Thursday, December 08, 2011

Don't Kill The Messenger

Don’t kill the messenger!

In days of old messengers were often killed by leaders, if they brought bad news to them, after awhile the messengers would defect or leave the country rather than bring bad news that would get them killed. Can you blame them?

Since the middle of August there has not been that much good news to talk about. I know some of you have been pretty disappointed that investments have not done better. Most people just want some good news. However, my job is to tell you the truth and safe guard your investments during times like this.

November 30th the DJIA was up almost 500 points and people were disappointed that we were not completely back into our investments. Yet if you understand what caused the rally you might be happier with cash.

First, China cut its reserve ratio requirement by 50 basis points overnight, which is the most effective means it has for trying to boost bank lending. This sent the markets up a bit over 1%. This is the first time since 2008 they have done so, indicating that the recent weakness in housing and construction markets in China is bad enough that China had to do something. The part that should be worrying you is China’s economy has hit a wall despite massive amounts of bank lending and deficit spending by China equal to at least 37% of its GDP in each of the last three years.

Second, there was a coordinated global central bank action to lower swap rates for European banks borrowing dollars. The U.S. Fed, ECB (European Central Bank) and other central banks are trying to make it attractive for banks in the Euro-zone to borrow dollars directly from the ECB instead of in the private or interbank markets. This keeps interest rates low. This was good for another 2% or so move in the markets. However, this does nothing to solve the underlying credit issues that are plaguing Europe, but merely postpones the day of reckoning. Everything I see and read tells me Europe will be in a recession like we had in 2008 within 18 months.

Third, the markets were oversold and trading on light volume which makes the sustainability of this move suspect. Despite the big move the markets stopped dead in the middle of the resistance band of 1245 to 1250 on the S&P 500.

Don’t Miss the Ten Best Days in the Stock Market

We have all seen the articles “Don’t Miss the Ten Best Days in the Stock Market” which all show that missing just a small percentage of the market's best days dramatically reduces an investor’s return. This assertion has been repeated so often that it's become unquestioned. Have you read an article that disputes this belief?

If you look at the top one-day gains and losses for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), you will notice an interesting phenomenon.

1.The worst days seemed to be in close proximity to the best days

2.In the majority of cases, large percentage gainers were no more than 90
trading days away from a large percentage loser, sometimes before and sometimes

3.In 50 percent of the cases, gainers and losers were separated by no more than
12 trading days.

4.When looking at Nasdaq's the largest gainers and losers, all but two have
occurred since 2000.

These observations make it hard to believe that investment success rested upon being fully invested in order to catch the winning days. Rather, especially in the case of the Nasdaq crash of 2000, it suggests that it was more important to miss the worst bear market which brings us to the other side of the coin: All of the "Don't Miss the Ten Best" articles fail to mention what would happen to your portfolio if you missed the ten worst days. We know that it takes a 100% gain to make up for a 50% loss and Monte Carlo retirement analysis shows that low volatility portfolios often last longer than those tuned for high returns especially during your retirement years when you are drawing on your investments. So it's more important to avoid large losses than it is to pursue large gains.

What happens if rather than missing the ten best days, you miss the ten worst?

Paul Gire, CFP®, from Strategic Advisory Services decided to study this. He examined one of the most bullish periods in Dow history, from 1984 to 1998. In addition, He examined the impact from missing not just the 10 best and worst days, but also examined the 20, 30, and 40 best and worst days. What he found was simply remarkable.

1.The buy-and-hold return for this 15-year period was 17.89%, one of the most
bullish periods in the stock market’s history.

2.As expected, missing the best days lowered returns, and missing just 40 of
the best days over this 15 year period cut returns nearly in half.

3.Missing the worst days has the expected result of increasing returns
substantially, improving the return by 77% for missing the 40 worst days.

However, how realistic can it be to get in and out of your investments and be in your investments on the best days and out of your investments on the worst days, if 50% of those days are within 12 trading days of each other and all the rest are within 90 days of each other? Paul’s next discovery was really remarkable and to me the final key to my puzzle.

By missing both the best and the worst days between 1984 to 1998 you got a remarkably consistent return. Whereas missing just the best or worst had a magnified impact as the number of days increased, missing both produced a consistent return of approximately 20%, as shown by the chart at the beginning of this post.

Not only does missing both result in superior returns, imagine the benefits from lower volatility:

1.Lower mental and physical stress.

2.Less volatility on retirement income making it last much longer.

As investors learned during the 2000 to 2002 and 2008 to 2009 market meltdowns, it's one thing to stay the course when investments are booming, yet quite another when market meltdowns are rapidly eroding gains from years of careful saving and investing. The 30 months 2000 to 2002 stock market meltdown erased half of the market gains made since 1974, the previous 26 years. Then came 2008 and early 2009. Now look at what is happening in 2011.

Is it possible we are missing something when we look at the last 110 and 10 year periods? Stay tuned for next month's post!

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