China’s economy, the stock market and politics

(worried about investing?)

So far this year, checking your investment account balances could lead to an upset stomach, or worse. You are better off watching the historically unusual 2016 presidential campaigns. That way, you have enough to distract you from making a bad investment decision … even if Donald Trump or others upset your stomach.

What would a bad decision be? Here are several worries you may have, stated as “oh no,” along with a description of the potential bad investment decision:

“Oh no, stocks are too risky, I’m moving my money over bonds instead” – a.k.a., changing your portfolio allocation

If you (and your advisors) constructed a good long-term portfolio, then stick to the allocation in your portfolio. At present, the return on most bonds is less than the rate of inflation, after income taxes. The return on money markets is even less. So, unless you have amassed huge sums, you need the stock market returns to reach your financial goals.

That means you have to stay in stocks, and ride out the current downturn.

“But does that work?”

Let’s take the last big market dive of 2008 as an example. Measuring stock performance from 2008 through 2012, “the S&P 500 generated a cumulative return of 8.6 percent.”   See Went to Cash? Here’s the next Big Mistake You’ll Make.

Have you seen any bonds paying 8.6%?


I didn’t think so.

True, there are alternate investments, such as hedge funds, precious metals, commodities and raw materials, which could perform better than bonds. However, each has different risks and expenses, and some of these have high barriers to entry. If any of these investments do belong in your portfolio, they are there to balance your other investments, which must still include stocks.

“Oh no, investing is too risky, I’m putting my savings in cash for now” – a.k.a., attempting to time the market

Pulling out of the market when it goes down and then putting all that cash back in just before it goes back up sounds great. However, the problem with market timing is no one can do it. Looking at 2008 through 2012, “If an investor missed the 36 percent drop in the S&P 500 in 2008 — or even worse, bailed on the markets mid-carnage — they probably also missed the 26 percent gain in the S&P 500 in 2009, and the next three positive years for the index that followed. See Went to Cash? Here’s the next Big Mistake You’ll Make.

So, you are thinking that 2008 to 2012 is an aberration.

“Yes, I still want to move to cash.”

 Then consider 1970 to 2016, where, if you missed just the best 25 days out of 11,620 trading days, “your returns would have gone from 1,910% to 371%, or [from] 6.7% a year to 3.4%. To give you an idea of how lousy that is, 1-month U.S. T-bills returned 4.9% over the same period.” See How missing out on 25 days in the stock market over 45 years costs you dearly.

The challenge of timing the market is capturing the best days. However, Nobel laureate William Sharpe “found that market timers must be right an incredible 82% of the time just to match the returns realized by buy-and-hold investors.” See Why you should stay in the stock market.

Are you that lucky?


“Oh no, China is a total mess, this time is different, I’m am getting out of stocks forever” – a.k.a., attempting predict the future

True, the slowing of the Chinese economy is causing economic problems worldwide. But, in terms of the impact on stock markets worldwide, that is not dramatically different from the 1987 crash, only then it was Japan.

“Yes, but my friends are selling stocks …”

Did you know that the individual investor is a contrary indicator for the stock market?

“What does that mean?”

Historically, when individual investors are selling, that is a market low, a good time to invest. Similarly, when individual investors are putting everything into the stock market, that is a market peak and a time to sell the over-priced stocks.

By the time you realize that you are mistaken, you will have missed much needed performance. For emphasis, consider this:

From 1990 to 2005 a $10,000 investment would have grown to $51,354 had you just sat tight from beginning to end. However, if you had missed the best 10 days in that 15-year period, your returns would have dwindled to $31,994; if you had missed the best 30 days, you’d be looking at a mere $15,730. Why you should stay in the stock market.

Oh no, investing is too risky, I put my savings in cash” a.k.a., thinking short-term, another argument for going to cash

he stock market has to be risky, otherwise there would be no reward for investing.

“But I like cash!”

Cash is not volatile, but it is still “risky” – the return on cash – the interest earned – is less than the rate of inflation. Over time, investing only in cash puts you far behind, while long-term investing reduces the risks of stocks. The key is, you have to withstand the downturns to gain from the upturns:

A study by SEI Investments reviewed all the bear markets since World War II. According to the study, reported in The Wall Street Journal, stocks rose an average of 32.5% in the 12 months following the bear-market bottom. Yet, if you missed the bottom by just a week, that return fell to 24.3%. Waiting three months after the market turned cut your gain to less than 15%. Why you should stay in the stock market.

“Oh no, I need money to buy a house” – a.k.a., having the wrong investment strategy

What was your short-term investment doing in the market in the first place?

“I need my money to double so I can buy my dream house!”

Sorry, if you need that much then your dream is wrong.

For the stock market, anything less than 5 years is “short term.” If you have money set aside for a vacation, new car or other major purchase, like a house, those funds need to be invested more conservatively, taking less risk. Otherwise, while you could double your money in a couple of years, you could also end up with much less.

“Oh yes!” a.k.a., the conclusion, an important message – don’t forget it:

After watching investors for several decades, I know this to be true: you must create a good investment strategy and stick to it for it to work.

Even if do not have an optimum strategy, your investments will perform far better than someone who keeps altering their strategy.

“But the fund I have didn’t do as well as another fund last year, so I am selling ….”

Chasing after the last year’s star mutual fund usually works out poorly. You sell your current fund, paying fees and taxes, to buy the star fund, only to watch its performance return to the mean. Disappointed, you then sell the new star fund to chase another star performer, only repeat the same mistake with fees and taxes. After you repeat this a few times, you could end up with negative returns while someone who simply a bought and held a mediocre fund will have substantial gains.

If your investment strategy is better than mediocre, and it includes stocks, stick with it!

“Okay, I will.”

Good, the future you, sitting on a beach sipping drinks with paper umbrellas, will be so glad you did!

Market Update 2011: Globalization, Policy and Economic Growth for your Investment Planning

I was invited to attend this presentation by Merrill Lynch mid-May.

First – The panels
Frist discussion had as penal memebers Paul Romer (Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research), Kate Moore (Merrill Lynch Global Research), and Bennett Goodman (The Blackstone Group co-founder), as moderated by Ron Insana (CNBC). The second discussion had as penal memebers Ron with Kevin Kajiwara (Director of Global Markets, Eurasia Group).

Second – Messages
Here is what I want to pass along from those panels:

1. China is a key to any planning. The 9% per year GDP growth may not last forever, but it will continue and slowly ramp down. India is also important. Any investment decision has to factor in the impact China (and India) could have on that company, that market or even the politics and government surrounding that investment. China will rival the US in vying for resources as well as politically
2. Resources – materials for all goods will also be a key factor. Investing in materials makes sense, as so many countries have improving standards of living, requiring more for consumer goods as well as infrastructure. This purchase and use of materials will impact global investing, so you will want proper exposure.
3. Inflation – the panel members expect low inflation for some time. We bounce between low inflation and deflation as themes, but the consensus seems to be that inflation will remain low for now.
4. Euro – Greece and its debt is clearly a big problem for Europe now, not because the total amount is a big number but how because however it is handled could lead to a contagion for the next countries that teeter on the edge of default. Also, there are political issues, such as the German populace not wanting their hard earned resources supporting a country with subsidized early retirement and now potential to grow their way out of their debts. These are political issues that could impact investment strategies.
5. Middle East/North Africa (MENA) – the resources in this area are not so much the issue. For example, Saudi Arabia alone could replace the exports of petro resources from Libya. Nonetheless, again, the political outcomes could impact investing.
6. Opportunities – Brazil and Russia – your investments should include emerging markets. Within that sector, you will want exposure to companies within these countries

The panel was asked to detail what could derail any of this thinking:

a. Inflation – if it hits higher double digits instead of staying low.
b. Debt markets – if the problems like the debt of Greece are not remedied without substantial fallout, as noted in 4 above
c. Inability of key government bodies to make decisions and act – then the predictions get mired in political issues, and capital markets no longer move as they need to

Some clients to whom I sent my summary felt that Russia was too risky, so that you really had to rely on your investment advisor. Others felt that new opportunities would come in the CIVETS (C = Colombia, I = Indonesia, V = Vietnam, E = Egypt, T = Turkey, and S = South Africa). The idea is that these contries are all high-potential, medium size and have strong growth curves

What do you think? Let me know … and tell me if you have questions or concerns.

(Please also relate this to your thoughts on our investment post, Investing: Faults of the Individual Investor to Avoid (Reasons for Impartial Advice)

Update: investing, Japan and long-term asset allocations … and donating to relief efforts

The press is full of commentary on the meltdown, cooling system repairs, cobbling together power supply lines, the dearth of inventory as certain plants…

But few comment on the long-term view, other than perhaps how long the radiation may be in the ground, the water or plants…

That is why I wanted to share a portion of the interviews of managers by MorningStar:
“A large group of successful fund managers says the sharp decline in Japanese equities over the past week is overdone. by Morningstar Analysts 03-21-11
“The MSCI Japan Index has declined 11.7% this month through March 16. Meanwhile the S&P 500 is down 5.2% and the MSCI EAFE is down 8.5% over the same period.
“Ben Inker, of GMO-run Wells Fargo Advantage Asset Allocation EAAFX, wrote in a note to clients this morning that corporate Japan can bounce back.
“ ‘Given the long duration nature of equities, where the bulk of value comes from the present value of dividends that will be paid 10 or more years in the future, we believe this event is unlikely to have material impact on the long-term fair value of corporate Japan,’ Inker wrote.”
From the excerpt, you can see why holding on and staying the course is again the best advice. In fact, many US stocks are already resurging, as are stock in other countries.
In fact, some managers are buying Japanese stocks because the shares are “oversold”

As I said, there are opportunities in volatility!

On the human side, there are ways to donate to relief efforts, such as: Global Giving

If you have other ideas on donations or questions on any of this, let me know.

Good luck!


Financial responses to unfolding global events, first the Middle East and then Japan

Our hearts go out to the families who lost loved ones in the earthquake, Tsunami and nuclear reactor catastrophe of Japan and will hope for the best for those fighting with their lives to contain the meltdown.

The globe was hit first with the turbulence in the Middle East, affecting petroleum availability and delivery, driving up gas prices at the pumps while hitting bond values so that mortgage rates fell down.

In the last week, the earthquake, Tsunami and nuclear reactor catastrophes have affected Japan at humanitarian, financial and political levels not seen in decades

These impacts have led to drops in our stock markets and others around the world. Japan supplies about 9% of G.D.P., so that is no surprise. As with any dramatic change, there are always opportunities.

So how do you react? What do you do?

The New York Times compared the nuclear meltdowns to the recent financial meltdown, only not many lives were lost from bad mortgages, economic downturn, house foreclosures and layoffs.

The comparison provides a bit of help. Therefore, other than any action you may take for relief efforts, the financial outlook is somewhat the same as a couple of years ago, recast this way:

 countries struggling to recover, including the US, will experience supply shortages such as the GM plant just shut down awaiting parts from Japan,
 this will frustrate those recoveries in the short-term while alternatives are found and Japan recovers,
 as with the oil availability, the Japanese production short fall should not have a long term impact, either from Japan rebuilding or other nations taking up new supply roles,
 if bonds are a measure, the confidence in the Japanese government has not altered dramatically (bond yields changed some, falling from .57% to .51%)
 Japan will bolster its own economy from government financing of repairs and possibly stepping in where earthquake insurance did not cover or was never purchased,
 Japan will have to rebuild its confidence as well as it sources of energy
 there may be investments to be made in Japan – so it is better to shift the investments that any wholesale sell-off

Summarizing, these events certainly will have financial impacts now, as well as human and emotional, but none of them are cause for selling stocks to buy gold or to go all to cash – just as with the fall of 2008, staying invested paid off (those who sold for cash never got back in time to recover their losses).

In fact, none of the impacts is cause for selling Japanese stocks to buy other international stocks – at least not in general. There will be moves to be made among the specific stocks you hold throughout the globe, but as with the financial meltdown, sticking to your investment strategy, and holding on to your asset allocation, during the nuclear meltdown will be the best course!Let me know your concerns and comments …. It is clearly not a happy time for many

Take care and good luck,