Don’t sell now. I know you are watching your balances tumble and news it could be worse in the near future. Despite the urge to do, don’t. Doing nothing is hard when you are both disgusted by the stock market and like all humans you have a “bias to action" – in face of discomfort humans tend to act. Know now the only action to be taken is reflection. If you want to do something, assess your debt and check your monthly income and spending. Make sure you have a budget for holiday shopping. Set a date in the future – I like mid-February after the dust has cleared for the holidays – to assess your investment goals.
From 1970 to 2016 there were 11,620 trading days. If you missed the 25 best days your return would go from 6.7% to 3.4%. In other words a $100 invested in 1970 and taken out of the stock market for just 25 selected days over 46 years that $100 would be worth less than $500 today. If you left that $100 alone you’d have approximately $2,000.
I repeat: if you took your money out of the stock market for just 25 selected days out of 11,620 days you would have lost 75%.
Here is another way to understand the gains of staying in. From 1978 to 2018, 40 years, there were only six negative years. If you invested $1000 in 1978 you would have had $96,000 at the end of September 2018 for an annual return of 11.82%.
The above math shows the importance of the long-term in the stock market but it does not mean I dare not give a normal person advice to own 100% stocks 100% of the time. Also, 60 years olds should not have all their wealth in the stock market. I am saying staying in, especially in bad times, is better than timing.
What is happening? My colleague Dr. Anthony Webb points out there are only two reasons stock prices decline: 1) the prospects for profits have dimmed, or 2) future profits are being discounted because of a mood or panic. Trouble is we will only know whether fundamentals have changed after a year or two. But probably yesterday and today’s volatility were based on expectations, it is not likely that something fundamental has happened in 24 hours.
It is a shame that this country depends so much on individual financialized retirement accounts which are vulnerable to panics. The current system does not provide most workers with professionally-run investment portfolios and it requires workers to do what they aren’t equipped to do – convert sums to lifelong income and to adopt a professional investment discipline. Worse, is that workers, knowing they need help turn to conflicted investment professionals who do not have their best interest at core. We need a simple, professionally managed retirement account for everyone.
The system needs help and so do you but this is not the day to act.