I received a text from my niece last week: “I know you’re the finance guy…do you deal much with the stock market? Is now a time to invest?”
My reply: “Heck yeah! Now’s a good time.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average had lost over 35% of its value in about a month.
Which made me wonder about my investments. We have bank savings but not much – enough for an emergency fund, but not enough to risk in the stock market.
But we do have a good chunk of change in our 401k (me) and 403b (Nora) retirement accounts.
Cash on the Sidelines
Actually, as of last week, I had $30k in SPAXX Fidelity Government Money Market Fund. It’s about as close to stuffing cash under your mattress as you can get, except without the risk of theft or house fire. (On the flip side, there’s the risk of U.S. government credit going into a swan dive, but I’m much more concerned about mattress lifters).
SPAXX had an average annual return of 1.71% for one year, and .81% for five years. Then debit out an annual net expense of .42%. In other words, with inflation, my $30k investment was losing money every year. The U.S. inflation rate in 2019 was 2.3%.
The SPAXX money market fund is where my 401k savings automatically go until I transfer them somewhere else. It’s the default way my account was setup, but I like how it forces me to check in on things occasionally.
I haven’t touched it for four years for a couple reasons.
Reluctance to Invest Reason #1: Overdue for a Recession
For one, the U.S. is way overdue for a recession. Until the current pandemic (economic effect as yet unknown, but it’s going to be rough), we were in the longest period of economic expansion in U.S. history – over a decade! A sort of weak expansion, but growth nonetheless.
There were 33 business cycles in the U.S. between 1854 and 2009. The average length of a growing economy is 3.2 years. The average recession lasts for 1.5 years. A full business cycle on average is 4.7 years, making us overdue for a recession by about six years.
I don’t believe in daily or weekly market timing, because it’s mostly a guessing game and very few investors have this type of success, despite all the talk of professional ‘day traders.’ But I do believe in monthly market timing. Invest when the market is generally down, sell when it is way up.
The problem? The market has been relentlessly up, keeping me on the sidelines, with $30k in retirement cash.
Reluctance to Invest Reason #2: Government Mistrust
Most stock market investors are all in on President Trump. Me, not so much.
I get how his red-tape-cutting, regulation-slashing ways are pro-business and market boosting, but it carries a lot of risk also.
After all, lack of financial oversight allowed the mortgage crisis to blow up in 2008, leading to a near-meltdown of the economy, and a damaging recession.
And rolling back environmental stewardship is dangerously myopic. The economic risks of climate change are extensive and growing as the earth warms.
I think the gargantuan Trump tax cut in 2017 helped to spur the economy, but at what cost? Without an accompanying decrease in spending (Congress shares some blame here), deficits ballooned, adding to the financial burden future generations will have to shoulder. If you suffer from Excessive Elation Syndrome, watch the rapidly-escalating U.S. National Debt Clock to re-center yourself.
Combine these questionable policies with Trump’s relentless – and often dishonest – positivity about himself and his government, and I think you have a dangerous stew. His initial minimization of the coronavirus, and the deleterious effect that had, is one example.
Time to Leap?
When I heard last week that the market had dropped below the level of where it was when Trump won the presidency in November 2016, I knew it was time to act.
On Friday last week, I put $15,000 into FSKAX Fidelity Total Market Index Fund, which has at least 80% of assets in common stocks included in the Dow Jones Market Index. It represents the performance of a broad range of U.S. stocks, has no transaction fee, and it’s very low cost, with an annual net expense of .015%.
To diversify, I also put $15,000 into FTIHX Fidelity Total International Index Fund. Similarly, it represents the performance of a broad range of international stocks, has no transaction fee, and it’s low cost, with an annual net expense of .06%.
On Monday, I checked in and my new investments were already down $623. Gulp.
On Tuesday, the Dow Jones average soared more than 11%, notching its biggest one-day percentage gain since 1933. Suddenly, my new investments were up $2,557.
I didn’t check in the rest of the week. I know things are going well for now, but they could easily reverse. My stomach’s not going to be able to take the daily roller coaster.
Repeat after me: I am in this for the long haul. I am in this for the long haul. I am in this for the long haul.