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How To Benefit From Cyclical Investment Markets

The Stock Market Returns are Volatile

This article was originally written in 2015. Snippets of the article show how markets can change over time.

If you’ve only been investing for a few years, you might think that markets only go up. And if they fall, they rebound very quickly. That short-term view, hides the long term ups and downs of investment markets.

This economic and stock market recap was written in 2015

In August of 2015, a short term interest rate of 1% is highly coveted and difficult to find. From 2005 to 2015 the annualized return from the S&P 500 stock market index was 7.60%. This was 2% below the historical returns of the 1928-2014 time period. In spite of the juicy market returns of the past 3 years, you may wonder, where are the average stock market returns of 9%?

During the first decade of the millennium, the stock market lost value. The market reacted to the the frothy technology stock bubble of the late 1990’s by crashing for a few years and then reaching new highs in 2007, only to crash again from another mania, the easy money of the housing boom. The mortgage debt crisis followed and crashed the market again.

After the 2007 peak, stocks declined and ended the decade lower than they began.

SPY Returns 2000 – 2009

Global events that impacted stock market prices during the first ten years of the century:

  • Recession
  • Mortgage Meltdown 
  • Sub Prime Lending Crisis
  • European Debt Crisis
  • The 9 September 11, 2001 terror attacks
  • Wars in the middle east
  • Growth of China as a major world competitor

There are always outside forces that play on our economy and investment returns. These forces are called systematic or market risks. These risks are unavoidable and plague nearly all market participants. No matter how diversified your portfolio is, you cannot avoid systematic risk.

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How to Benefit from Cyclical Investment Markets?

Just 6 years later, the S&P 500 returns look quite different. On September 24, 2021, SPY the SPDR S&P 500 Investment Trust ETF is valued at $443.91. Compare that with the $148.25 value on January 2000. But, as the chart below reflects, the quadrupling of the S&P 500 ETF wasn’t a smooth ride. In fact, the most extreme growth occurred after 2015.

SPY Returns from January 2000 – September 2021

Since 1928, the stock market earned an average annual return of approximately 9% to 10% . You might assume that rates went smoothly upward. Actually, that average hides a bumpy road. Returns on stocks over that time period ranged from annual double digit losses to annual double digit gains. Growth in investing is fraught with ups and downs – similar to life itself.

Is There a Pattern to Economic Growth and What it Means for You?

Economic growth typically follows a path that looks a bit like a roller coaster, with gradual increases, leading to a high point of strong economic growth, followed by slowing GDP and usually a recession. This type of growth is certain, where the mystery comes in is the “when”. Cyclical growth is certain; but when the trend changes is unknown. 

The cyclical pattern means several things to investors.

  • Investing is a long term endeavor.
  • Don’t even think about investing any money you will need within the next 5 years in the stock markets. 
  • Stock market returns are too volatile for short term investing.
  • Knowledge of market behavior will help you stay the course during market fluctuations.

Once you understand that the ups and downs in the economy and investment returns are normal occurrences, you can expect periodic market declines. In fact, expect that every few years, there will be a year with negative stock and/or bond returns.

Accept the market cycles and you can benefit from cyclical investment markets.

What Factors Could Impact Stock Prices?

In 2021, we are uncharted waters. Here are current economic and political factors that could impact future stock prices:

  • Covid 19 Pandemic – Variants and regulations continue.
  • Supply Chain Constraints – Commerce is experiencing shortages and the inability to obtain needed consumer goods.
  • Increasing inflation – As inflation increases, so do consumer prices.
  • Higher interest rates – Can lead to slowing economic growth.
  • China’s economic issues – Including exploding debt levels.
  • Overvalued stock prices – Stock valuations (as measured by the Shiller PE) are double historic levels.

How to Profit From Cyclical Investment Markets

The future is unknowable and it’s important to be prepared for potential market outcomes. Although there are technical traders that jump in and out of markets. Many studies have shown it’s very difficult to consistently predict stock market movements.

Here is a simple plan to stay the course.

1. Choose an asset allocation you can live with.

2. Select diversified low cost index funds from a range of asset classes for your investment portfolio.

3. Contribute regularly to your investment account during market ups and downs. In fact, contributing assets in a declining market yields the greatest rewards.

4. After a financial market decline, don’t sell – consider buying more. As long as global businesses continue to grow, so will your investment dollars.

5. Be patient. Despite the promises of fast profits, in the long run, the patient investor typically wins.

4. Regular investing over time yields great rewards. Invest $4,000 per year from ages 25 to 65 in a diversified investment portfolio with 7.6% average annual return and retire with $1 million.  

5. Keep money needed for short term expenses in conservative cash and short term bond investments.

Accept the ups and downs in the market as a reality and profit.

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