For those who have yet to commit to equity, it is time to reassess. We have entered a new phase in stock markets worldwide. It is called a secular bull market and could last for many years. Don’t let this opportunity slip by.
Talking to prospective clients and investors over the last few years, I have heard a litany of reasons why stocks are not a good investment. The following are just a few of the more popular excuses: a second financial meltdown is just around the corner. The Fed’s quantitative easing will spark hyperinflation. U.S. debt and deficits will sink the markets. Washington’s politics will drive the country into a depression.
Then there are those trapped in self-fulfilling prophecies. I call them the “I missed it” crowd. These are the investors that continuously argued that the markets are too high year after year. Now, four years later and over 100% higher, they are still sticking to the same mantra. A subgroup of those dissenters, who are still holding U.S. Treasury bonds or CDs, would like to take the plunge, but they too are afraid that the stock markets gains are over.
My position is that the above investors are looking backward. Future gains will be equal to or better than those of the last few years driven by gathering strength in world economies and low interest rates.
So let’s put this “markets are too expensive” argument to bed once and for all. The stock market, as represented by the benchmark S&P 500 Index, on March 24, 2000 was trading at 1,527. Today, November 15, 2013, that level is 1,792. That is a gain of only 17.3% over 13 years (1.3% gain annually). That is much less than the inflation rate during the same time period and far below the market’s historical average of 7% per year over the last 100 or so years.
Ask yourself if those kind of gains accurately reflect the advances we have witnessed over the last 13 years in education, energy, technology, science, medicine, food production industrial manufacturing and a host of other areas. By any stretch of the imagination, does a 1.3% gain in stock prices each year reflect those advances?
Of course not; but let’s look at another metric, the trailing price/earnings ratio (P/E) of the market, a tool that attempts to value stocks by dividing the price of a stock by its past earnings. Back in March of 2000, the P/E ratio stood at 28.3 times earnings. Today, that ratio is only 17.4 times earnings. So why is the market cheaper now than it was 13 years ago?
The simple answer is that the stock market had been in a secular bear market for most of that time. During secular bear markets, which can last from 5-15 years, gains are hard to come by. During secular bull markets, which I believe we have now entered, the opposite occurs. There is a catch-up period where markets begin to make up for all those years of low growth. We are in that phase right now. In the years ahead, the gains will begin to slow down but should be above the historical average. We may even have a few years where we experience losses (due to a recession, for example) before growth resumes.
So for discussion’s sake, let’s guess that this particular secular bull market will last a decade. If the S&P 500 Index simply returns to its historical norm, that would mean 7% growth/year times ten years or a total of 70%,. Of course, if you compounded those gains the returns would be much higher.
The morale of this tale is that anyone with a long-term view could enter the market today, despite its historical highs, and expect to prosper for years to come. Sure, there would be pullbacks, as there are in every market environment, but the trend would be your friend. How simple is that?