In part one of this series, I showed how the US is, for now ignoring the coronavirus spreading uncontrollably through our population. That’s exactly what we did in January and February until the rising death toll was too much for us to bear. So then this happened.
The S&P 500 plunged a remarkable 34% in just four weeks, the fastest bear market in US history. Fortunately, it’s unlikely that we will face another 34% plunge in the coming months unless we really screw the pooch as we did at the start of this pandemic. So now let’s take a look at what investors care about, how bad could the market react to a potential surge in daily cases and deaths to as much as 200K and 8K per day, respectively, and a possible second recession.
The Good News Is That The Second Recession, If It Happens, Is Likely To Be A LOT Milder Than The First
Economists have already weighed in on what they think of Europe’s new partial lockdown plans. Here is the list I compiled from news reports about which European countries were locking down again.
- Czechia (the Czech Republic changed its name a few years ago)
Most of these are four-week lockdowns, though Belgium is going for six weeks. Most of these are not full lockdowns with all non-essential businesses closed (though France, Belgium, and the UK are). Are the people of Europe happy about this? Absolutely not. In Spain and Italy, police are dealing with rioters who are outraged over more lockdowns. What kind of economic damage are economists projecting for Europe over this second wave of less restrictive lockdowns? -4% GDP growth in France in Q4 and -1% in Germany. In the US, where no official lockdowns are expected, the probability of a double-dip recession, which itself would likely be a 1% to 3% decline, are estimated at 20% to 25%. Now, as I showed in my first article if things get bad enough, we might have no choice but to lockdown April style, resulting in far more serious economic damage. However, that likely won’t happen until the 117th Congress arrives in DC on January 3rd, and is willing to support another national lockdown with major stimulus. Until January the US is in “hope and pray” mode. Hope and prayer are not effective investment or risk management strategies but you know what are? Facts and sound risk management.
Here’s How Bad Economists Think The Stock Market Might Crash During This Pandemic
(Source: JPMorgan Asset Management)
Last week I explained why Morgan Stanley, one of the blue-chip economists famed for its accuracy, predicted a 10% correction was the most likely outcome of this third wave of the pandemic. JPMorgan, another one of the blue-chip consensus economists, one of the 16 most accurate out of 45 tracked by MarketWatch, thinks that if we get a double-dip recession, stocks might fall a total of 22% from their recent peak. That would equate to about a 15% decline from here. Compared to the 34% one month plunge we witnessed in March, this is a very mild bear market we’re talking about. In fact, it’s on par with the 20% peak decline suffered during the Gulf War recession of 1990. Is it possible that both JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley are wrong and stocks might end up going over a cliff? Absolutely. As of October 30th, the S&P 500 was 25% historically overvalued, compared to about 18% overvalued on February 19th, before stocks fell 34% during the fastest bear market in history. BUT there are important differences between March 2020 and November 2020.
- In March we had a global margin call in which large institutions were forced to sell everything to meet margin calls
- Gold, treasury bonds, blue-chip stocks (like Lowe’s), all were sold with wild abandon by forced sellers desperate to prevent bankruptcy
- The market bottomed the same day the Fed swore that it would do “whatever it takes” to prevent another financial crisis
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of the “Fed Put” crowd who thinks that it’s safe to pay 24X earnings for the S&P 500 because the Fed won’t’ let stocks fall significantly. However, the Fed absolutely would step in with increased asset purchases, primarily through mortgage-backed securities and US treasury bonds, if the credit markets started to get scared about an out of control pandemic and a crashing stock market. That’s not because the Fed directly cares about whether stocks are going up or down. But the Fed cares deeply about the smooth functioning of credit markets and if the risks of another severe recession were rising quickly, then the Fed would want to calm the debt markets. That might include more junk bond buying. On March 23rd a major reason the market bottomed when the Fed stepped in with “QE Infinity” was not that the Fed promised to buy $120 billion worth of US treasuries and CMBS. It was the pledge to buy as many junk bond ETFs as necessary to ensure that even low credit quality companies survive this pandemic that got Wall Street into a hyper-bullish mood.
In other words, I consider JPMorgan’s estimate of a 22% peak decline in stocks, even if daily cases are 200K per day, and the daily death toll is well over 3K, to be reasonable. But could I and all the blue-chip economists be wrong? What if stocks were to fall 40%, 45%, or even 55% as they did in the Great Recession? Well, here’s the easiest, safest, and most effective way to protect your nest egg from such a low probability but certainly possible stock market crash.
The Ultimate Crash-Proof Investing Strategy
In this video article, I show the most time tested and effective method of managing risk, including for future market crashes. I’m not talking about just a historically normal 34% bear market like we saw in March. That decline was literally equal to the average bear market since 1945.
The only thing shocking about the March bear market was the speed. Normally it takes 13 months for stocks to bottom, not four weeks. But what about if the more overvalued stock market plunges even faster, before the Fed steps in to calm the credit markets, and thus puts a bottom under stocks?
Behold An Ultra-SWAN Portfolio That Fell 8% In The Financial Crisis AND The March Bear Market
(Source: JPMorgan Asset Management)
With the right mix of high-yield/low volatility companies and asset allocation into cash and bonds, it’s possible to construct a truly crash-proof retirement portfolio.
- 8.5% peak decline in the Great Recession
- 8.3% peak decline in March 2020
What about future bear markets and corrections?
(Source: JPMorgan Asset Management)
- JPMorgan estimates this portfolio would fall a peak of 3.9% during a future mild bear market
- And just 2.7% during a future mild recession
Now is this super-low volatility portfolio right for everyone? Absolutely not. In fact, I consider it too conservative for most people, as it’s likely to deliver very low future returns. But the point is that IF your primary goal is preservation of capital, and your biggest worry is a major market crash, then you don’t have to do something stupid, like market timing, to avoid market chaos and panic.
According to JPMorgan, Dalbar, and Morningstar, the 2nd biggest retirement dream killer in history is market timing, which not even the pros know how to do well. The only thing more guaranteed to put you in the poor house over time is insufficient savings or outright dangerous speculation in wildly overvalued companies.
(Source: Portfolio Visualizer)
Paying 355X cash flow for Aspen Technology, a hyper-growth tech stock during the tech bubble, (about 1,300% overvalued) led to a 96% peak decline during the tech crash. Which meant it took 18.5 YEARS for investors who paid such irrational valuations to break even. The point is that a focus on quality first and prudent valuation & risk management always is all you need to sleep well at night and achieve your long-term goals.
When your fundamentals are rock solid you don’t have to pray for luck, you’ll make your own. This means that no matter how bad the pandemic gets, or how chaotic the markets might prove in the short-term, your retirement dreams become a function of just time, discipline, and patience.
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SPY shares were trading at $349.93 per share on Friday afternoon, down $0.31 (-0.09%). Year-to-date, SPY has gained 10.28%, versus a % rise in the benchmark S&P 500 index during the same period.
About the Author: Adam Galas
Adam has spent years as a writer for The Motley Fool, Simply Safe Dividends, Seeking Alpha, and Dividend Sensei. His goal is to help people learn how to harness the power of dividend growth investing. Learn more about Adam’s background, along with links to his most recent articles. More...
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