One of our financial advisors recently asked if I would send over some investment advice to his college-age son who has become very interested in the markets and reads our commentaries each day. I get emails like this one from time to time and it is always very strange since it was not that long ago that I was on the opposite end of those inquiries. As I often tell people, practically everything I know about the financial markets I learned after leaving school, and one of the best decisions I ever made when first learning was to pick the brains of those who knew more than I did (and back then pretty much everyone knew more about the markets than I did). Because of my own experience, I always give these kinds of requests my utmost attention since you never know how something you may say to someone may impact his or her life. I will be forever grateful to those who have helped me out, people like Jeff Saut who did not have to go out of their way to help me and yet did so anyway. I know Thanksgiving was a couple of weeks ago, but I am very thankful for Jeff and everyone else who has helped me by sharing their knowledge and would like to follow in their footsteps by doing the same.
The first thing I stressed to the financial advisor’s son in my reply was that learning never ends. The financial markets are ever-changing, so the education process is definitely one of those cases where the journey is more important than the destination. I certainly do not claim to have all the answers (or even most) and told him so, but I did provide a few “lessons learned” from my journey up to this point that I hoped would make his own a little easier. Since this month marks the three-year anniversary of the inception of Charts of the Week and because one of my goals in doing this weekly report has always been to help readers navigate the markets as best I can, I thought it would be a fitting time to reproduce some of those lessons I have gleaned from others and stumbled upon myself so far (in no particular order).
1. The best investment you can ever make is in yourself. Learn as much as you can and never stop.
2. Cut your losses before they get too big and let your winners run. That is the “secret” to investing but yet it is the hardest thing to do consistently.
3. Long-term moves in the financial markets are produced by economics and fundamentals; short-term moves, however, are produced almost exclusively by news flow, sentiment, and technical levels on the price charts.
4. You don’t have to get it perfect to make money in the long run. There will always be missed opportunities and what looks obvious in hindsight was almost certainly not so obvious at the time. The “perfect is the enemy of the good” when it comes to investing. If you get it mostly right you’ll probably be ok.
5. Priority number one should be to manage risk. It does not matter how strongly you feel about an investment, if it goes against you then that is a sign that you are wrong. The first loss is usually the best loss, and it’s always easier to get back in than it is to get back out. Or said more eloquently by Larry Hite: “I have two basic rules about winning in trading as well as in life: 1. If you don’t bet, you can’t win. 2. If you lose all your chips, you can’t bet.”
6. There is no “Holy Grail” of investing. No collection of indicators or data will guarantee a winning investment. Therefore, spend more time learning when to get out of a position than trying to find the perfect time to get in.
7. New information is not inherently “good” or “bad.” What matters is how new information is perceived relative to expectations. “Bad news” can be good if it’s better than originally feared and “good news” can be bad if it’s not good enough.
8. The financial markets will often do whatever will confuse the most people. When everyone is on one side of the boat, it’s probably a good time to start looking for a way off the boat. Relatedly, major uptrends often begin when sentiment can’t seem to get any worse; major downtrends often begin when sentiment can’t seem to get any better.
9. Price moves often start before the reasons are clear. “The market” knows more than we do, so let the market do your thinking as much as possible.
10. Opinions only make you money when confirmed by the market; only price pays.
11. Hope is not an investment strategy. By the time you have lost enough that you find yourself hoping or even praying that an investment will go back up, it’s probably a sign that you should have already gotten out.
12. Getting investment ideas from someone else should be the start of the decision-making process, not the end (tips are for waiters).
13. Asset prices always go higher than you think they will and lower than you think they will. Never buy something just because you think “it can’t go down further” or sell something because you think “it can’t go any higher.”
14. Conditions are never all good or all bad. If you’re waiting for all the risks to go away before investing you will never own stocks again.
15. It is very easy to sell fear and many people in this business take advantage of that fact. Always question the motives of anyone providing investment advice and information, especially when they’re predicting the end of the world.
16. Many of the “hot topics” being discussed on any given day are just noise. Try not to inflate the unimportant.
17. Try not to let political opinions get in the way of your portfolio. The integrated global economy we live in is bigger than politics. Also try to “think globally” when investing.
18. When the reason you bought a stock no longer applies, it’s probably a good idea to get out of that stock.
19. The U.S. stock market has survived world wars, the Great Depression, bubbles, crashes, political crises, the Financial Crisis, etc., and there is nothing to suggest that its resiliency will not continue in the future. If it does not continue, than we probably have bigger things to worry about than the stock market.
Again, I am not trying to break new ground here or imply that these are the only lessons one needs to know, but they have helped guide me and I hope they can help you too going forward.
As for the stock market, yes, the session yesterday was bad and likely surprised many who believed we were done with the 3% down days for a while. The fact that we got weakness was not too much of a shock – there is still concern among investors with respect to trade, global growth, the Fed, etc. and after a 6% gain in six sessions for the S&P 500 some retracement was likely. The extent of that weakness, though, did catch us and most everyone else off guard, and may have been exacerbated by the fact that the markets are closed today for a national day of mourning to honor President George H.W. Bush. Given all the uncertainty and the sharp up-move that preceded yesterday’s sell-off, many traders may have taken their profits on the first sign of weakness, knowing they would not get another chance to do so until Thursday. And once that selling began and support around 2750-2760 was taken out, it turned into one of those downward spiral days that have become all too common. It certainly felt like two days’ worth of selling instead of just one at least.
I continue to view the wide range between 2603 and 2815 as a battleground between the bulls and bears where pretty much anything is fair game, but, ideally, the S&P 500 will not fall back under the 2670-2685 support zone. As we have mentioned, the broad stock market has already carved out what looks to us to be a decent bottom sequence, so we do not need another retest to further confirm it. I will now be watching for that 2670-2685 area to once again provide support and will view it as a red flag if it does not. To paraphrase one of my “rules” above, opinions are meaningless if not confirmed by price so even though we’ve been treating this as a bottom for stocks, we will have to adjust if the market gives us enough reason to do so.
And with that . . . here are the Charts of the Week . . .