It’s been a tumultuous period since September 2014 when the first crack appeared in the bull market which started in 2011. One year later, the August 2015 tremors would confirm a market that had topped and was correcting. The January aftershocks squelched any remaining euphoria evident in the preceding October rally.
The stock market is as much a study in human behavior as it is a study of fundamental trends. Neither changes very much over time. As we started the new year, I reflected on how often some things stay the same. My favorite philosopher Yogi Berra might say, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
When I piloted airplanes, I taught my passengers how to avoid motion sickness. “Don’t focus inside the cockpit. Pick a distant stationary object like the horizon and fix your eyes upon it.” That’s well and good in clear weather when there is seldom cause for motion sickness.
Managing one’s investments is challenging enough without the endless cacophony of fear that rains down from the financial media every minute of every day. Greece! China! Iran! Bond bubble! The Fed! It never ends. So, let’s instead focus on what really matters.
In any worthwhile pursuit, one cannot ignore the fundamentals. Proactive investment managers pay close attention to the primary trends affecting market prices. In recent quarters, trends in company earnings have taken a sharp turn.
I live in Peoria, Arizona where we experience two seasons – pleasant and unpleasant. The market too has its own seasons. Since the October Manager’s Message, I feel we’ve been experiencing an “Indian Summer”. This implies that perhaps winter is around the corner, and might explain why our portfolios are sporting sweaters.
You’ve often heard me say that I manage risk rather than return. I view risk in two categories: (1) being aggressive and risk a market decline, or (2) being defensive and possibly miss a market rally. Recently we’ve been doing some managing of the second kind. Below is a picture of the “why”.
There’s been no shortage of media superlatives in recent months as “the market” has made new highs. The “rest of the story”, to borrow Paul Harvey’s famous line, is in the small cap’s which are an important indication of market health in terms of breadth.