“How much longer is this rally going to last?”
That’s the finance question I get the most these days.
The fact is, I don’t know. Nobody does. I think we’re closer to the next crisis than the last one at the very least. I also think it’s important to always be prepared for a decline in the stock market no matter what. If you’ve had trouble managing some of the near-10-percent pullbacks in the past few years, a real market crash of 20-30 percent (or more) is going to be incredibly tough to get through.
I get it. It’s easy to be pessimistic. We’ve had one of the longest-running bull markets of all time. And now, with stocks continuing to hit new highs, we’re facing one of the biggest percentage gains of all time as well.
I’m concerned about it too, but I’m not overly worried yet. Why? Because the stock market’s rally first had to overcome the huge beating it took during the financial crisis. That took time, as fears subsided. Yet many investors who did cash out still haven’t gotten back into the market. In fact, the percentage of the population with an investment in the stock market peaked with the tech bubble in 2000. Yes, there have been some incredibly rocky times in the past 17 years where being out of the market has seemed like a good idea. But overall, those potential investors have substantially missed out.
Over time, it pays to be an optimist in the financial markets. In early 2009, we didn’t have tablets, apps, electric cars, or many of the other technologies that we take for granted today. Looking back to the past 50 years, we’ve come a tremendous way in what we can do and the resources it takes to do it with. The amount of progress we’re making isn’t just astonishing—it’s increasing at a rapid rate. That means some older ways of doing things, and the investments behind them, will go by the wayside. But the end result is that mankind as a whole is better off.
But, yes, a crisis is brewing. There’s always a crisis brewing. The next crisis may be based on the issues we dealt with from the prior crisis. During the financial crisis, the government and central banks stepped in with massive stimulus programs. Some of those had a visible impact, others didn’t. Central banks printed up money and bought up toxic assets.
But buying up toxic assets prevents them from being liquidated and the economy moving forward on a sounder basis. Add in the additional $10 trillion in accumulated government debt during the Obama years, and things don’t look so pretty. Never mind the fact that attempts at more government regulation in the already heavily-regulated financial sector never addressed the root problems of the current crisis. It’s no wonder that many see the next crisis as simply a return to the last one.
That’s just one potential danger we face as investors. We could face a geopolitical crisis from nuclear war with North Korea (a very remote possibility) to declining demand in the US dollar by foreign governments that precipitate dire economic times. There could be trouble brewing that’s not even on my radar yet. Chances are all these various elements will come into play at some point.
We may not even need a genuine problem in the economy either. Investors might simply decide that they don’t want to pay over 25 times earnings for the average stock. It’s an above-average valuation, but with interest rates so low, there’s still plenty of room for the rally to run before it hits bubble territory in earnest.
What’s an investor to do? From the myriad of opportunities in the investment world, I like an “all of the above” approach. Traditional investment hedging opportunities that worked well during the last crisis might not be as good of a fit in the next one.
Consider gold. Gold could do well in a crisis. But if investors want cash specifically, they might not want to own a commodity. If investors fear deflation, where all prices are falling, including gold, cash will be king. Gold may work better for periods of inflation particularly unexpected inflation. I’d still own some gold as insurance, but I can also recognize its shortcomings.
Gold’s biggest shortcoming in a crisis is that governments own the biggest hoards of the stuff. In a crisis, the United States or another major government might announce gold sales to raise money. That would keep a lid on the inflationary pressure of simply trying to print their money out of the problem. But it could tank the price of gold—or at least keep it low enough for long enough to punish gold holders.
I’m a growing fan of cryptocurrencies as a potential hedge. Like gold, the supply is limited and can’t be created too quickly (except for initial coin offerings or ICOs). But governments have much smaller exposure than they do to gold. Any selling there could be limited. There’s a big caveat however: cryptocurrencies haven’t existed long enough to be tested during a market crisis. It’s anyone’s guess how they’ll fare. I’d expect their price to decline during a rush to cash—only to make new highs after the fear subsides.
But there’s one secret to really coming out ahead during a market crisis. Recognize that a decline is a short-term phenomenon. It may seem like it’s going to last forever when you’re in it, but even the dire financial crisis a decade ago lasted only about 18 months. Your best bet during a big pullback is to put more money to work, not withdraw it from the markets. That means identifying companies worth owning for the long-term, finding a price you like for them, and then buying them when they hit that price, no matter how crazy the market looks.
It sounds risky, but there’s more to a crisis than protecting yourself.
It’s a huge opportunity to take on a little extra risk to get a much greater reward.
Andrew Packer is a Senior Financial Editor with Newsmax Media. He currently writes the Insider Hotline investment advisory, serves as investment director for the Financial Braintrust, and writes the monthly newsletter Crisis Point Investor.
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