Investors should take a deep breath

By Bill Schmick • February 24, 2022

The war drums are beating. Oil and gas prices are soaring. Inflation is at a decades-long high. Bearish sentiment is exploding. And the stock market is giving investors angina. What to do?

Take a deep breath and remember that whatever the circumstances, this too shall pass. I know that is easy to say, but a longer-term perspective might prevent you from doing something foolish like selling into this downturn.

Let’s address the present fear that today’s geopolitical tension will somehow escalate into possibly WWIII. Sure, anything can happen, but is war the most probable outcome? The present reaction by the U.S. and its allies regarding Vladimir Putin’s aggression toward Ukraine has been confined to economic sanctions. No one in the administration is contemplating a military response.

Make no mistake, the economic sanctions that we implement against Russia could have a certain amount of blowback for the U.S. and European nations. We already see higher prices for energy (oil is above $100/ bbl. as I write this). Other commodities have also shot up in price. This could mean that further increases are ahead and for a longer period of time than we expected, which would make fighting the present rate of inflation more difficult, but not impossible.

From a historical perspective, the specter of a new cold war shouldn’t have a debilitating impact on the world economy. Economies, including our own, have thrived despite decades-long cold wars in the past. Could we see further hacking attacks directed against our companies or financial system? We could, but I suspect they would be more of an inconvenience than a real body blow. If anything, it may change the investment prospects for certain sectors (such as defense or IT security) in the future.

As for how the markets are handling this event, one must understand that for many this kind of correction is brand new. There are 25 million investors new to the stock market that have only seen markets go higher in the last year or so that they have been investing. And there is an entire generation of investors who have never seen an environment of rising interest rates and higher inflation.

In addition, there are now armies of short-term traders with software programs set to react instantly to news based on certain key words. You can guess that words like “war,” “invasion,” and “sanctions,” in connection with “Ukraine” or “Russia” are triggering buy or sell programs with millions (if not billions) of dollars at risk. The fact that the world media is broadcasting every accusation, every rumor, every quote concerning this crisis simply heightens this type of trading.

Don’t mistake these computer-generated day trades as indicative of what the market thinks will or will not happen. The professional institutional investors are not panicking. Dark pool buying, which is a better indication of what the pros are doing, has seen consistent buying for the last few weeks. Of course, what they are buying (and selling) could be significant.

In this age of higher inflation, materials, financials, commodities, and defensive sectors like REITS, telecommunications, and utilities are in demand. Technology and speculative areas, such as cryptos and the “Kathy Wood” stocks, are being liquidated and will continue to be a source of funds, in my opinion.

Will the overall market continue to decline? If the Federal Reserve Bank continues its monetary tightening program, the odds are that we have more downside ahead of us. If things get out of hand (and it appears today that they are), this decline could fall another 6-7% in the S&P 500 Index. That would bring the total decline to almost 20% overall between now and the end of March.  Given the market’s outstanding performance over the last few years, it seems to me a small price to pay for those gains.

Yes, a loss like that in less than six months would be painful, but not the end of the world. And losses you might incur now could easily be recouped by the end of the year. If you hold through this downturn, they would only be paper losses. If you sell in a panic however, they will become real losses. Selling the “news” is a bad strategy, but selling when the news cannot even be verified is a real sucker’s game. We are in that kind of investment atmosphere today.

Take it from me, it is too late to sell. Hang in there, ignore the news, and take a deep breath.

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