All Time Highs!

Bill Parrott |

A record number of climbers reached the peak of Everest this year. In fact, it was so crowded that climbers had to wait in a long line to reach the summit and the approach to the peak was described as a “traffic jam.”[1] A climber spends about two months getting acclimated to the elevation before they start their ascent to the highest point on earth.[2] After a few minutes at the top snapping a few selfies to capture the view they’ll start descending to base camp. A slow climb to the top, a faster descent home.

This past week the S&P 500 hit an all-time high of 3,013. It’s been a long, slow ascent for the index to reach its current peak. In 1998 it crossed 1,000 for the first time. It broke through 2,000 in 2014. Fifty years ago, it was at 92. When I started in the business it was 330 and the Dow Jones was trading below 3,000!

The rise from 92 to 3,000 hasn’t been straight up, of course. During the Great Depression the index produced a return of .6% per year (1929 – 1943). In the decade of the ‘70s it rose 15 points, or 1.5% per year. It fell 42% from August 2000 to September 2002. It cratered 46% from October 2007 to March 2009. Despite these rough patches, the index managed to generate an average annual return of 10% dating back to 1926.  

What now? Will the S&P 500 fall back to earth? Will it dip or dive soon? Who knows? I’m sure it will be as volatile as it has been in the past. When it does drop, use it as an opportunity to buy a few quality stocks or funds. Buy the dip, historically, has been good advice.

If you’re concerned about a descent from the ascent, here are a few strategies you can incorporate today to protect your assets.

  • Take some gains and sell your stocks. Locking in a profit never hurts. You can sell your winners or losers to raise cash. Ideally, you’ll want to sell your winners in a tax deferred account like an IRA and sell your losers in a taxable account for the tax write off. Regardless, selling stocks to raise cash makes sense if you’re concerned about a drop.
  • Buy bonds. Buying bonds yielding 1% to 2% sounds boring. It is. Bonds reduce risk and volatility in your account. During times of duress, however, you’ll be glad you own bonds. In the drops I mentioned above, bonds performed well. During the Great Depression, long-term government bonds averaged an annual return of 4.3% (1929 – 1943). During the ‘70’s they averaged 5.5%. In 2000 bonds rose 21.5% and they climbed 25.9% in 2008.
  • Buy puts. Use put options to hedge your portfolio for short term moves. Options are used to protect individual positions like Amazon or indices like the S&P 500. This strategy is expensive, so use it sparingly. Let’s look at a put option for Amazon. Amazon is currently trading at $2,012. Buying the August 16, 2019 $2,010 put option will cost $6,155 for every 100 shares you own. If Amazon falls below $2,010 on, or before, August 16 you may profit on your trade. If Amazon stays above $2,010, you’ll lose 100% of your investment. If a short-term option strategy is too risky, you can extend the maturity date. For example, the January 17, 2020 $2,010 put option will cost $13,410.  Still expensive and risky. To employ this strategy only work with an advisor who is well versed in trading options.
  • Do nothing. Be still and let your stocks run. Trying to time the market may cost you more than a market correction. Over time, a buy and hold strategy performs well. A recent study by Dimensional Fund Advisors highlights this point. From 1926 to 2018, they found the market is significantly higher after a market reaches a new high. According to their study, the market is 14.1% higher one-year after reaching a new high. The three-year average is 10.4% and the five-year average is 9.9%.[3] Don’t sell your stocks If your only reason to sell is because the market has reached a new high.

Everest will always be there and so will the stock market. Unlike Everest, the S&P 500 can continue to soar to new heights – without limit. I’m not sure what the market will do in the next few months, but I’m convinced it will be significantly higher 50 years from now. My recommendation is to stay the course and enjoy the view.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? ~ Psalm 121:1

July 13, 2019

Bill Parrott, CFP®, CKA® is the President and CEO of Parrott Wealth Management located in Austin, Texas. Parrott Wealth Management is a fee-only, fiduciary, registered investment advisor firm. Our goal is to remove complexity, confusion, and worry from the investment and financial planning process so our clients can pursue a life of purpose.

Note: Investments are not guaranteed and do involve risk. Your returns may differ than those posted in this blog. PWM is not a tax advisor, nor do we give tax advice. Please consult your tax advisor for items that are specific to your situation. Options involve risk and aren’t suitable for every investor.