Friday, 09 February 2018 22:20

What to think of and do with the stock market plunge

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen nearly 1,000 points since Wednesday, but that shouldn't scare you from investing. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has fallen nearly 1,000 points since Wednesday, but that shouldn't scare you from investing. Anthony Varriano screenshot

The stock market is not the economy. It is not indicative of the economy’s health. The stock market is a human collective reacting emotionally to news and numbers. It is merely a means to measure the perceived value of publicly-owned companies based on human emotion and expectations. Those perceived values can be overvalued, undervalued or properly valued, and with the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropping nearly 1,000 points the last three days, it seems stocks were overvalued.

Why did stocks fall?

Stocks were overvalued due to a myriad of factors. According to the “Shiller PE Ratio,” stocks were more expensive than they were on “Black Tuesday” in 1929, but less expensive than they were at the height of the dot.com bubble. So historically speaking, stocks were dangerously expensive.

Stocks are overvalued when things are going right. A lack of volatility over the past few years has culminated in a perfect storm that’s seen the VIX -- the stock market’s most popular measure of stock volatility -- rise more than 300 percent in a month.

“One big change affecting the market is interest rates, which have climbed sharply in 2018 to multiyear highs in the U.S. and around the world as economies have picked up steam,” Ed Carson writes for Investor’s Business Daily. Higher interest rates mean higher borrowing costs, which result in people consuming less. Much of the stock market’s recent losses are tied to an expectation that consumers will be spending less in 2018.

What to expect from the stock market in 2018

Don’t expect the stock market to continue providing 2017 rates of return, and with interest rates likely to increase, bonds aren’t necessarily the best place to put your money, but not the worst either.

There is good news for this newly volatile stock market. Midterm elections are more often good for the stock market than bad. “[T]he seasonality associated with midterms has brought positive returns for the stock market a lot more than it has brought losses,” according to Dominic Chu of CNBC. “On average, the S&P 500's return between Oct. 31 of the midterm year and Oct. 31 of the following year has been an eye-popping 17.5 percent.” So it’s not time to pull your money out of the stock market; it’s time to invest in the stock market.

What’s the best approach for investing in 2018?

The best approach for investing in 2018 is the same approach for investing in 2017 and any other year: invest and forget. You’re not going to get rich buying Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), but you will realize a better return than you would from putting your money in a savings account or buying a Certificate of Deposit (CD).

Attempting to time the market is also a mistake, as is reacting to the market like stock traders did this week. Pulling your money out of the stock market at the first sign of adversity is the same emotional response that drove the stock market down in the first place. Traders selling shares in fear worsened the market’s decline because they had come some accustomed to the market’s lack of volatility. In fact, regular contributions to the stock market help limit volatility. So expect volatility and accept it. Just keep feeding the beast and try to forget that it’s there.


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