“This time is different.” Beware those four little words. They are perhaps the most dangerous words an investor can believe in. If you believe “this time is different,” you are mentally positioning yourself to exit the stock market and make impulsive, short-sighted decisions with your money. This is the belief that has made too many investors miss out on the best market days and scramble to catch up with Wall Street recoveries.
Stock market investing is a long-term proposition – which is true for most forms of investing. Any form of long-range investing demands a certain temperament. You must be patient, you must be dedicated to realizing your objectives, and you can’t let short-term headlines deter you from your long-term quest.
If stocks correct or the bulls run away, keep some perspective and remember how things have played out through some of the roughest stretches in recent market history.
In 2008, many people believed the market would never recover. The Dow dropped 33.84% that year, the third-worst year in its history. That fall, it lost 500 points or more on seven different trading days. Some prominent talking heads and financial prognosticators saw the sky falling: they urged investors to pull every dollar out of stocks, and some said the only sensible move was to put all your money in gold. It wasn’t unusual to visit your favorite financial website and see a “Dow 3,000!” pay-per-click doomsday ad in the margin.
The message being shouted was: “This time is different.” Forget a lost decade, it would be a lost generation – it would take the Dow 10 or maybe 20 years to get back to where it was again, the naysayers warned. Instead it took less than six: the index closed at 14,253.77 on March 5, 2013 to top the 2007 peak and went north from there. The bear market everyone thought was “the end” for Wall Street lasted but 17 months.
Where is the Dow today compared to fall 2008? Where are the S&P 500, the Nasdaq, the Russell 2000 compared to back then? And how has gold fared in the last few years? While the Federal Reserve has played a significant role in this long bull run, record corporate profits have played a major role as well.
The stock market has seen remarkable ascents through the years. From 1982-87, the S&P 500 gained more than 300%. The 1990s brought a 9½-year stretch in which the S&P rose more than 500%.
A recovery from a Wall Street downturn usually doesn’t take that long. The bear market of 1987 – the one that came with Black Monday, the worst trading day in modern Wall Street history – was over in three months. The bursting of the dot-com bubble set off another bear market in 2000 that lasted a comparatively long 30 months – definitely endurable for an investor focused on long-term goals.
What happens when investors believe those four little words? They panic. They sell. If they are mostly or wholly out of equities when the bulls come storming back, they run the risk of missing the best market days.
We’re looking at a turbulent stock market right now. This is the time for patience. Withdrawing money from a retirement savings account (and the investment funds within it) might feel rational in the short term, but it can be hazardous for the long term – especially since many Americans haven’t saved enough for retirement to start with. A recession is a few quarters long, not the length of your retirement; a bear market may right itself faster than presumed, and you want to be invested in equities when it happens. If you have questions about your money when jitters hit the market, turn to a Certified Financial Planner™ you count on as a resource.
Z. Stan Smith, CFP, is a financial planner with the NorthSide Group 401 S. Main Mount Airy. He can be reached at 336-783-9100. For more information, visit www.northsidegroup.com.