The overall calm, positive performance of financial markets in 2014 took a hit on July 31st when stocks declined 2-3% and fixed income and alternatives lost about 1%. Markets have been about flat since then, yet talk about a stock market correction of 10% or more has escalated.
There’s lots of reasons why some believe a correction could happen:
- Valuations of stocks are high. The current P/E ratio of the S&P 500 is 15.7- higher than the 10-year average of 14.1
- Improving U.S. economic conditions have brought concerns about the Fed raising rates quicker than many investors anticipated
- Europe’s prolonged economic slump is making deflation a concern
- Economic sanctions against Russia could negatively impact consumer demand in many countries
- Geopolitical unrest in Iraq, Gaza, Syria, Ukraine, etc. could explode
Yet, at the same time, there are many reasons why some believe the bull market should continue:
- The U.S. economy is the best in years: new jobs are up, unemployment is at 6.1%, job openings are at a seven-year high, housing is up again after a slow start in 2014, car sales are at post-crisis high, and consumer sentiment is up
- There has been a huge recovery in American corporate revenue and profits since the 2008-2009 crisis. Yes, lower borrowing costs helped. Second quarter earnings, with nearly 90% of S&P 500 companies having reported, are on track to grow 8.4% this year
- For a variety of reasons, companies are continuing to buy back large quantities of stock
- Market peaks have occurred historically when P/E ratios are 25 times earnings or more
- Geopolitical worries have boosted the allure of “safe” bonds. With U.S. 10-yr bonds at 2.4% and German 10-yr bonds at 1%, stocks continue to be very attractive
Overall, it has been suggested that we are in a “Goldilocks” economy. One that is “not too hot, not too cold.” Stimulative policies, created by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and now Janet Yellen have created a great environment for stock growth. However, when investors get nervous about the Fed’s ability to keep the “temperature just right” we have seen big swings. May and June 2013 saw 5-6% drops when the Fed first started talking about “tapering” the QE program. Now, with the economy doing better and inflation nearing 2% targets, investors are concerned that the Fed will start to raise interest rates and change our “just right” conditions. That’s a huge challenge for the Fed. A perceived major misstep or miscommunication by the Fed could again shake the markets.
Yes, at some point we will have a correction in the stock market. History tells us they come along regularly (27 corrections of 10% or more since 1945). Yet, a priori, the reasons were enigmatic. Hence, trying to time the start and finish of such events is useless.
We have a saying at DWM: “There are many variables you cannot control. Long-term success, on the other hand, relies on managing the variables you can control, including reviewing your risk profile and asset allocation, reducing expenses, diversifying portfolios, minimizing taxes, and staying invested.”