Stocks — Part II: The Market Always Goes Up

 Avoiding panic when it is raining stock brokers ain’t easy

On what was later to be called Black Monday, in 1987, at the end of a very busy day I called my broker.  Remember now, this was when we had brokers and before cell phones, personal computers, the internet and on-line trading.

“Hi Bob,” I said cheerfully.  “How’s it going.”

There was a long silent pause.  “You’re kidding,” he said.  “Right?”  He sounded dreadful.

“Kidding about what?”

“Jim, we’ve just had the biggest meltdown in history.  Customers have been screaming in panic at me all day. The market is down over 500 points.  Over 25%.”

That was the point at which I joined the rest of the planet in being absolutely stunned.  It is hard to describe just what this was like.  Not even the Great Depression had seen a day like this one.  Nor have we since.  Truly, it looked like the end of the financial world.

Time Magazine, 1987

Wrong

As any educated investor does, I knew that the market was volatile.  I knew that on it’s relentless march upwards there could and would be sharp drops and bear markets.  I knew that the best course was to hold firm and not panic.  But this.  This was a whole ‘nother frame of reference.

I held tight for three or four months.  Stocks continued to drift ever lower.  Finally, I lost my nerve and sold.

I just wasn’t tough enough.  That day, if not the absolute bottom, was close enough to it as not to matter.  Then, of course and as always, the market began again its relentless climb.  The market always goes up.

It took a year or so for me to regain my nerve and get back in.  By then it had passed its pre-Black Monday high.  I had managed to lock in my losses and pay a premium for a seat back at the table.  It was expensive.  It was stupid.  It was an embarrassing failure of nerve.  I just wasn’t tough enough.

But I am now.  My mistake of ’87 taught me exactly how to weather all the future storms that came rolling in, including the Class 5 financial hurricane of 2008.  It taught me to be tough and ultimately it made me far more money than the education cost.

Here’s the thing you need to understand:

The market always goes up.

Always.  Bet no one’s told you that before.  But it’s true.  Understand this is not to say it is a smooth ride.  It’s not.  It is most often a wild and rocky road. It’s not easy.  Reader JTH in the comments for Part I says:

“We’ve stayed the course, with a side-dish of panic.”

Great line there JTH, and staying the course is always served with a side dish of panic.  That’s why ya gotta be tough.

Because the market always, and I mean always, goes up.  Not each year.  Not each month.  Not each week and certainly not each day. But relentlessly up.  Take a moment and look at this:

The Dow Jones Industrial Average 1900 – 2012

Can you find my ’87 blip?  It’s there and easy to spot, but not quite so scary in context.  Take a moment and let this sink in.  You should notice three things:

1.  Trend is relentlessly, thru disaster after disaster, up.

2.  It’s a wild ride along the way.

3.  There is a Big, Ugly Event.

Let’s talk about the good news first.  We’ll tackle points 2 & 3 next time.

To understand why the market always goes up we need to look a bit more closely at what the Market actually is.

The chart above represents the DJIA (Dow Jones Industrial Average).  We are looking at the DJIA because it is the only group of stocks created as a proxy for the entire stock market going back this far.  Way back in 1896 a guy named Charles Dow selected 12 stocks from leading American industries to create his Index.  Today the DJIA is comprised of 30 large American companies.

But now let’s shift away from the DJIA Index, which I only introduced for its long historical perspective, to a more useful and comprehensive Index:   MSCI US Broad Market

If you click on that link it will take you to a article announcing that Vanguard is using this Index in crafting the Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTSAX).  (Update: As of June 3, 2013 VTSAX is now using the CRSP US Total Market Index)

The Index and VTSAX are exactly what they sound like:  Groupings of every publicly traded US based company. By design they are almost precisely the same.  Since we can invest in VTSAX, going forward I’ll be using it as our proxy for the Stock Market overall.

In 1976, when John Bogle invented the Index Fund he gave the world a wonderful way to invest in the entire US Stock Market.  This is the single best tool we have for taking advantage of the market’s relentless climb up.  VTSAX is the market and as such does the exactly the same.

OK, so now we know what the stock market actually is and we can see from the chart that it always goes up.  Let’s take a moment to consider, how can this be?  Two basic reasons:

1.  The Market is self cleansing.  

Take a look at the 30 DJIA stocks.  Care to guess how many of the original 12 are still in it?  Just one.  General Electric.  In fact, most of these companies didn’t exist when Mr. Dow crafted his list.  Most of the originals have come and gone or morphed into something new. This is a key point:  The market is not stagnant.  Companies routinely fade away and are replaced with new blood.

The same is true of VTSAX.  It holds virtually every publicly traded stock in the US market. A little over 3600 at last count.   Now, picture all 3600 of these companies along a classic bell curve graph.

Generic Bell Curve Graph

Those few at the left will be the worst performing.  Those few to the right, the best.  All those between at various points of performance.

Ok, looking to the left what is the worst possible performance a bad stock can deliver?  It can lose 100% of its value.  Then, of course, it disappears never to be heard from again.  As new companies grow, prosper and go public they replace the dead and dying.  The Market (and VTSAX as proxy) is self cleansing.

Now let’s look at our top performers on the right.  What is the best performance they can deliver?  100%?  Certainly that’s possible.  But so is 200, 300, 1000, 10000% or more.  There is no upside limit.  As some stars fade, new ones are on the rise.

The net result is a powerful upward bias.

But note, this only works with index funds.  Once “professional management” starts trying to beat the system, all bets are off.  They can, and most often do, make things much worse and they always charge more fees to do it.  We’ll talk a bit more about this in a later post.

2.  Owning stocks is owning a part of living, breathing, dynamic companies, each striving to succeed. 

To appreciate why the Stock Market relentlessly rises requires an understanding of what we actually own with VTSAX.  We own, quite literally, a piece of every publicly traded company in the USA.

Stocks are not just little slips of traded paper.  When you own stock you own a piece of a business.  These are companies filled with people working relentlessly to expand and serve their customer base.  They are competing in an unforgiving environment that rewards those who can make it happen and discards those who can’t.  It is this intense dynamic that make stocks and the companies they represent the most powerful and successful investment class in history.

So, now we have this wonderful wealth building tool that relentlessly marches upward but, — and this is a major but that causes many if not most people to actually lose money in the market — boy howdy it’s a wild and unsettling ride.  Plus, there’s that Big, Ugly Event.  We’ll talk about those next.

Disclaimer:  Like everything on this blog, this is only sharing ideas.  You are solely responsible for your own choices.

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40 Comments

  1. bluecollarworkman
    Posted April 19, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    I know this is obvious, but I have to say it anyway. I completely agree with your premise here and you’re obviously quite correct. But. If I was 50 years old in 1928 and looking to retire in a decade and had my money in the market. Well, it would be 3 decades after that crash before my money would get back to it’s 1928 value! I would be 80 by then. Or actually probably even dead.That’s pretty rough. For young investers, yeah, be bold and don’t freak the frack out, STAY IN! But for older investers, they do need to be more careful!

  2. Fuji
    Posted April 20, 2012 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    I love your writing – a calm oasis of steadiness amongst the grating backdrop of shrill media. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. :)

  3. JTH
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Thanks. This is reassuring. As BCW says, what about the 50+ investors? When and how do they gracefully bow out of the drama? We’ve saved, diversified, and when the side-dish of panic comes along, it rocks our boat big time. (JTH not JYH …). These articles are great and understandable for us novices. Thank you. Can’t wait for next episode.

    • Posted April 21, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      Hi JTH….

      Stay tuned. We’ll be discussing death building and wealth preservation phases coming up.

      Thanks for the name correction.

  4. Posted April 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I don’t entirely consider myself a “novice” investor, but I am learning from some of your writing like this post. Some of that background information on the origination of the DJIA is news to me. Glad you posted it, because I would have never taken the time to research it otherwise. Thanks.

  5. Posted April 22, 2012 at 1:31 am | Permalink

    Great article Jim. I agree with you that index fund is — by far — safest way to make money. I also agree with you that markets always go up in the long run. As you’ve mentioned, many stalwarts of past have faded. So, anyone who is investing in a specific stock has to be vigilant as I do. You can’t assume that GE will last forever(although I believe it will). :)

    • Posted April 24, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

      Thank you!

      Not only is an Index Fund – VTSAX – the safest way, it is the easiest way as well. Plus over time it will out perform 80+% of professional stock pickers. Slam dunk.

      As you point out, investing in individual stocks requires a whole new level of commitment and vigilance. Even then the odds are heavily against you:

      http://jlcollinsnh.com/2011/06/02/why-i-cant-pick-winning-stocks-and-you-cant-either/

      as for GE, who knows. They had a surprisingly close brush with disaster a couple of years back thanks to what had been their profit leading GE Capital Division.

      Now Apple is the current darling and soon to be the first Trillion dollar company. I dunno and haven’t done any analysis. But talk like that is enough to make me nervous.

  6. Posted May 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    The market always goes up, but if you invested in 1929 you had to wait 30 years for it to do so. What if someone decided to get into investing in their 60s? They might not have had 30 years to wait…

    We can’t all invest in VTSAX. Any suggestions for international investors?

  7. Matt MF B
    Posted June 4, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/47668274/Tokyo_Hits_28_Year_Low_Amid_Global_Rout

    You may be right about markets eventually always going up but the wait can be a disaster, witness this story that came out this weekend. Tokyo broad stock market averages at the lowest point in 28yrs. You could very well die before your basket of stocks return to previous levels. If you need to have money to live on the long term (not just the short term) market trends can leave you broke. It’s a little cavalier to think that just because the past 100 years the market’s always gone up that it will continue to do so for the next 100 years. It’s also potentially a disservice to your readers. Go ask an ancient Roman if ingenuity can sustain a prosperous civilization in perpetuity.

  8. MrRob
    Posted November 13, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Hi Jim, I’m a 29yr old UK based reader, relatively new to your blog (found it from MMM) and am currently undergoing what I call a financial revolution and what my wife calls a financial crisis.

    I appreciate you sharing your wealth of wisdom and experience here, its life enriching stuff. I have really enjoyed reading your blog and have been inspired to start this financial revolution, which basically involves having a plan and choosing to aim for financial independence.

    I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been a financial broker in some incredibly strong markets and made a decent amount of money at a young age. However, it does feel strange to know that I earned the most I ever will in my life at the age of 26 and since then it’s only been decreasing each year.

    Going forward I’m fortunate enough to be able to save a good proportion of my high salary into tax free ISAs (like your IRA Roth with maximum £22,500 per married couple per year) and have a company pension (like your 401/403 plan). I have a few years of this already squirrelled away, plus I’ve been quietly loading my company pension (I contribute 5%, the company contributes 10% of my salary). I don’t get much choice for where I invest my pension, so I choose a cheap to maintain global tracker fund (50% UK stocks and the rest spread across the globe).

    However for my ISAs I get to choose whatever I like and this is what causes most of my questions/confusion. Plus I actually have about £50k investment grade art, and £11k physical gold, a house with a mortgage (for me, my wife and my daughter) and am just embarking on investing in an apartment (mostly to help out a close friend).

    Currently my wealth building assets that I have control over are the art, the gold and the stocks and shares ISAs (worth £100k). You will cringe but currently the ISAs are invested with a stock broker in a mixture of equity funds, high yield individual stocks and I have a corporate bond too. Some of these funds cost me 5% to get into and have annual fees of 1.75%, others cheaper but in any case this causes me concern and I’m now keen to pursue cheap fees going forward. And it’s this stuff, plus my on going ISA contributions that need some consideration. I loved reading your Stocks series and have read all 12 pages probably 3 times through now.

    I think the thing I loved most is your certainty. When I live in a very uncertain world and consume lots of opinionated information to try and find the right path, you present a very simple way forward that you seem certain will produce the desired result – capital gains at some point in history. I understand some of your views but still have questions about others.

    I like Vanguard for obvious reasons, I like low cost investment, I like the self-cleansing index, I like starting early, I like compound returns over time, I like the idea of heavy lifting investments (equities) however there is something stopping me taking the plunge from my current situation (chosen by my financial advisor – graduate in a suit who talks well and convinces me that the themes we are picking make sense and should outperform in the long run – oh how you laugh). Essentially I just don’t know if I trust equities enough to go all in.

    Many times I’ve read that ‘most of the gains over the last 100 years in equities have been due to dividend reinvestment’. I think this is an interesting statement. That basically says to me that compounding is the key to wealth growth. As long as you get a yield from your investment, and start early then (not including inflation or deflation) you’ll make your money from the effect of compound growth. I happened to see an article the other day from The Sunday Telegraph by a guy called Toby Nangle (I mention these so you can Google the article if interested) that showed a graph showing real returns from UK equities from 1700 to present. Real returns being inflation adjusted without dividend reinvested. It claims that the real returns from equities were low from 1700 til 1970 and from 1980-2000 they boomed and that we can’t expect that bull run again.

    This makes me question whether stocks are actually the eternal heavy lifter that you paint them to be or whether we could retreat to decades or centuries (not that I care) of limited real returns?

    When I first read your Stocks series I was very convinced about a lot of your arguments, and I was elated that I had a found a plan to long term wealth building. After rereading, digesting, being blasted by conventional wisdom there is still a lot I like and agree with however it’s the certainty that stocks are the way forward that I find difficult. I’m not sure if I trust them long term.

    If I was ultimately convinced of this, I reckon I could go all in and buckle up for the rocky ride but currently I’m paralised in my current situation. I trust in starting early, I trust in low cost investments, I trust in tax efficient wrappers, I trust in compounding over time, however I’m not sure I trust in equities . . .

    Any comments, thoughts, advice or recommended reading material would be much appreciated. Another thing that may shape an answer and is maybe part of my distrust is that I’d rather work my socks off for 10-15 years and save 70% of my salary with a lower cost lifestyle to give us some form of financial freedom . . . rather than wait 20, 30, 40, 50 years for equities to be booming again. Apologies to all readers for such a long post.

    • Posted November 22, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

      Sorry for the delay in responding. I just got back from South America and am just now catching up.

      Hi Mr. Rob….

      Your comment brought a smile to my face for a couple of reasons.

      1. It is always a pleasure to read the stories of young people like yourself who are so well on their way to FI. Given how far you’ve already come I can only marvel at how far you’ll go.

      2. With your comments like “You will cringe..” and “oh how you laugh” clearly you’ve read my stuff well enough to know what I’d say. :) So I won’t address those issues, you already know what to do.

      You also say: “This makes me question whether stocks are actually the eternal heavy lifter that you paint them to be or whether we could retreat to decades or centuries (not that I care) of limited real returns?” My answer is in the post at the very end under point #2 in the second paragraph:

      “Stocks are not just little slips of traded paper. When you own stock you own a piece of a business. These are companies filled with people working relentlessly to expand and serve their customer base. They are competing in an unforgiving environment that rewards those who can make it happen and discards those who can’t. It is this intense dynamic that make stocks and the companies they represent the most powerful and successful investment class in history.”

      And I would add that this is happening on a global basis. Past decades and centuries long retreats were tied to the collapse of countries that had their economies far more islolated. Now, businesses simply shift operations. Unless you think the dynamic I describe in that quote will dry up, stocks will continue to be the heavy lifters.

      You say you are not sure if you can trust stocks. Of course you can’t trust them. If you are not very careful, tough and long-term focused the moment you panic they’ll cut your throat and leave you to bleed to death in the dirt. It is not about trust, it is about understanding the relentless drive upwards and the violent volatility along the way and then adjusting your own psychic toughness to ride the bucking bull.

      You say “I’m paralised in my current situation.” You’ve obviously been reading a lot about this stuff and that’s good. But you’ve also discovered conflicting information. Only you can sort thru what makes sense for you. You need to read my stuff, and others, with a critical mind asking if what is said makes sense. Before you follow my advice, or any other, be sure you fully buy into it. Otherwise, the next thing you read will pull you into yet another direction and that vacillation is a sure path to failure.

      Finally, if you implement a 70% savings strategy you are doing something far more powerful than choosing the optimal investment strategy. Do both and, well as I said, I marvel at how far you’ll go.

      Good luck and stay in touch!

      • MrRob
        Posted November 23, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        Hi Jim,

        Many thanks for your reply and affirming words. I very much agree on your closing statements about exploring more and acting on something I have conviction about. Its never good to be blown around by the latest trends and chopping/changing all the time is expensive and draining.

        A perfect analogy would be diet. About 9 months ago I became deeply convicted that there was merit in paleo-esque diets (and associated exercise) after reading a number of books including The New Evolution Diet by Art De Vany. Since then I have completely changed what I eat, am much healthier and happier about it and irrespective of what conventional wisdom I get thrown at by the world’s media or my grain loving colleagues I maintain that I will probably never deviate off this diet for the rest of my life as I believe its the right way to go.

        I need that conviction about investing and personal finance in the same way. Things I’m sure about are start early, save hard, try to avoid lifestyle inflation to ensure one can maintain saving and I’m working on my understanding of asset allocation and belief that equities and index tracking is the best road forwards from here.

        I had a long chat with ‘the graduate in a suit’ yesterday evening and he was maintaining that large advisory stockbrokers like them would not have customers if they weren’t able to pick the funds that out-perform their respective bench marks and help their customers avoid the dodgy ones.

        If we can’t trust anyone to consistently pick top quality stocks to outperform, then how can we trust anyone to pick outperforming funds over the long term? At the end of the day he has to say they are good at what they do and that by going with their advice and the funds they choose it will give the investor a better chance of making money over cheaply tracking the index alone. The think they add value, they certainly charge as if they add value but they probably (and you’d shout definitely!!!!!! don’t).

        One thing I still ultimately need clarity over is whether I believe a FTSE 100 (top 100 largest companies in UK) tracker or a FTSE Allshare tracker (top 650 companies) gives me sufficient exposure to all that is out there. I am aware that emerging markets should be growing quicker than mature ones and exposure to them might be worthwhile. Also some spout that Japan is worthwile investing in now and then of course the is US equity too that I could be completely missing.

        These are all themes under further consideration but I’m sure I’m making progress in some form or other so that is good enough for now. Once again thanks for this resource and your committment to it. Its great, keep it up.

        • Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

          The comments section under Part XI of this series Working Rachel asked a similar question about adding an international fund. Here’s my response:

          “Welcome Rachel…

          ..thanks for stopping in. Great question!

          Regarding international funds you can certainly add them if you’d like. As you point out, Vanguard offers International Index Funds. They’ll serve you well.

          I don’t bother for these reasons:

          1. The US is still the dominate world economy and, in my view, will remain so for the next 100 years and counting. That dominance will shrink over time, as it has been doing since the end of WWII, but it is not ending anytime soon.

          2. VTSAX is loaded with US companies that are fully international in their operations. Indeed many generate well over half their revenue and profits overseas. So it provides exposure to expanding world markets.

          3. This trend will continue to expand as the international economies around the world continue to grow and prosper.

          4. Accounting standards and transparencies in the US remain the envy of the world. Less funny business to worry about.

          5. Direct international investing introduces currency valuations into the mix and that is a whole other level of risk that needs to be considered.

          Hope this helps!”

          While I’m not terribly familiar with what the FTSE indexes hold, my guess is it is also heavily weighted with international companies. So the same thoughts would apply.

          Oh, and large advisory brokers have been hemorrhaging customers at an accelerating pace precisely because better and less expensive options abound. If in the UK they are like those in the USA you can expect an ugly, difficult struggle prying your money back away from them. Still another reason to avoid them in the first place.

  9. Christina
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Will a shrinking population effect this thesis? Since we are now below replacement rate there are going to be fewer and fewer young people to work in these companies and fewer families needing fewer products. For a while we’ll have a large industry for taking care of the elderly, but once they die there is going to be little to fill the void.

    • jlcollinsnh
      Posted March 8, 2013 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      Wonderful question, Christina!

      As it happens I am a member of the infamous Baby Boom generation. There are/were about 75 million of us. The bulge working its way thru the snake, if you will.

      My daughter is a member of Generation Y, those born from roughly 1985 to 2000. There are roughly 70 million of them coming up behind us and building their own lives.

      More importantly than that, most of the developing world is very young. Think China, India, South America, Africa. Large segments of these populations are rapidly improving their economic condition and moving into the middle class.

      Consider India with 1.2 billion people. 850 million of them live in poverty. But 350 million are middle class or wealthier. That is more than the entire population of the US. Same dynamic in those other places I mentioned.

      There is a HUGE and growing population of young and increasingly wealthier people coming of age all over the world. Their expectations are growing sharply. Like people everywhere they will be keenly interested in securing their financial futures.

      This changing demographic will pose considerable challenges, environmental come to mind. But for investors it is a huge and positive wave to ride.

  10. AOG
    Posted June 13, 2013 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    Hi Jim, you mentioned the stock market always goes up / always recovers because the worst thing that can happen to a company is just lose 100% of its value but there is no limit as to how much it can gain.

    But I’m just wondering why after 21 years, the Nikkei Index 225 has not recovered. 20 years is quite a long time frame for the average investor. Is the Nikkei 225 also self-cleansing?

    What are the chances that the same thing wouldn’t happen to the US market?

    • jlcollinsnh
      Posted June 13, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Hi AOG…

      Well of course it has happened here and could again. That is the subject of Part IV.

      Setting aside the fact that there are huge differences between the US and Japanese cultures and economies, the Japanese did almost everything wrong in dealing with their crisis.

      During our own 2008 debacle we apparently learned from their experience and our own Great Depression and did most things right. I find that encouraging.

      • Jerome
        Posted March 25, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

        I have to say this is a very weak counter argument Jim. I agree with the poster who said you are a doing a disservice to your readers as the stock market does NOT always go up.

  11. Matt Meiselman
    Posted June 26, 2014 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    Just because the market has trended up in the past doesn’t mean it will trend up in the future. How do you know that the market “always” goes up? Always is an infinite amount of time and things can change in the world pretty rapidly.

    • Rogier
      Posted September 25, 2014 at 4:31 am | Permalink

      I share your concerns Matt. My question: what about Japan? The 3rd largest economy in the world, after USA and China. The nineties were considered a ‘lost decade’ for Japan but the Nikkei 225 index today is still trading over 50% lower (!) then its 1989(!) peak. So much for ‘always up’?

  12. jlcollinsnh
    Posted September 25, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    To: AOG, Jerome, Matt, Rogier
    RE: Japan

    I probably should write a post about this. Japan is certainly a troubling anomaly, but it is an anomaly. Until then, here is my take on the US depression: http://jlcollinsnh.com/2012/04/29/stocks-part-iv-the-big-ugly-event/

    The question really is whether you want to build your investing strategy based on the possibility of an exceedingly rare occurrence repeating or what we’ve seen happen here in the US since the 1800s.

    My guess is that for you the possibility of the US repeating the Japanese experience will influence your portfolio. You are not alone and the internet has no end of folks touting strategies that will serve in such an event.

    In my view, like Warren Buffett, betting on the US economy and its economic interests in the world markets will be the winning strategy. That’s what I discuss here and what I tell my daughter.

    But I’m not trying to convince you, or anyone, of anything. This blog is just my opinion and me sharing what has worked for me and what has kicked me in the ass. For those who are interested.

    You must, and will of course, chart your own course and make your own decisions.

  13. Posted November 24, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Collins, no, I cannot see your 87 “blip” but I can see the triple top since 2000 where your money went nowhere except up and down in terrifying alp-like peaks and bottoms.! And am thinking about the people who’s stash dropped 50% – holding on? Sorry I cannot agree with your assessment to hold on. Perhaps that is good advice for a 20 year old, but what about those in their 60s and 70s who need stash preservation…I have been up and down these mountain peaks too many times Mr. Collins. Sorry, your premise is flawed.

    • Jone
      Posted November 25, 2014 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

      Steve B, I can understand your position and relate to the need to preserve what one has saved built over several decades of working. Losses, even just on paper, hurt. But, I think the point of Mr. Collins’ article is to say that over the course of history the market goes up in value. Relentlessly. It often gets knocked down, and occasionally gets knocked completely backwards, but over the past 110 years it always recovers, dusts itself off, and continues its upward climb. The ride is not smooth. It is not steady. But, it is continuous.

      Consider: folks in their 70’s still have potentially three decades to continue investing on their own behalf, aside from any desire to pass along wealth to their heirs. Thirty more years of living off of social security and declining savings might come to feel like a very long time.

      Avoiding stocks in favor of cash or other “safe” assets carries its own risks. What did a loaf of bread cost back when Regan was president and Hustler magazine was writing about Jerry Falwell? If memory serves, about a buck a gallon. Back then, a new car cost about $8,000. Today a loaf of bread costs over three times that and a new car – not sure, but around $25k sounds close. So, in general terms “stuff” now costs roughly three times more than it did three decades ago. Assuming we have basically the same rate of inflation for the next 30 years, a loaf of bread will cost about $9.00 and a car about $72,000.

      Mr. Collins advocates a 100% allocation to stocks for folks in their 20’s. That makes sense to me too. They have lots of time on their side and can afford a substantial amount of risk. (However, he also advocates a lower allocation to stocks if one’s risk tolerance might cause them to lose their nerve.)

      I am a few decades beyond my 20’s now. I haven’t sneaked a peek at a Hustler magazine in years. Based on your comment, it sounds like you are too. You and I have transitioned from what Mr. Collins terms the “wealth acquisition stage” of life to the “wealth preservation stage” of life mentioned here: http://jlcollinsnh.com/2014/06/10/stocks-part-xxiii-selecting-your-asset-allocation/

      As Mr. Collins states in the other article, “Basically, bonds smooth the ride and stocks power the returns. The more you hold in stocks the better your results and the more gut wrenching the volatility you’ll be required to endure. The more bonds, the smoother the ride and the lighter the results. If you are going to hold stocks you need to be mentally tough enough not to panic when they plunge. And make no mistake, over the decades you own them, plunge they will. Usually at the most unexpected times.”

      One final thought – you mentioned a triple top over the course of the last 14 years. That leads me to believe you may be a technical trader looking for patterns in stock price data over some period of time. Question – What prevents you from expanding your time horizon from 14 years to 140 years and noticing the same pattern as Mr. Collins discusses above? It shows quite clearly that the market goes up – relentlessly.

      As you note, the market has seesawed a bit on its way upward over the past 14 years.

      We may now be standing at the cusp of one of the greatest bull markets in history.

      Or not. :-)

      Good luck!

  14. Posted November 26, 2014 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Jone:
    You made a thoughtful response there. I believe investing is a personal decision.
    Bonds as an alternative? Everyone thinks bonds are a safe alternative, but bonds fluctuate in value too, you know. Enough to lose a great deal of principle when interest rates shift. I just think this “hold for the long term” philosophy is a generally held belief by the masses and a scary and erroneous one at that. Mostly I am tired of having no control over the destiny of my investment. I won’t list the reasons here, we know them all, but the crashes I remember best were no fault of mine. The 50% destruction of my asset were caused by the idiots in government we vote in and their ignorance of economics. (Remember the “homeownership society”?) Yes, I’ve looked at Mr. Collins 114 year chart. But you know what? I won’t be around for 114 years. I need my principle in tact today…and to last for 2o. Many have benefitted from this “phony” rally in stocks. And yes it is a phony rally based on nothing more than Fed inflating the dollar and bond purchases. But this will end badly. Just like all the others and asset destruction will be the result just when so many people need their principle to live on. Over 40 years I have traded every kind of stock and option there is so I am no novice. But I will keep rolling my principle into CDs as interest rates rise, collect Soc Sec. and daytrade the futures (never holding over night) and when the next big one comes, as it inevitably will, and surprises everyone of how stupid our govt has been once again, I will sleep like a baby. – Good luck, you will need it.

    • Jone
      Posted November 26, 2014 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      I applaud your perseverance and honor your hard-won experience in the school of hard knocks. It sounds like you have, for better or worse, developed an investing plan. I have no experience in day trading futures but it sure sounds expensive. Thus, I might only suggest reconsidering the CD portion of your plan. If you think about it, there is a great deal of overlap between certificates of deposit (CDs) and bonds. CDs are basically just bonds with exceptionally low yields.

      Disclaimer: There are many types of bonds but for the discussion below I am going to stick to US Treasury bonds since they are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States of America.

      Both CDs and US Treasury bonds are both debt based, fixed-income securities. CDs are generally considered short-term, low-risk, dividend paying storage for capital. T bonds are generally considered longer-term vehicles of capital storage. Both pay a stated dividend rate on a known schedule. They are very much the same thing.

      On thing that is different is that bank CDs are “risk free” because they are usually (but not always) insured by the federal government through the FDIC up to $250k each. This means that if the bank fails, which has happened quite often in the United States financial sector, the US government will step in and pay the CD holder the face value of the CD. Thus, the CD holder avoids institutional risk (the risk of bank failure).

      No such automatic insurance exists for most bonds. If a commercial or muni bond issuer goes bankrupt you may well lose your principle. But here’s the thing: the US Government, which is the entity insuring your bank CDs, is also issuing their own US Treasury bonds – at higher dividend rate than you are currently earning on a bank’s CD (in most cases anyway).

      So here’s my question: why give the middleman (the bank selling the CD) a percentage of your rightful earnings? Why not just invest in US Treasury bonds straight from the US Treasury? It’s easy. You can do it here: https://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/indiv.htm

      But. You also noted that there is a “price vs yield” risk factor that is unique to bonds. Basically, this risk is that although the “rate” of a bond is usually fixed, the “price” of a bond can change based on the prevailing interest rates and market’s mood. CD’s – supposedly – don’t have that problem. But that’s wrong. Here’s why:

      Let’s say you have $500k to invest. Your highest priority is capital preservation so you decided that you will only buy CDs. You will spend only earned dividends and reinvest only the original principle. So, you purchase five one year CDs at $100k each in a five year ladder and start rolling them each year. You start earning (and spending) your dividends at the end of that month and go back to enjoying the grandkids for a while.

      In one year you get back your first $100k and roll it into the back end of the ladder. You reinvested 100% of your principle. At the end of year two you roll CD number two into the back of the ladder…..this continues for the next 10 years. At the end of year 10, as your first $100k CD matures yet again, you get ready to roll it back in…..but then you notice something.

      Your loaves of bread, gallons of gas, and other “stuff” have all increased in price. While your dividends have hopefully increased some over the last 10 years (not guaranteed though), prices for goods and services have increased much faster. It is almost an iron-clad guarantee that $500k of purchasing power today will not equal $500k in purchasing power in 2024 – due to the pervasive power of inflation. Further, CDs simply cannot keep up with inflation since they are linked to – you guessed it – the dividend rate on US Treasuries.

  15. Posted November 27, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Jone: Thanks for your well written and thoughtful response.
    All investment decisions are personal, as you know. With that in mind, couple of things: 1. Trading futures is only “expensive” (a curious wording) if you don’t know what you are doing. I have studied SPX futures for years and have developed a conservative but profitable strategy.

    2. Regarding US. treasuries, aren’t you forgetting something? Treas. and bond prices fluctuate with interest rates, interest rates up PRICE OF TREASURIES (bonds) DOWN as a result, losses on treasury purchases are as possible and as probable, as are losses on stocks, depending on time of purchase. So while yes, I would be harvesting more income with Treasuries, that income can be negatively offset by the loss in the underlying investment of the Treasury. Let’s not forget that we are most certainly on the cusp of a higher rate/lower bond price period as the FED quits their easing int. rate policy.

    I see my strategy as trading SPX futures for investment return + CDs as safety and asset protection. I do not see the 2 investments as separate.

    They work together in one portfolio without having to worry about interest rate fluctuation ( and the deteriorating affect it would have on a bond portfolio when rates rise) or the insanity that I have experienced on Wall Street and from Gov’t experiment and intervention, 87, 2000, 2008, and more and I am sick of it.

    CDs will protect my long term capital, futures trading will give me the return to offset the inflation-lagging CDs and then some. Of course I could be missing something. If so I would love to hear what it is. We all need our own comfort level and level of expertise in which to grow and protect our assets. Thanks again, Steve B NYC

    PS I will add one more thought. We are all well aware of Jim’s 114 yr long term chart from which he says “You can barely see the 87 crash.” While that may true, what stands for me, at the very top of that chart is the zigzag alpine losses of the recent years, OUR investing years, distinctly different in appearance from the rest of the chart, the rest of the 114 year history of the US market. Something has clearly changed in our lifetime. I am not smart enough to know what it is (I have some educated guesses.) But what I see and read makes “it always comes back” a rather flimsy investment strategy IMO.

    • Jone
      Posted November 28, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      SteveB,

      I am glad you have a system that works for you. As mentioned, I am not familiar with futures trading. I had a trading account with Sharebuilder some years ago and was approved for trading options and futures on margin. My idea was to use a bit of “other people’s money” and see if I could learn the commodities market. Once I started learning about trading commodities it didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t understand the language and definitely had no place to store tons of corn. Thankfully, I did nothing with the margin account. Sometimes the best (and hardest) thing you can do is keep yourself from doing anything.

      I called it “expensive” because, in part, messing about with something you don’t know anything about can get very expensive very quickly. Should I have proceeded to trade futures on margin and been called at the wrong time, the potential losses could have been more than my total investment.

      Further, your method seems to require a good deal of work from you to manage. As I learned during my very brief exploration, there is a whole new language to learn – puts, calls, strike price, margin, spot value, physical delivery, etc.. Further, your description of the process – that you don’t hold positions overnight – suggests you are day trading throughout the day. Time is money. How much are you earning per hour trading futures vs my hourly rate of doing nothing (aka buy-and-hold investing)?

      On the bonds, I did mention the “price vs yield” risk factor that is unique to bonds in my post above. As you correctly state, if interest rates increase, the price of the underlying bonds decrease. As a result, losses on treasury purchases are possible. Yet, the reverse is also true. That is, if interest rates fall, the price of the bonds increase.

      Happily, this latter reality has been the case all year (and for most of the past 30 years). I remember at the beginning of the year the smart folks on television were are talking about how the end was near for the bond market. Too bad for them. That said, I will agree that bonds shouldn’t necessarily be termed a profitable investment; they serve best to smooth the bumps from stock market valuation gyrations though steady dividend payments.

      On your last point, something certainly has changed in our lifetimes. Lots of things. Computers, cell phones, the color of my hair, all kinds of stuff. Our fathers, and theirs, also faced some pretty significant changes in their lifetimes. A couple of world wars, the development of the interstate highway system, and the Great Depression spring to mind. Here’s a list of just the economic crisis during Mr. Collins’ 114 year time frame above (credit to Wikipedia):

      20th century

      Panic of 1901, a U.S. economic recession that started a fight for financial control of the Northern Pacific Railway

      Panic of 1907, a U.S. economic recession with bank failures

      Wall Street Crash of 1929 and Great Depression (1929–1939) the worst depression of modern history.

      OPEC oil price shock (1973)

      Secondary banking crisis of 1973–1975 in the UK

      Japanese asset price bubble (1986–2003)

      Bank stock crisis (Israel 1983)
      Black Monday (1987)

      Savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s in the U.S.
      1991 India economic crisis
      Finnish banking crisis (1990s)
      Swedish banking crisis (1990s)
      1994 economic crisis in Mexico

      1997 Asian financial crisis
      1998 Russian financial crisis
      Argentine economic crisis (1999–2002)

      21st century

      Early 2000s recession
      Dot-com bubble
      Late-2000s Financial Crisis or the Late-2000s recession, including:
      2000s energy crisis
      Subprime mortgage crisis
      United States housing bubble and United States housing market correction
      2008–2012 Icelandic financial crisis
      2008–2010 Irish banking crisis
      Russian financial crisis of 2008–2009
      Automotive industry crisis of 2008–2010
      European sovereign debt crisis

  16. SteveB
    Posted November 29, 2014 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Jone:
    Thanks for your response. Yes, every new trade/investment vehicle has a learning curve and I would put commodities and options at the very top of the list of complex instruments. I have studies them all.

    With futures I have 2 decisions: short or long.

    Of course that’s an facetious oversimplification. Because the technicals that I trade are quite complicated. However something about technical analysis and the market fascinates me and I have been studying it for years.

    I am matching wits with millions of other traders all over the world. Most far smarter than I am. It’s like a complex chess game, really. A challenge of the mind. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose. And sometimes it rains, as they say in baseball.

    Speaking of complicated, let’s take the Treasury Direct website. (thank you for the link BTW) I’ll leave my opinion of the website unsaid for now. For someone who has never invested in treasuries before and trying to learn, I’d say the complexity of the subject could give commodities a run for it’s money.

    As for time, yes, trading futures does take following the market all day. And time is the trade-off. Yet I still only make 1-2 trades per day. But mostly, I enjoy having complete control over my investments.

    During those “bumps” as you call them, can that be said for anyone else’s stock portfolio.?

    Did you have control over your assets when the world bid up the price of companies like “Pets.com” to ridiculous levels, until one day someone yelled “fire!” everyone tried to get out the door at the same time and your entire portfolio came crashing down, even though your holdings were perfectly, reasonable profitable companies. Remember that?

    Or how about Bush, Clinton, Cuomo and almost every other pol of our time who thought it was a brilliant idea for every American to own a home and our hero Greenspan kept interest rates at zero while no one even had to show an income to get 100% financing? You were not involved in this nonsense I am sure, and yet you had to open up your statement and read a 50% reduction in value I bet. No fault of your own.

    Today our wonderful FED has implemented programs that, despite your list of above, has never been tried before in the history of finance and even they admit they do not know exactly what the outcome will be.

    Did Granny Yellen call you up to ask your advice on this since the consequences will surely affect your portfolio? Please tell me she did.

    And now that we are done with Quantitative Easing 121, whatever the number is, with rates at 0 for what – years? do you really think rates will not rise (and bonds fall?) Granny has already indicated she wants inflation. Collect income in rates. Lose it on the underlying.

    In addition, as a technician, I look at Mr. Collin’s 114 chart and I see a very different formation up top in the last crashes than can be seen in the history of the markets. More volatile. More often, more surprising, certainly just as damaging.

    That’s because when I say something has changed in our lifetimes I mean that literally. And I mean it about the stock market. There are developments in trading, black boxes, high frequency and otherwise that we have never seen before. Many non-human. And these remain untested in crashes yet.

    But if all this sounds negative, the reality is, I am not. I am perfectly optimistic.

    Because I know that all of them -Ms. Yellen, or Mr. O and him team of economic geniuses, Her Royal Majesty the next Madam President or any of the Einsteins we American people laud as rock stars and mistakenly elect as qualified, will be unable to have any affect at all on MY assets.

    That privilege belongs to the only person of whom I am absolutely positive knows a little something about economics. And that person is me.

  17. Adam
    Posted December 20, 2014 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    Some people here already mentioned Japan. Here’s a sobering graph of the Nikkei 225 from its inception in 1950 to the present day:

    http://www.tradingeconomics.com/embed/?s=nikkei225&d1=19500101&d2=20141231&h=300&w=600&ref=/japan/stock-market

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