Over the past decade, I was continually asked by prospective clients at the beginning of every year what they should do with the cash they have been sitting on as they have been too afraid to get back into the market after the financial crisis. Year after year rolled by with sound returns missed by these individuals who sat on large cash positions. Their usual response was that they were "waiting for the right time to invest and for a 10% or 20% market sell-off to do so". Unfortunately for them, every time a ~ 10% market correction occurred they were still too afraid to get into the market as whatever event was currently occurring kept them from investing. Now that the stock market has sold off more than 20%, one would think investors would be clamoring to finally enter again. However, we know that isn't the case as more investors are currently selling than buying and individuals are again too afraid to purchase equities.
Volatility has been on the rise in financial markets this year, and December seems to be unfolding as potentially the worst month of 2018 for stock market volatility. What’s unusual this year is that just about all asset classes are down at this point, which is a reversal of what we experienced last year in terms of both volatility and the return on our investments. In light of recent market trends, I answer some of the questions clients may be considering about the markets.
When an individual’s portfolio has reached a certain numerical value (i.e. $1 million, $2.5 million, $5 million, etc.), he tends to lock-in that valuation in his mind and is unwilling for it to move lower – at times even desiring to move to cash in order to preserve the valuation. If the market or his stock declines below the level in which he has locked-in the valuation, this can lead to irrational behavior driving the investor to sell his stocks at a lower valuation while also losing the dividend income from his investment.
Though I've never used illicit drugs, I do regularly drink caffeine through my coffee habit, consume alcohol via two or three glasses of wine a year, and have ingested nicotine having smoked a handful of cigars over the past couple of decades. As a libertarian on social issues, I won't comment on whether or not marijuana or other drugs should be legalized. As a fiduciary charged with providing a sound rate of return for my clients, I don't make any moral judgements on companies in which I invest as there is too much grey involved in making a judgment as to the goodness or evil of a company's people or its goods.
We have a very few clients who always call or email when the market sells off asking what we should do and why it is happening. The honest answer of course is that the stock market is declining simply because there are more sellers than buyers when panic sets in and investors move to the exits. There doesn’t have to be one specific reason - particularly in today’s algorithmically driven market. There is a proliferation of passive ETFs and mutual funds which are driven primarily by large growth/momentum stocks (i.e. FANG – Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) which have begun to sell off from high valuations. When fear or greed overcomes the market, stock volatility is exacerbated as mathematical algorithms hit certain levels driving sell or buy signals. Thus, selling by computers begets more selling and in the reverse, buying can beget buying.