By: Clark Kendall
There’s no question that we experience emotional pain and anxiety when our portfolios are losing money due to market downturns. Behavioral scientists tell us that we feel losses twice as keenly as positive returns. However, that does not tell us what we really want to know. Other than selling at the wrong time and locking in losses, how do we make these downturns less painful?
Economist Richard Thaler conducted a stock market experiment in which he asked people to select one of two investment options. The first option was more heavily weighted in stocks with higher returns and higher volatility while the other option included fewer stocks, lower returns and more stability. Half of the people were shown how that investment would have panned out eight times in the next year, while the other half were only shown the result once a year. In other words, some were looking at the stock market roller coaster eight times as often as the others.
You can probably guess the result: those who saw their results eight times a year only put 41% of their money into stocks. Those who saw the results just once a year invested 70% in stocks. The more often you look at your portfolio, in good times and bad, the more pain and anxiety you are likely to experience, and the more cautious you tend to be.
In a recent blog post, a market analyst looked at all the bear markets and bull markets going back to 1928 and found something interesting. The bull market rallies, on average, delivered 57% returns, while bear markets, on average, took away 24% of the market’s value. The bull runs lasted, on average, 474 days, while bear market drops were more intense, compressed into an average of just 232 days before the next upturn.
In other words, the significant declines were only about half as large as the market gains, but they were much faster, lasting about half as long as the slow, incremental rises that are habitual to bull runs. This was also true at the extremes. On average, gains of 40% or more actually generated an average 84.9% return, while the losses of 20% or more were down, on average, 37.2%. Those significant bull runs lasted, on average, almost two years: 713 days. The most severe downturns lasted, on average, less than a year: 359 days.
Combine these statistics, and you come to a few simple conclusions: bull markets don’t attract a lot of attention, and move more gradually than the eye-catching downturns. Bull markets, over time, generate twice the upside as bear markets do downside. The best way to avoid the mental anguish of these occasional sharp downturns is to spend less time looking at your overall returns. You miss the two steps forward, and most importantly, you also miss the more traumatic one step backward.
About Clark A. Kendall, CFA, AEP®, CFP® Clark Kendall has more than 30 years of experience in investment management and wealth management strategies. He is among a select few wealth managers worldwide who have earned the triple designations of Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®) and Accredited Estate Planner® (AEP®). He has been named one of the Washington metropolitan area’s top wealth managers by the National Association of Board Certified Advisory Practices (NABCAP) and the Washington Business Journal.
As a founder of Kendall Capital Management, Clark provides intelligent, independent financial direction to high-net-worth individuals and families in and around Montgomery County, Maryland – particularly Montgomery County’s “Middle Class Millionaires.” His financial planning analysis, strategies and approach to client service are designed with these clients in mind. As a fee-only, independent financial advisor, Clark is a fiduciary who is held to the highest standard of any professional advisor in the industry. He sits on the same side of the table as the client and utilizes his skills and talents to serve clients with these common goals and concerns.
Clark’s approach is to actively manage portfolios that meet his clients’ goals in a cost effective manner. As a fee-only, independent advisor, Clark has no allegiance or conflicts with other financial organizations for trading or product selection.