Tools for Navigating the Market Pullback

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On Stock market uncertainty?

By Lon Jefferies CFP MBA | 

Lon JefferiesOn August 24th 2015, the Dow Jones Industrial Average opened the day decreasing in value by more than 1,000 points, equating to a -6.42% decline. One of the most volatile days in memory continued, with the DOW fighting back to nearly even by mid-day, down only 98 points or about -0.60%.

Unfortunately, the bounce couldn’t be maintained through the market close with the DOW ending the day down 588 points, off about -3.6%.

How are investors to deal with this level of uncertainty?

First and foremost, remember that this is what diversification is for. It is easy to look at a major market index like the DOW or the S&P 500 and equate the performance of those assets to the performance of your portfolio. However, the first thing investors should remind themselves is that they don’t have a portfolio consisting of only large cap stocks, which is what is measured by both the DOW and S&P 500 index.

In fact, most investors don’t have a portfolio consisting of just stocks. Many investors who are nearing or enjoying retirement may have a portfolio that is closer to only 50% or 60% stocks. If an investor only has 50% of his portfolio invested in stocks, only 50% of the portfolio is invested in the asset that declined in value by -3.6% on August 24th, meaning the individual’s portfolio likely only decreased by about -1.80%. While a -1.80% decline is not pleasant, it is hardly catastrophic.

The next step is to remind ourselves that temporary sharp market declines are common. Morgan Housel, one of my favorite financial writers, noticed that the correction the market is currently experiencing is still not nearly as bad as the correction that took place in the summer of 2011 when the DOW lost 2,000 points in 14 days (a loss of about -15.5%). Mr. Housel points out that no one now remembers or cares about that short-term correction. These market pullbacks will always come and go, and the world will continue to turn.

Additionally, it is useful to acknowledge that while we tend to remember dramatic and shocking market decreases, stocks tends to be an efficient investment over time. Another one of my favorite financial journalists, Ben Carlson, pointed out in his blog that when investors think of the ‘80s the first thing that comes to mind is usually the Crash of ’87 when the Dow lost -22% in one day (Black Monday). However, U.S. stocks were up over 400% during the decade. Similarly, even though stocks are up 200% since March of 2009, many investors have spent the last five years trying to anticipate the next 10% – 20% correction. In retrospect, an investor would have clearly been better off riding the equities rollercoaster during both the good and bad times and ending with a 200% gain rather than being out of the market in an attempt to avoid a small temporary decline. Given a long enough investment time frame, this has always been true and I believe this will continue to be the case.

Finally, as I pointed out in a previous article, it is useful to recall that market corrections are actually a good thing for long-term investors. Fear among investors is what creates the equity risk premium that enables stocks to produce superior investment results when compared to investments with no risk such as CDs and money markets, which essentially experience no growth after accounting for inflation. When investors forget that equities can go both up and down in value, everyone wants to invest their money in stocks. This excess demand inflates asset purchase prices to the point that owning equities is no longer profitable. Market declines reintroduce risk to the investing public, and it is the presence of risk that makes stocks an appreciating asset. Thus, for those who don’t intend to sell their investments for 10+ years, short periods of volatility are a positive because they recreate the equity risk premium which raises rates of return over time.


Bear + A Falling Stock Chart


Logical steps

These are all logical steps for mentally dealing with market corrections. For those who need it, Josh Brown from CBNC proposes a less logical step for tricking your mind into embracing the market pullback. During scary market environments, Mr. Brown proposes that you identify a couple of stocks you’ve always felt you missed out on. Have you always wished you got in earlier on Apple, Google, Netflix, Chipotle, etc? A market correction like we are experiencing might be the perfect opportunity to become an owner of a great stock at an attractive price. Why not set a number for each of these stocks – say, if they drop in value by 20% – and if those targets are met you commit to buying some shares?

This strategy truly enables you to use lemons to make lemonade. It provides an opportunity to buy shares of companies that you have always wanted without overpaying for them. This mental trick can actually cause you to hope that the market correction continues because you are now hoping for a chance to buy. Rooting for a further correction can certainly make volatile market periods more tolerable.

As I mentioned, this mentality isn’t completely logical because the rest of your portfolio will likely need to decline in value in order to afford you the opportunity to purchase those coveted stocks. However, implementing this strategy is a bit of a mental hedge that enables you to get something good out of whichever direction the market turns. Think of promising yourself a fancy dinner if your favorite sports team loses – of course you don’t want your team to lose, but even if they do you still get something positive out of it.


I’m confident that most of my clients already know that selling in the middle of a market correction is not a good idea. Still, I acknowledge that doing nothing as the market seems to be collapsing around you can be nerve-racking – even though it has historically been an appropriate response. Hopefully these mental strategies and tricks enable you to stick to your long-term buy-and-hold investment strategy which has always proved to be profitable given a long enough time frame.


–On a side note, I had zero clients call or email expressing a desire to sell positions yesterday. This enabled everyone to participate in today’s market bounce. Smart clients rule. 


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Front Matter with Foreword by Jason Dyken MD MBA




2 Responses

  1. Here are a few simple rules to help you through the current feverish reaction; modified from Vanguard.

    Rule #1: Recognize that volatility and periodic corrections are common in equity markets.

    The key to getting through unexpected turbulence is to understand that swings in the financial market are normal—and relatively insignificant over the long haul. The best approach to protect portfolios is to diversify among a broad mix of global stocks and high-quality bonds so that you are better poised to buffer the declines in the equity market.

    Year-to-date, the S&P 500 Index is down about three percentage points and down slightly on a year-over-year basis.1 Since the bottom of the global financial crisis in 2009, the index had enjoyed the second-largest bull market in U.S. history—an extraordinary run that may help put current concerns in perspective.

    Rule #2: Tune out the noise, and remove emotion from investing.

    Seeing the same story at the top of every news site you visit, as well as seeing related portfolio fluctuations, is likely to worry you more than it should.

    If you’re a long-term investor, resist the urge to make drastic changes to your investment plans in reaction to market moves. You may find what’s driving the overreaction in markets is nothing more than speculation.

    Making shifts to your portfolio in hopes of avoiding a loss or finding a gain rarely works long-term. Investors who panicked and dumped stock holdings in 2008 and 2009, believing they could get back in when “the coast was clear,” likely suffered equity losses without the benefit of fully participating in the recovery.

    For example, Vanguard research finds that a buy-and-hold approach outperformed a performance-chasing strategy by 2.8% per year on average during the 10-year period analyzed.

    Also, try not to look at your accounts every day. It’s unnecessary and may do more harm than good. Remember that portfolio changes, aside from routine rebalancing, can result in significant capital gains. And don’t forget you need to know when to jump out of the market and then get back in—decisions few investors can and should tackle.

    Rule #3: Make volatility work for you.

    Save more, and continue to invest regularly. Boosting savings is important to your long-term financial goals. We believe market returns will be muted over the next few years; therefore, stick to your investing principles and avoid getting caught up in the market.

    If you invest regularly through payroll deduction, an automatic investment plan, or a target-date fund, you’re putting the market’s natural volatility to work for you. Continue making contributions to take advantage of dollar-cost averaging. Buying a fixed dollar amount on a regular schedule offers opportunities to buy low during market dips. Over time, regular contributions can help reduce the average price you pay for your fund shares.

    The inaction plan

    If your portfolio is broadly diversified and has the appropriate balance for your financial goals, time horizon, and risk comfort level, sticking with it is a wise move.

    Performance calculation is based on S&P 500 values (2058.90 on 12/31/14; 1970.89 on 8/21/15; 1992.37 on 8/21/14; 676.53 on 3/9/09).

    Dollar-cost averaging does not guarantee that your investments will make a profit, nor does it protect you against losses when stock or bond prices are falling. You should consider whether you would be willing to continue investing during a long downturn in the market, because dollar-cost averaging involves making continuous investments regardless of fluctuating price levels.

    • All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.
    • Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.

    Dr. David E. Marcinko MBA CMP™


  2. How Emotion Hurts Stock Returns

    As investors watched global stock markets tumble, the behavioral economist Richard Thaler PhD, who is also an occasional contributor to The New York Times, offered the following advice: “Inhale, exhale. Repeat. Then watch ESPN.”

    Wise words, even if they remain widely ignored.



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