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Is That All There Was?

By Terry Savage on March 26, 2020

Is it over, this quick and devastating bear market? Will we look back in amazement that we could shut down virtually the entire economy and the stock market crashed and then rebounded in days? Or is there yet more bad news that will be reflected in stock prices?

I pose those questions, because I honestly don’t know the answer. And neither will you — except in hindsight. And except for “bragging rights” the answer doesn’t really matter.

What matters is YOUR future financial security. And that leads to decisions that only YOU can make –perhaps with the help of an experienced advisor who knows your situation (and isn’t looking for commissions!), but always acknowledging your own instincts about financial self-preservation. That’s best done when you’re not in the midst of a panic.

Here’s how I’m balancing my own thoughts on the market. But first you must understand that I already had a significant cash position coming into this event. And that’s what I was warning about in advance (check the videos and columns on my website), wanting to get everyone into that same position after a decade-long bull market. Actually, I was early on that score.

I never issued a “sell everything” statement — because I would never do that myself. I just said “sell down to the sleeping point” — meaning you would have enough “chicken money” on the sidelines, so you wouldn’t panic and sell everything. I have never envisioned myself as a “market guru” — just a sensible personal finance leader.

The decisions you might have made a month ago — and might be making now — should be about risk management, not about market timing. So the first question to ask yourself is whether you will feel worse being “in” if the market falls again, or feel worse being “out” if the market soars.

Then you can try to think logically about what might be coming — in the near term, and after we get past this health crisis.

On the “buy now” side of this issue is not any technical analysis about a “bounce” or a “rebound” — just the simple fact that the Fed and the government have flooded the market with liquidity. No matter where the money lands — in the pockets of consumers, businesses, or agencies, that money will remain in the system — and it has to go somewhere! The $3-$4 Trillion or thereabouts is a LOT of liquidity — and no surprise that some of it will eventually flow into the stock market, especially as business rebounds.

On the “don’t buy now” side is the fact that I know there will be worse headlines and more scares — both in health statistics, and financially in individual and business consequences, and maybe even politically. I just don’t see it being so “easy” to get through this humongous event. I’m always aware of the Savage Truth that: “The market always fools the greatest number of people.”

So basically, when it comes to getting “back into the market”, it’s a personal judgment. I never know when stocks are a “bargain” except in hindsight.

Now, if you’re trying to pick individual stocks that are selling at bargain prices, this advice doesn’t apply to you. You’re a speculator — and that’s just fine. I hope you guess right and make a fortune. Just don’t risk your entire financial future on being “right” or following a TV market pundit.

From my personal standpoint, even though you won’t get much interest on the money in banks or by purchasing Treasury bills, I think it’s a fine idea to have a significant portion of my money in cash –at this stage of my life. It may not make financial planners happy to hear this — but it’s YOUR money (and mine!) if you want to make the same decision. At least you’ll always have that money (though its buying power may be impacted if inflation returns).

I also know that we all need a component of diversified stock market investment for the long run — because over the long run stocks (a diversified portfolio with dividends reinvested) have beaten cash over every 20-year period, going back to 1926. That was the point of not “selling everything” in advance, or during the panic. And it took a lot of self-discipline or just plain stubbornness to stick with that plan.

America is not over. I know that for sure. But I don’t know if this bear market is over. And that’s The Savage Truth.

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