Is This An Epic Bear Market Breach Or Flash In The Pan?

by: Joseph L. Shaefer


The answer to this question is key to our upcoming success or failure.

The first decision we need to make in portfolio strategy is: be mostly in the market or mostly out.

Either way, there are always ways to play -- like those below.

I've been too busy to post anything since last month but I want to at least briefly address the question above.

I don't tend to over-react to the market action of any single week or so. Over the years, I've seen many upswings follow panics and many plunges be replaced by steady gains. I was lucky enough to call the current cyclical bull market that began in March of 2009 for what it was 3 days before the actual low (and was roundly heckled by those too deeply immersed in the day-to-day heartbreak from October 2007 to March 2009. See article here.)

We must remember that no market goes straight up or straight down. Within this current up-cycle, it is easy to forget that the S&P 500 had a drop of 16% from April 23 till July 2, 2010 that had the permabears claiming we were headed for Doomsday once again.

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

- From The Wasteland

Click to enlarge

Or that from April 29, 2011 until October 3, 2011, the S&P fell 19.2%. Was T.S. Eliot right? Is April really the cruelest month?

But April isn't alone. From May 2 to August 25, 2015 the S&P fell another 12.4%.

Click to enlarge …sometimes.

By comparison, this current pullback might seem like a piker. And it may yet prove to be. But this time feels different to me. In particular, it comes too closely on the heels of the previous decline. I mean, really, we had a rally of just 9 weeks before the US markets came tumbling down again?

Add to this that the cycle since 2009 has run nearly a full 7 years. Were these the fat years? Are lean ones ahead? (Some relief here: unlike the cycle related in Genesis 41, bear markets tend to be more volatile but also tend to last only half as long as bull markets.) No matter how you slice it, we are either very close to or beyond the expiration date of this bottle of milk.

Then, of course, there are all the more transitory reports out there that primarily confuse and confound clear thinking, giving talking heads on CNBC something to do between commercials: the full slate of geopolitical crises like China claiming uninhabited islands closer to Japan, Taiwan, The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei than to China. Or the Chinese government lying about its numbers or skimming the rewards of its citizens' labors for the top Party officials. Or OPEC. Or the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Russia's bald-faced invasion of Ukraine while the US government pouted and appealed to the UN , the nuclear gift to Iran destined to bankrupt more American energy companies and send tens of thousands of additional workers onto the unemployment rolls, etc., etc.

These all pass, but a double dip within weeks of each other, the weight of a very old bull, and the likelihood of poor earnings comparisons add gravity to the mix and make it more likely we are closer to the beginning of a bear cycle.

If I believe that, why not sell everything last week or, for that matter, this coming week? Because "usually" markets don't go up or down in a straight line. Permabulls will be encouraged by low prices and will buy the bargains - and make no mistake, based upon the last 7 years, there are some fine bargains out there. I just don't believe any rally will have the legs to launch a new bull.

That's why we have remained calm in this storm and instead are looking for a bit of sunshine to allow us to sell our more market-sensitive holdings and move into more cash and income holdings. What are we most likely to keep? Health care, especially managed care firms and the best-financed biotechs; insurers and regional banks; and all our long/short positions and our current short ETFs and funds, like GRZZX, SH, SDS, HDGE, TWM, EUM, and CHAD that have only been hedges until now. See previous articles for other examples. We will also add some developed markets sovereign debt; with Europe, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and others looking to reduce rates, their bonds are likely to appreciate while providing us with good income. We will again embrace the preferred shares of some of our favorite companies; again, I've mentioned these in previous articles, no need to extol their virtues yet again. And as the opportunity presents, I think we'll add water utilities once again to our portfolios.

Does this sound too conservative for some? I'm sure it will be. Yet I project that the total return, a combination of the dividends and interest we will receive as well as some capital gains and merger and acquisition activity that always takes place when the price is right, will provide us with a 7-10% return this year. One might scoff at that in a rip-roaring bull market but if the market ultimately ends this cycle down 20-30% or more, those of us returning "just" 7-10% will be there with our portfolios intact to pick up the gold amidst the rubble.

Disclaimer: As Registered Investment Advisors, we believe it is essential to advise that we do not know your personal financial situation, so the information contained in this communiqué represents the opinions of the staff of Stanford Wealth Management, and should not be construed as "personalized" investment advice.
Past performance is no guarantee of future results, rather an obvious statement but clearly too often unheeded judging by the number of investors who buy the current #1 mutual fund one year only to watch it plummet the following year.
We encourage you to do your own due diligence on issues we discuss to see if they might be of value in your own investing. We take our responsibility to offer intelligent commentary seriously, but it should not be assumed that investing in any securities we are investing in will always be profitable. We do our best to get it right, and we "eat our own cooking," but we could be wrong, hence our full disclosure as to whether we own or are buying the investments we write about.

Disclosure: I am/we are long CHAD, SDS, SH, EUM, TWM, GRZZX.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.