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Markets in a Minute

The Psychological Pitfalls of a Market Cycle

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This Markets in a Minute Chart is available as a poster.

Investor Sentiment

This Markets in a Minute Chart is available as a poster.

The Psychological Pitfalls of a Market Cycle

When making investment decisions, investors have a wide variety of tools at their disposal.

For example, fundamental analysis can be used to estimate a stock’s intrinsic value. Technical analysis, on the other hand, requires an investor to analyze price movements to identify trends.

While these tools can form the basis of a sound investment thesis, their effectiveness is limited by one’s emotions. In today’s Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments, we illustrate how sentiment can get in the way of rational decision making.

The Mentality of the Herd

Allowing emotions to dictate decisions is a common mistake made by many investors, yet they may not even realize it.

Herd mentality, which refers to an individual’s tendency to be influenced by his or her peers, often leads to heightened emotions and less rational decision making. In the context of investing, this tendency becomes particularly troublesome—market developments can be sensationalized in the media, by online blogs, or through word-of-mouth.

Mapping the Sentiment Cycle

Similar to how markets move in a series of patterns and cycles, the behavior of the investor herd tends to follow a continuous “sentiment cycle.”

1. Market Recovery
Today’s chart begins at the recovery stage of a market cycle, and assumes that emotional investors have recently suffered losses.

Although a support level has been clearly established, the herd is likely too afraid to act. Their fear of making another mistake causes them to miss the optimal window to re-enter the market.

2. Market Peak
Only after prices have substantially risen does the herd begin to take notice. Many of these investors will experience the fear of missing out (FOMO), and overzealously begin buying. Valuations at this point are likely no longer attractive.

3. Market Decline
What comes up must come down, and prices eventually peak as demand weakens. Investors who become too emotionally attached can find it difficult to cut their losses early.

4. Market Trough
By this point, the sentiment cycle has run a full course. Investors who followed the herd have likely sold at a loss, and will be reluctant to re-enter the market again.

Navigating Rough Waters

Investors are prone to falling into the sentiment cycle at any time, but especially when things get rough. So-called black swan events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, can bring volatility to markets on short notice. In these situations, it’s common for investors to flock to safe-haven assets.

Since COVID-19 was classified as a global pandemic, money market funds have been in extremely high demand:

Money market flows

While this dramatic shift does have its merits—equity markets have seen deep selloffs—it may be a tad drastic. Governments around the world are making serious commitments to providing economic stimulus. In the U.S., the CARES Act amounts to a massive $2 trillion, and provides direct payments to families as well as support for both the private and public sector.

Keeping a Clear Mind

Now that we’ve outlined the psychological pitfalls of a market cycle, what can one do to break away from the herd?

A good start is becoming aware of the cognitive biases we commonly exhibit when investing. These biases can be linked to many of the emotions outlined in today’s chart. Finally, maintaining a growth mindset and learning from our past mistakes can also help us make better decisions in the future.

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Markets in a Minute

Should a U.S. Election Affect Your Asset Mix?

Election jitters prompt investors to put their money in low-risk assets. We analyze why this may not be the best idea for your portfolio’s asset mix.

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Should an Election Affect Your Asset Mix?

U.S. elections are a powerful force in investor psychology.

In fact, historically, investors pour more money into low-risk assets than equity investments surrounding election season. Following election years, investors reverse course and put their money back into equities.

This Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments shows how investors have reacted to U.S. presidential elections over time, and why maintaining your long-term asset mix may be a better course of action.

Market Behavior During U.S. Elections

While investors allocated funds into safe assets in election years, what happened to the market?

 Average S&P 500 Returns in Presidential Election Years (1928-2016)
New president is elected9.3%
Incumbent president win13.4%
All election years11.3%

Source: Morningstar (Dec, 2019)

On average, the market has returned 11.3% in election years over the last century.

Markets also appear to prefer familiarity—when the incumbent president won, the S&P 500 averaged higher returns. Alongside this, it made no difference if a Democrat or Republican candidate won.

Implications for the 2020 Election

Still, with mail-in voting controversy and the anticipation of a results dispute, the 2020 presidential run has stoked greater volatility in financial markets. What reference point can we make to previously contested results?

Following the 2000 results between Al Gore and George Bush, investor fear ran rampant. Markets fell 1.6% when no winner was clearly determined. Compare this to the 2016 presidential run, when markets jumped 1% the day after the election.

But while short-term impacts of U.S. elections cause heightened uncertainty, it’s important to analyze if it’s an emotional or rational decision being made in response to market unrest.

Opportunity Costs

While investors typically run to safe-haven assets during these cycles, the table below illustrates how this may be less optimal for their portfolios.

 U.S. Treasury Bill (T-Bill) Rates
8 Week T-bill0.09%
26 Week T-bill0.11%
52 Week T-bill0.13%

Source: U.S. Treasury (Dec, 2020)

Instead of paying attention to unknown variables inherent in every market, investors can focus on what the numbers are saying.

Building a Resilient Portfolio

So how can investors stay the course during election season?

Broad historical trends show that in spite of unique events, money in the stock market positively increases over time. Staying invested in your long-term asset mix can help capture these overarching trends.

One-off events such as an election provide an opportunity to take advantage of temporarily lower prices. This, coupled with the higher volatility levels that accompany election cycles, offer an avenue for your portfolio to be more resilient as it helps strengthen portfolio returns.

The diminishing returns of cash compound this effect. Over the last decade, cash returned close to 0%. These return rates could fall even lower in the years ahead as interest rates decline.

In short, it’s impossible to predict the future. Instead, equities and other fixed income investments have offered a number of advantages. Macroeconomic factors, such as falling interest rates and the supply of capital, have only highlighted this trend.

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Markets in a Minute

U.S. Elections: Charting Patterns in Market Volatility

How have U.S. elections historically impacted market volatility? With elections nearing, we look at over 90 years of market data.

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U.S. Elections: Charting Patterns in Market Volatility

Do elections influence market volatility?

Over 90 years of data shows that volatility jumps 30% in the five months leading up to an election. But while elections have historically stoked uncertainty in the market, in reality, the scale of their impact plays a relatively minor role.

This Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments shows volatility trends surrounding elections over the last century, and how investors can best position themselves amid market turbulence.

Making Sense of Market Volatility

Volatility is when a security has sharp price movements in either direction. The market’s volatility is measured by the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), also known as the ‘fear gauge’ for the market. The higher the VIX reading, the higher the volatility.

The five-year average VIX value is 15.8, with an an all-time low of 9.1 in November 2017, and reaching an all-time high of 82.7 in March 2020. Specifically, in the five months ahead of U.S. elections, the VIX tends to fall between 14 and 18.

MonthAverage Monthly VIX During U.S. Election Years Since 1928
July14.2
August15.0
September16.0
October17.4
November18.0
December14.7

Source: Eureka Report

After the dust settles from elections, market volatility reduces as investors gain more clarity on government direction.

In short, in the six months following an election, volatility tends to fall on a downward sloping trajectory.

Finding Opportunity Surrounding U.S. Elections

With volatility here to stay, investors can utilize a number of portfolio strategies prior to elections.

  1. Stay the course: The easiest thing investors can do is nothing. Ignoring irrational market activity and staying invested will help you keep your investment goals on track.
  2. Focus on value: Investors can focus on companies with sound balance sheets that return value back to shareholders, such as fixed-income investments or dividend-paying stocks. For instance, when concerns circled around increased taxes on investment income in 2012, no less than 1,100 companies issued a special dividend following the election.
  3. Bargain hunt: Overvalued stocks, or sectors in the policy spotlight, can temporarily dip amid market fear. For example, in 2016 the health care sector saw new policies that investors feared would have damaging effects. Ultimately, these concerns were overdone, and the sector rallied after the election.

Focusing on solid company fundamentals can offer windows of opportunity to investors who look past the short-term volatility.

Long-Term Areas to Focus On

Investors can look to structural factors, such as the economic environment, that have a more powerful impact on financial markets.

Interest rates, low bond yields and policy measures, among others, have a greater influence on market performance. Rather than paying attention to short-term volatility, investors can also focus on policy changes that have a lasting impact on the economy:

  1. Employment: Economic policies that help to promote workforce outcomes will have positive impacts on earnings growth, market performance, and investor portfolios.
  2. Taxes: Tax policies reallocate capital. Corporate tax cuts, for instance, can buoy markets and investor optimism.
  3. COVID-19 containment: The policies in place in response to COVID-19, such as the CARES Act, will have a marked impact on investor sentiment, company earnings, and ultimately economic resilience.

Looking past the election, and keeping an eye on policy shifts, could provide more insight into key forces shaping the future of the economy.

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