In times of market turbulence, it’s normal for investors to experience different degrees of fear. With the advent of the Internet, a multitude of media outlets often amplify the loudest voices.
But when an analyst at Citibank warned in early February that global financial markets were in a “death spiral,” it struck this observer as over the top. At the time of his remarks, the S&P 500 was about 15% off its all-time high, midway between a correction and a bear market.
Investors haven’t experienced a real bear market for almost seven years, but it’s not clear memories of the last violent convulsion in 2008 and 2009 are a distant memory. Most clients of financial advisors remember it well.
Still, as of mid-February, the current correction remains milder than the 19.4% dip in 2011 after Standard & Poor’s downgraded U.S. Treasurys. No doubt many industries like energy, transportation, materials and biotech are already in their own individual bear markets.
This hardly constitutes a global market death spiral. Sure, European banks are dealing with the swooning prices of contingent convertible bonds issued to meet new capital reserve requirements and loans to troubled and highly leveraged mining and commodity concerns like Glencore.
China’s slowdown in growth remains an ongoing development for the world to watch. The rise of trade warriors like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump can’t be encouraging to financial markets here or abroad.
From what I hear from advisors, clients have been in a melancholy mood for more than a year, or long before problems surfaced last summer. Few are calling up with panic or even concern—despite the bleak start to 2016—though that could change if this turns into a full-blown bear market.
But a 15% correction means equities are already less expensive than they had been for a while. For investors who panicked during the Great Recession and went to cash, dramatically reducing their potential retirement income, a reasonable entry point appears to be approaching.
Some advisors who have worried that their projections for future equity returns might need to be revised downward are reconsidering whether that is still necessary. Ever since equities climbed 32% in 2013, observers said the market was borrowing future returns and advancing them to the present. That process is being reversed.