 10% and then recoveries. This is the normal volatility we must endure to reap the longer-terms rewards of investing in stocks.

In other periods, usually every 3-5 years, there are major stock market declines of more than 30%. These may be fast or take a few years to go down and many years to recover. These are normal and should also be expected.

A few mornings ago, the CNBC screen read something like: Analyst: brace for 10-20% decline. I thought to myself, investors in stocks should always be prepared for that type of decline. It is normal. We just don’t know when it will occur. Remember, declines are temporary on the long-term upward trend of stocks. 

If you can handle the volatility, the positive news is that you don’t need to be able to time markets to have a good investment experience. Over time, capital markets have rewarded investors who have taken a long-term perspective and remain disciplined in the face of short-term noise.

By focusing on the things you can control (like having an appropriate asset allocation, being diversified and managing expenses, turnover and taxes), you can be better positioned to make the most of what global stock markets have to offer.

Talk to us.  We want to listen.  We want to assist you, your family members and friends.  

*Exhibit 1 Notes:

In US dollars.  Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  New market highs are defined as months ending with the market above all previous levels for the sample period.  Annualized compound returns are computed for the relevant time periods subsequent to new market highs and averaged across all new market high observations.  There were 1,115 observation months in the sample.  January 1990–Present: S&P 500 Total Returns Index. S&P data © 2019 S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a division of S&P Global. All rights reserved. January 1926–December 1989; S&P 500 Total Return Index, Stocks, Bonds, Bills and Inflation Yearbook™, Ibbotson Associates, Chicago. For illustrative purposes only.  Index is not available for direct investment; therefore, its performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the managment of an actual portfolio.  There is always a risk that an investor may lose money.

Source:
“Timing Isn’t Everything”, Dimensional Funds, July 1, 2019
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