What if?

If you have children, you probably answered a million what-if questions. What if the sky falls? What if dogs talked? What if I wear my clothes backward? What if I eat my soup with a fork? What if I become a horse?

What if?

Investors are asking quite a few what-if questions because of the current economic environment and the healthcare crisis — questions with few answers.

Let’s explore some what-if questions.

What if stocks crash? Stocks crash often. According to J.P. Morgan Asset Management, there have been several significant market declines. Stocks fell 86% during the Great Depression. They fell 49% during the tech-wreck in 2000. The S&P 500 fell 53% from 2007 to 2009, and most recently, it fell 34% because of COVID-19. J.P. Morgan highlighted 13 bear markets in their Guide to the Markets® third-quarter outlook. The average drop was 42%, and the downturns lasted for 22 months.[1] From March 2009 to July 2020, the S&P 500 Index has risen 366%, but it closed in negative territory 42% of the time. During this bull-market run, the index dropped more than 10% on several occasions. It fell 16% in 2011, 11% in 2016, 17.5% in 2018, and 34% in March 2020.[2]

What if there is a recession? Since 1900 the U.S. has weathered twenty-four recessions or about once every five years.[3]

What if interest rates rise? The Federal Funds rate jumped from 4.24% in 1970 to more than 20% in 1981. Interest rates climbed to 6.5% in 2000, and from 2000 to 2007, they soared from 1% to 5.25%.[4]

What if there is inflation? The inflation rate in 1920 peaked at 23.5%. After WWII, it touched 19%. In 1980 it spiked to 14%. The 106-year inflation rate has averaged 3.23%.[5]

What if stocks don’t rise? Stocks go nowhere often. During the Great Depression, stocks eked out an average annual return of 1.7% for fifteen years from 1929 to 1944. Stocks produced an average yearly return of .9% from 1973 to 1978. From 2000 to 2012, the market generated an average annual return of 1.7% during the Great Recession.[6]

What if there is a war? The United States has been involved in several wars or conflicts: WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to name a few.

What if there is another pandemic? In addition to COVID-19, there have been several global epidemics – the bubonic plague, typhoid, yellow fever, Spanish flu, pneumonic plague, cholera, smallpox, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, MERS, SARS, measles, H1N1, mumps, the flu, and so on.[7]

What if a Republican wins the election? The average annual return with a Republican president in the White House has been 8.6%.[8]

What if a Democrat wins the election? The average annual return with a Democrat president in the White House has been 8.8%.[9]

Despite crashes, recessions, depressions, wars, pandemics, rising interest rates, inflation, and elections, the stock market marches higher. In June 1920, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 90.76. Today, it is 25,832 – a gain of 28,361 percent! The 100-year average annual return for stocks is 10%.

It’s possible to ask more what-if questions about investing, but what’s the point? It’s impossible to know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so don’t try to outsmart the market. It’s a waste of time, energy, and resources. Instead, focus on what you can control, like your spending and your savings.  A financial plan can help you focus and prioritize your goals. It will help you determine your investment allocation and other important decisions. Once your plan is completed, invest in a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds, and hold them forever.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard

July 3, 2020

Bill Parrott, CFP®, 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. Our firm does not have an asset or fee minimum, and we work with anybody who needs financial help regardless of age, income, or asset level. PWM’s custodian is TD Ameritrade, and our annual fee starts at .5% of your assets and drops depending on the level of your assets.

Note: Investments are not guaranteed and do involve risk. Your returns may differ from 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.

[1] J.P.Morgan Asset Management Guide to the Markets® U.S.|3Q 2020|As of June 30, 2020.

[2] YCharts

[3] J.P.Morgan Asset Management Guide to the Markets® U.S.|3Q 2020|As of June 30, 2020.

[4] https://www.macrotrends.net/2015/fed-funds-rate-historical-chart, website accessed July 2, 2020

[5] YCharts

[6] Dimensional Fund Advisors 2019 Matrix Book

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_epidemics

[8] https://www.fidelity.com/learning-center/trading-investing/markets-sectors/stock-returns-and-elections

[9] Ibid