Remember way back when you were in school? Maybe middle school or high school? You'd walk into one of your classes and the teacher would announce "POP QUIZ TIME!"
I always imagine these words were uttered in sheer delight. Or in a sadistic manner. Or sometimes with an evil villain laugh following the phrase. Like, "POP QUIZ TIME!! Mwah-hah-hah-haaaaaaaa!!!"
And then, bum-bum-BUMMMM. A collective groan from the class.
Remember those days?
In our financial lives, we just went through one of those days. Only it was like 2 or 3 months long.
Up until the last few months of 2018, investors haven't really had much to fear over the past 10 years or so - other than the financial media headlines. The S&P 500 has performed exceptionally well - finishing positive eight times, only 2 years negative. In fact, the S&P 500* is UP 321%(!!!) since the bottom in March 2009. That's a pretty stout increase and it's done so with relatively few wild swings in the markets (aka volatility).
We've had a few tremors along the way: Euro Debt Crisis (2011), Global Stock Selloff (2014), and Brexit (2016) to name a few. But these were just tremors, intensely covered in the media and short lived in the market.
Starting around October of 2018, I imagine things started to feel a little different for some investors. We saw some very wild swings in the markets. Volatility.
And when December rolled around the swings were mostly misses. Feels like every other day the markets were losing, losing, losing. The "bears" were coming out of hibernation, meaning the financial talking heads were predicting a bear market (a stock market decline of 20% or more).
For my clients reading this - and for those of you reading that aren't clients (yet) - this was likely your first "real" pop quiz as an investor.
If you started investing in the mid 2000's or later, you probably had little to no money in the markets when it went berzerk in 2008/2009. So it probably didn't impact or scar you. And if it did, it was so long ago I imagine you've mostly forgotten what it felt like. I think even those that did have money in the markets in 2008/2009 have mostly forgotten what that felt like. It was TEN years ago. Hard to believe, huh?
December 2018 was likely the first significant market drop (S&P 500 = -9% in December) you've had to deal with. And with that came your first pop quiz:
how did it make you feel?
what, if any, actions did you take?
how did you handle it?
Between the financial media, relatives, co-workers and the like, I'm sure there was plenty of bad advice going around. Here are a few I imagine you might have heard:
"Buy dividend stocks"
"Move to bonds"
"Move to cash" (my favorite, least favorite of all)
Hopefully, you ignored all of it. You ignored the talking heads, the articles, the unsolicited advice, the bad advice, and the advice that has no understanding of your investment and financial plan.
Hopefully you know and remember markets go up, and markets go down. Hopefully you know that no one knows exactly when the downs will happen. And hopefully you remember that, over long periods of time, the markets will go up much more often than they will go down.
Hopefully you rode this wave, just like you've ridden all the other waves over the past 10 years (or more).
If you didn't, I guess that's okay. It just means you missed out on a couple of very handsome months for the S&P 500 (up over 11% YTD as of today).
But for those of you that hung tight, guess what? You were rewarded for staying in the market, for staying disciplined, and for sticking to your investment plan.
And you passed your pop quiz with flying colors.