As I ponder this year's events with a notch-loosened belt after a belly-busting Thanksgiving gorging, I give thanks for my many blessings this year (see my last year's Top 10). Investors in the stock market have had quite a feast in 2013 as well, while pessimistic bears have gotten cooked. Just this month, stock indexes reached all-time record highs (16,000 for the Dow Jones Industrial average and 1,800 for the S&P 500). Even the tech-heavy NASDAQ index surpassed 4,000 - a level not seen since 1999. How does this translate in percentage terms? Here's what the stellar 2013 numbers looks like so far:
- Dow Jones: +22.8%
- S&P 500: +26.6%
- NASDAQ: +34.5%
These results demolish the near 0.0% returns earned on the sidelines, sitting on cash. And worth noting, these gains become even more impressive once you add dividends to the mix. To put these numbers into better perspective, it would take you more than a few decades of your lifetime to achieve this year's stock gains, if your cash was invested at today's CD and savings account rates.
For the bears, the indigestion has become even more unbearable if you consider the 2013 bloodbath in gold. The endless mantra of unsustainable QE (Quantitative Easing) hasn't played out quite as the cynics planned this year (see also QE - Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread):
- CBOE Gold Index (GOX): -51.5%
- SPDR Gold Shares (GLD): -25.5%
Bonds have been challenging too. Investors and Nervous Nellies have not been able to hide in longer-term Treasury bonds or broader bond indexes without some pain during 2013:
As I've preached in the past, bonds have a place in most portfolios for income and diversification purposes, and many of my clients own them in their portfolios. But not all bonds are created equally. At Sidoxia we've smoothed out interest rate volatility and even recorded some gains by investing in specific classes of bonds such as short duration, floating rate, and convertible securities.
Why the Turkey High?
Since I invest professionally, inevitably the dinner table conversation switches from stuffing to stock market, or from pumpkin pie to politics. More often than not, the discussion reflects a tone such as, "This market is crazy! We're due for a crash aren't we?"
Without coming off as Pollyannaish, or offending anyone, I am quick to acknowledge I too am unhappy with Obamacare (my health insurance coverage was recently dropped due to the Affordable Care Act) and recognize that most politicians are bottom-feeders. Objectively, an argument can also be made by the doubters that a bubble is forming in a sub-segment of the market (see also Confusing Stock Bubbles). While the Yelps (YELP), Twitters (TWTR), and Teslas (TSLA) of the world may be dramatically inflated in price, there are plenty of attractively and reasonably priced areas of the market to opportunistically exploit.
Unfortunately, many people fail to recognize there are other factors besides politics and fad stocks that drive financial markets higher or lower. As the chart below shows, the stock market has gone up and down regardless of party politics.
Besides politics, there is an infinite number of other factors affecting financial markets. While Obamacare, Iran, Syria, 2014 elections, Federal Reserve QE tapering, etc., may account for many of the concerns du jour, there are other important factors driving stock prices higher.
Here are but a few:
- Record corporate profits
- Near record-low interest rates
- Improving fiscal deficit / debt situation relative to our economy
- Improving housing and jobs picture
- Reasonable stock valuations
- Low inflation / declining oil prices
The stock market feast has been exceptional, but even I acknowledge the pace of this year's advance is not sustainable. Like an overloading of pie or an unnecessary, extra drumstick, we're bound to experience another -10% correction, just like a common case of heartburn. For long-term investors however, fear of a temporary upset stomach is no reason to leave the investing dining table. Focusing only on the negatives and ignoring the positives may result in your investment portfolio getting cooked… just like the poor Thanksgiving turkey.