As we enter the second quarter, this first week is a taste of things to come. After months of enjoying a straight-up stock market, we are getting back to the new normal, so strap on your seat belts.
Monday and Tuesday were downright ugly. The next two days we climbed back up and then on Friday gave some back. It was a roller coaster and is reminiscent of the period from May through October of last year. Imagine that.
It was a down week, despite a surprise upside earnings surprise from Alcoa, which is usually the first company to report each quarter. Further good news from some big banks failed to inspire the market, however. Once again, as I wrote last week the rain in Spain has flooded our plain.
Spanish banks borrowed twice as much from the European Central Bank in March as they did in February amounting to $419 billion. The ever-present angst among European investors has focused on Spain this month. Next month (or week) it could be Italy, Portugal or that popular whipping boy, Greece, that’s back in the news.
Underlying the recent climb in Spanish sovereign bond yields is a brewing housing crisis and a faltering economy. Spanish banks are also bleeding. They are grabbling with 300 billion euros in property loans and the Spanish government has said it isn’t prepared to inject any more capital into the sector. It’s the same old song that will most likely end in another bailout for Spain.
I shouldn’t blame Spain for all our worries. China’s slowdown has also contributed to investors’ worry. The annual rate for Chinese GDP growth slowed in the first quarter to 8.1% from 8.9%. I wish our growth could be even half that rate but everything is relative. And relative, in the context of Chinese economics, equates to slower growth, slower demand for materials and commodities, and a host of other goodies that the world depends on to drive their own economies. A hard landing in China coupled with a recession in Europe would not be an auspicious development for world economic growth. Right now the state of China’s economy is muddy at best.
As for our markets, the decline I have expected has begun. Pullbacks vary. If we take a look at the last nine times the markets have declined going back to mid-2010, we see that the longest correction was 22 days. The average was 15 days. Snap-back rallies can last from two days to seven days. This week’s snap-back lasted two days.
What is clear is that volatility increases substantially during times like these. My advice: do not try to trade the ups and downs. You will be left with a big hole in your portfolio and end up losing far more than the market corrects. If you had decided prior to this pullback that you were going to stick with the markets, then do so, take your lumps and look to the long term.
If you followed my advice and raised cash, it is time to be patient, watch the markets gyrate but don’t let that cash burn a hole in your pocket. Patience in this kind of environment is worth its weight in gold.