March 6, 2009, was a dark day in the investment world. The S&P 500 reached an intra-day level of 666 (no, that number is not a typo), as the pains of a prolonged and severe recession had swelled to a genuine concern of a pending economic depression.
Madoff and Stanford were in the headlines, and Citigroup’s stock had traded below $1/share, causing many investors to lose faith in the financial markets as a whole. Various monthly economic data releases were abysmal. At that time, our No. 1 recommended prescription for investors was the following:
“Tune out the news, let us worry about it and hang in there.”
From that point forward, there were a myriad of reasons for the average investor to not believe in the bull market that was beginning to unfold, and trust me, we heard most of them. Just try to think about all of the news that you heard over the past four years and how easy it was to let it affect your investment decisions.
Internationally, Iranians tried to revolt and overturn their elections, only to be turned back (“The Middle East is waiting to implode!”). The Europeans went through a financial crisis of their own in 2010 and 2011 (“The Greeks are going to default, and the whole eurozone sans Germany will cease to exist … contagion!”). The Asian economies experienced the ebb and flow of an economic cycle, with China’s housing bubble and currency manipulations seemingly always on the news reel (“If China goes down, it’s all over. … They own our country because they have all of our debt!”).
Speaking of our country, there was no shortage of “alarming” news stories related to the good ole USA. A stimulus bill, Dodd-Frank and Obamacare were all signed into law in 2009-2010 (“We can’t afford this. … Our economy is going to crater!”). Congressional leadership changed hands in 2010, resulting in a bruising debt ceiling debate in the late summer of 2011 (“The US is going to default on its debt. … Washington is broken; what is Congress doing?”). Every December seemed to usher in a new pending crisis (“Fiscal Cliff!”). The Federal Reserve put the pedal to the metal, trying to stimulate from a monetary perspective with QE1, QE2, QE3, Operation Twist, etc. (“The Fed is insane … hyper-inflation is right around the corner!”).
Meanwhile, the economy and stock market began to heal over this time period, as the S&P 500 moved forward from 666, closing at the following levels at the end of each ensuing calendar year: 1,115 (12/31/09), 1,257 (12/31/10), 1,257 (12/31/11) and 1,426 (12/31/12). Continuing what could be one of the most underappreciated bull markets in history, the S&P 500 last week crossed the 1,700 threshold, which translates into a 155 percent cumulative return (excluding dividends) from 666.
Where do we go from here? More on that in future writings, but our No. 1 recommended prescription remains the same today as it did in 2009:
“Tune out the news, let us worry about it, and hang in there.”
Mark Sorgenfrei Jr. is vice president and investment analyst for Waddell & Associates Inc.