It looks like the U.S. stock market will finally get something that happens, on average, about once a year: a 10+% percent drop—the definition of a market correction. The last time this happened was a whopper—the Great Recession drop that caused U.S. stocks to drop more than 50%–so most people today probably think corrections are catastrophic. They aren’t. More typically, they last anywhere from 20 trading days (the 1997 correction, down 10.8%) to 104 days (the 2002-2003 correction, down 14.7%). Corrections are unnerving, but they’re a healthy part of the economy—for a couple of reasons.
Suppose somebody came up to you and shouted: “I have terrible news about the economy. I think you should sell your stocks!”
Alarmed, you say: “Oh, my God. Tell me more!”
And this mysterious stranger shouts: “Run for the hills! The American economy just added 200,000 more jobs—more than expectations—and the U.S. jobless rate now stands at 4.1%, the lowest since 2000!”
You blink your eyes. So?
While the U.S. stock market tests new highs, and valuations keep rising farther above long-term averages, you may not have noticed something very odd about our current bull market. The last six and a half years have set a record for lowest market volatility, and the past 299 trading days, starting in November of 2016, has set an even bigger non-volatility record. The markets have been eerily quiet for longer than they ever have been before.
You might wonder why there wasn’t more media coverage of one of the most interesting bets ever made in the investment world. We’re not talking about betting on a company; this bet was made between Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffet and a hedge fund called Protégé Partners, on whether a basket of hedge funds managed by algorithms and super investors would beat a simple S&P 500 index fund over a period of 10 years—which happened to include the Great Recession and one of the longest bull markets in history. Each side put about $320,000 in 2007, with the proceeds—including all gains—going to charity.
It’s not always easy to grasp the value of diversification—why, in other words, it’s better to own many stocks inside a mutual fund than one or two stocks on their own. But recent research conducted by Arizona State U. finance professor Hendrik Bessembinder offers some insight.
It is probably not a good sign for an investment when its largest clearing firm takes out an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal asking for more regulatory oversight and warning investors that its investment category is so volatile that futures contracts could create devastating losses. Yet this is exactly what has happened recently when Interactive Brokers, the clearing firm for the bitcoin cryptocurrency, responded to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s plans to start listing bitcoin futures.
One of the oddities of a significant bull market—and this one we’re in today qualifies, as the second-longest in modern American history—is that they tend to go on longer than you might expect from the pure market fundamentals. The last leg of a bull market tends to be driven by psychology; people have recently experienced an up market, and so they tend to expect more of the same. They buy at prices they would never consider buying at when the markets have experienced a downturn, driving prices ever higher without regard to the price. As a result, the long tail of the bull market will also see some of the greatest, fastest increases.