Tag: Timing

When should I buy stocks? Putting my buy-decision thoughts completely out there $SPY

I did a post yesterday on some data points to consider before buying in this market.  I’ve been nibbling on the way down, but looking at some of the data points, I have to agree with what Gavin Baker has said in a recent post: this is a tremendous demand shock that we have not seen the likes of before. It will be very difficult to navigate it this time because its almost like a 9/11 and a 2008 demand shock rolled into one (but not a financial crisis like 2008 was). So when should I buy stocks?

The market clearly priced some of this in. The chart below shows the Russell 2000 drawdowns in the past. We’ve already surpassed the drawdown of 2001-2002 and did so much more swiftly. If anything, this drawdown is looking like 2008 just from the slope of the line (its steep).

Obviously, hindsight tells us if you chose to buy stocks during these drawdowns, it would have paid off very handsomely.

IWM Chart

IWM data by YCharts

The Fed has acted quickly, congress knows it needs to get its act together, Trump views the stock market as the best polls, proposals are coming together to give every American $1,000 to bridge the gap, and there is plenty of talk of bail outs. Seems like some lessons were learned from 2008… act fast.

But is that enough? Is everything “priced in”? How will the market react to new information of cases vs. stimulus? That’s a billion dollar question. Does this tell me when I should buy stocks?

Personally, I think we have further to go before I can say we all need to “back up the truck“. Yes, I view this as temporary and there will be pent up demand, but as I think through what happens over the coming months, it goes something like this:

  1. Markets have tanked, fear is palpable, there have been runs on grocery stores. Consumers are literally quarantined so the only thing they can think about is the pandemic which drives more fear
  2. Congress and Fed acted quickly, but this also tells people that things are serious. Congress puts together a bill to give $1,000 to every American; agrees to provide some loans to essential industries
  3. Just like GM – I don’t see why Congress would give a subordinated loan to these industries. In other words, it primes (or comes in front of) existing lenders plus equity holders. It’s hard for me to see how equity holders get out scot-free here, as well as bond holders. Haircuts will be taken.
  4. Even with Congress taking action, if I work in the restaurant, bar, travel, event hosting, leisure, or any service industry remotely attached to that, I’m thankful for $1,200, but I am worried about my job. I pull back spending considerably. As a consumer, thanks for the grand, but I still am not spending much.
  5. This ripples through the economy. First pullbacks on major purchases (vacations clearly cut, but also autos and home buying) and that continues through everything else.
  6. All the while, US count of the virus will likely grow considerably. We likely reach 100,000+ cases as more tests come out. This will cause the market to freak out and people will go from thinking this is a four week thing to a 12 week thing… maybe longer. The market always assumes the bad things will last much longer than they do.
  7. Media headlines will run rampant.
  8. You will also see bankruptcies of small and large businesses. BDCs and middle market private equity that invested (& levered up) companies with major customer risk and exposure to small business? See ya later.
  9. Elsewhere, cases will begin to decline. Markets will take a deep breath that the measures are working, even if they continue to climb in the US. The market is forward looking so they will see hopes for the US.

So what does that mean for equity prices? I think we have further to fall, unfortunately. Don’t get me wrong – I fundamentally do not believe you can time these things (“Well gee, you sure did waste a lot of text writing about what you think will happen…”) and I have bought many names throughout this bear market. As I noted in my cruise lines post, which was really clickbait for readers to see that long-term intrinsic values of businesses will be fine,  I think this creates a good opportunity to buy high quality businesses.

At the same time, I look at the market and it is just below / slightly above Dec 2018 lows depending on which market you’re looking at. As a quick barometer or sanity check, that doesn’t seem low enough for truly pricing in a destruction to GDP in Q2 this year and people worrying about systemic issues.

Backing it up to a P/E ratio: If we did $164 in EPS for 2019. There’s probably 0% chance we’re up from that number. We can haircut it though and multiple to see where things could shake out this year.  You can argue that because these are depressed earnings and we all likely expect a rebound, that the market should trade at a premium multiple. However, I rarely see that play out in real life. Panic causes people to over shoot. And again, this is a cheapness indicator, not an intrinsic value indicator because one year of bad earnings does little to impact your DCF.

This essentially tells me that my “back up the truck” moment for S&P500 is somewhere around 2,000 and below and I’ll still be a buyer at around 2,300 because I believe the storm clouds will eventually pass and this shows if we go back to 18x $164 in earnings, that is very solid upside.

Ok – I put my thoughts out there. I open myself to being wrong in the future and this post won’t be deleted. Where do you think we shake out? Why?

Is it Time to Buy Stocks? Here are Data Points Worth Considering. $SPY

The market is clearly in panic. Americans and other global citizens in quarantine will clearly not help most businesses (and therefore it doesn’t help stocks). Is it time to buy stocks now?

One piece of data I came across this weekend was Open Table’s data on restaurant reservations, found here.  As shown below, the US saw a ~42% decline in reservations Y/Y and globally they are down 40%.

Update: this data has only gotten more ugly

Not to mention, we have many public school closures, work travel has been postponed, cruises are putting up ships, and restaurants and bars are limited to take-out meals only. Heck, I can’t even go to the gym anymore. This will clearly crimp many businesses and could pressure liquidity.

This feels like SARS and 9/11 rolled into one. After 9/11, business confidence was hammered and many consumers were fearful and did not want to travel or go out to eat as much. United’s CEO said that this experience has been worse than 9/11 –

After 9/11, revenue was down 40% for two months and then began a gradual recovery… Our gross bookings in the Pacific are down about 70%, so there are still some bookings occurring even in the Pacific region. In Europe, our gross bookings are now down about 50%. Domestically, we’re currently seeing net bookings down about 70% and gross bookings down about 25%. While those numbers are encouraging compared to international, we’re planning for the public concern about the virus to get worse before it gets better.”

After 9/11, we had a tremendous shock to the system and it took some time to recover. Peak to trough, the S&P declined ~30% but within time, we recovered relatively quickly. Recall at this time, we entered a recession and also had a lot of air coming out of the tech bubble as well.

So on one hand, we have an extreme scenario. Short-term funding for a wide array of industries will need to be provided and I personally think we will need to see the US government step in meaningfully.

On the other hand, let’s look at the positives to see if it can help us answer if it is time to buy stocks:

  • Short-term pain, long-term gain. It appears the US is now taking the virus more seriously. While there will be short-term pain from a quasi-quarantine, this will help damped the rapid spread of the virus. This will also prevent a overrun of our hospitals and healthcare system
  • Authorities acting relatively quickly. The fed has now cut rates 2x and initiated bond buying (QE5). Although this won’t cure the virus, it could help calm financial markets which will then allow for liquidity to flow through to businesses who need it now. While not established yet, I bet we will see a cut to banks’ reserve requirements to also help the system
  • Not a financial crisis. While there are financial aspects to this (i.e. liquidity, companies drawing on revolvers) this is not like the 2008 mortgage crisis. Although banks are now cutting GDP estimates for Q2 and Q3 2020, many expect that demand will rebound meaningfully.
  • The US is behind the curve, and that is a good thing. Although the outbreak is hitting US shores later than Europe and China, it also means we can look at their data to when cases tend to peak and level out. The US now is essentially in quarantine and that will help fight the spread. (Note, I thoroughly enjoyed the charts posted in this WaPo article for how social distancing actually does work). I think the market will move up even if cases in the US are rising once we see Italy, South Korea and China under control.
  • The biggest companies in the world are flush with cash. Add up the cash held by Apple, Microsoft, Google, Berkshire Hathaway, and Facebook. These businesses fortunately will not be facing liquidity needs, represent large proportions of the S&P, and have longer time horizons than most investors today.

With many stocks I look at down 50-60%, this could be an opportunity of a lifetime given they are pricing in a long-term pronounced downturn. As discussed previously, a one-year impact to earnings that everyone largely expects will be temporary has little impact on the intrinsic value of businesses.

In sum, do I think stocks can continue to go down? Yes. They have historically over shot in both directions. But we can’t time it. I personally am looking at a collection of businesses that will continue to compound earnings at extremely attractive rates.

In this case, I think the situation will be written about extensively. There will be things we don’t even know about yet that books will be published on. 

But as you think about the past and uncertainty, realize that those times are actually the best in terms of investing. Buying when everything looks amazing and nothing can go wrong typically turn out to be poor outcomes (e.g. peak of tech bubble, the calm before the 2008 storm). Everyone knows in hindsight to buy when others are fearful. I’d also add the richest people in the US are typically perma-optimists, not perma-bears.

Is it time to buy stocks? Up to you, but you should have a plan for when you will. 

Sell in May and go away? A look at the risk / reward

The total return for the S&P500 year-to-date in mid-April is 16.6%. Truly fantastic performance for any year. Clearly, its hard to see whether the gains will continue. The long-term rate of return for the S&P (including dividends) is 9.4% (based on data sourced from NYU). That means this year is clearly above average. Then again, in the past 91 years, how many years have had a higher return than 16.6%??

Well, that may piece of information actually be surprising to hear. There have been 39 other years when the total return on the S&P was higher than 16.6%. That’s about ~40% of the years from the available data!

Clearly, part of the reason for this recent surge was the sell-off in December, where stocks declined nearly 20% from peak-to-trough in just one quarter. The decline was quick and steep and the snap back has been quick and steep as well. We still haven’t recovered to those peaks yet, so a bullish investor could also say we could at least see a couple more points of total return this year from that.

All that said, I have to ask what the risk/reward is at these levels? Is there valuation support?


The consensus earnings estimate for the S&P in 2019 is $164/share. Let’s break that down compared to current trading levels and what that implies (i.e. is the market cheap on its face).

The long-term average P/E multiple is around 15.0x , so this would imply… no the market is not that cheap.

That said, Peter Lynch’s old rule of thumb for if the market was cheap was 20x minus the 10-yr treasury rate (a proxy for inflation). That would put us around 17x-18x. Therefore…the market still doesn’t look that cheap now.

But what if we look to 2020? The market is forward looking after all.

What is interesting to me is that the 2020 EPS estimate is $184 vs. $163 for 2019. That means Wall Street is expecting a pretty strong rebound in earnings growth, roughly 12.9%. That seems pretty lofty, but if they’re correct, that helps explain why the multiple for 2019 is so high.

But even if it is right, the upside for the next 2 years seems pretty capped. Wall Street also has a tendency to reduce estimates, right up until the quarter, which allows for more “beats”.

I could of course be wrong though. And I probably am. There are more than a couple ways I could be wrong, but for me it means pulling back a bit on my risk.


To be clear and candid though, I would never recommend selling on this. There is a great blog post by Wealth of Common Sense blogger, Ben Carlson, that helps reinforce that point. In that, he highlights the story of Bob, the markets worst timer (essentially he only invests at the peaks). I won’t spoil it for you, but everyone should go read it here. The story has had a long-term impact on me.

JP Morgan also publishes a slide on missing the market’s best days and the cost of being out of the market vs. sitting idle. Look at the difference of just missing he best 20 days of the market out of 20 years! That is missing 0.27% of the total days (20 / 7,301). And note how close together the best and worst returns were (in the box callout).

My takeaway from that is: even if you can call the top, being able to call the exact bottom would be even harder.