It was another Friday night in August of 2015. I lived in Nashville (still do), and I was single and in my twenties. So I went to a concert. Just another Friday night in Nashville. NEEDTOBREATHE was playing at Ascend Amphitheater – Nashville’s outdoor venue that had just opened downtown. I went to a lot of concerts before this one. I went to a lot of concerts after that one as well. It was another Friday night in Nashville. At the show I ran into a friend. We chatted for a few minutes. He was with his wife who I met for the first time. Just another Friday night in Nashville.
Except looking back, it wasn’t.
Everything changed that night. But I didn’t know until many months later. There was no fanfare. It felt like just another Friday night in Nashville.
It turns out that my friend’s wife left our conversation thinking I should meet a friend of hers named Laura. I wasn’t so sure, but they eventually persuaded me to go on a blind date with Laura. That was in February of 2016. I married her 17 months later.
Turns out it wasn’t just another Friday night in Nashville. But I didn’t realize it until months later.
You probably heard we’re in a bear market. 20% off a recent high. The market hit that point on May 20th and has been bouncing around the down 20% number since. When we were down 8% we asked, “will this turn into a correction?” When we were down 10% we asked, “will this turn into a bear market?” Now that we’ve officially added another bear market in the annals of market history we ask, “when do we reach the bottom?”
I don’t know.
Maybe this is the bottom. Maybe it’s not.
Maybe we’ll get to down 30%. Or down 40%. Maybe even 50%. Maybe we won’t.
Maybe the bottom will be in June of 2022. Maybe it will be in June 2023. Or June 2024.
I have no idea where the bottom will be. Or when we’ll get there. No one else does either. Plenty of people will make bold predictions. They’ll be featured on CNBC. Their tweets will be amplified on Twitter. Some of them will turn out to be right. They’re lucky. No one can call it with consistent accuracy. It’s a guess masquerading as a prediction.
There is one thing I can tell you. Because this happens every time. The bottom will come and go and none of us will realize it until long after the fact. None of us. There will be no fanfare. There won’t be an economic report that surprises to the upside that everyone agrees will begin the onset of the market’s recovery. It won’t suddenly reverse to great fanfare after a lower than expected inflation print. Or after a series of positive earnings reports. Or after a resolution in Ukraine. One morning we’ll all wake up feeling as bad about the state of the market/economy/everything else as we did the night before but looking back that will be the day the market turned around. It will resume its inexorable long-term upward trend quietly and for no apparent reason, long before it seems like the coast is clear. No fanfare. No announcement. The mood won’t suddenly become optimistic amongst all the market commentators. There won’t be any headlines about it. You won’t notice it when it happens. I won’t either. It will be just another day in the markets. Like that night in August of ‘15 felt like another Friday night in Nashville.
It's what happened in 2020. The market began the COVID crash on February 19th. That began the fastest 30+% decline in market history. Down 34% in 33 days. Brutal.
But it was understandable. The world was shutting down. Governments were closing down businesses. The stock market and the economy aren’t the same, but they’re closely linked. And the economy was shutting down. Video footage of global metropolitan areas looked post-apocalyptic. Times Square, the Arc de Triomphe, Trafalgar Square… empty. I’ll never forget those pictures. “Unprecedented” was the word constantly repeated. No one was surprised the market was in free fall.
On March 23rd, the market hit the bottom. Halfway through “15 days to slow the spread.” Then it immediately resumed its inexorable long-term upward trend. For no apparent reason. The news continued to worsen. The summer Olympics were cancelled on March 24th. 15 days to slow the spread did nothing to slow the spread of the virus, so the guidelines were extended on March 29th for another 30 days. It still didn’t work. The US hit one million cases on April 28th according to Johns Hopkins.[i] People were terrified in March. They were still terrified through the summer and the fall. Some still are. The stock market didn’t care.
Here's a trivia question. In all of history, when was the stock market’s best 50-day run?
March 23, 2020 – May 29, 2020.
There was far more bad news than good news during that period. Was there any good news at all? The market didn’t care. Up 36.59% in 50 trading days.[ii]
Throughout April and May 2020, we experienced the best 50-day run in stock market history. No one noticed it until after the fact. We were too busy focusing on all the bad news. Bad economic numbers. Bad pandemic numbers. Businesses shutting down. People out of work. People dying. Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.
The stock market didn’t care.
There was no fanfare. There was no shift to optimism. There was no slowdown in bad news. The market hit the bottom and began a record-breaking run. No one noticed until later. March 23rd felt like another day in the markets. Like that night in August of ‘15 felt like another Friday night in Nashville.
The dynamic was at work in 2009 as well. The S&P 500 hit the bottom at 676.53 on March 9, 2009.[iii] The greatest decline of the post-war period. Down 57%.[iv] The torrent of bad news continued. Home prices continued to fall. A report issued in May of 2009 shared that the first quarter of 2009 saw a record high in foreclosures. An article published in CNN Money on May 28, 2009 reported the grim news: “it looks like that pace may continue to increase. There has been a big jump in the number of loans that are 90 days or more overdue, which is a very bad sign since those delinquencies often progress into foreclosure starts.”[v]General Motors filed for bankruptcy in June – about three months after the market began its recovery.[vi]
The news was still bad in 2009. Very bad. The market didn’t care. March 9th was the beginning of the greatest decade plus bull run in the market’s history. The S&P 500 was up nearly 65% from March 9th by the end of that year.[vii]
No one noticed until after the fact. March 9th felt like just another day in the markets. Like that night in August of ‘15 felt like just another Friday night in Nashville.
The same dynamic will happen this time. I don’t know where the bottom is or when we’ll get there.
Perhaps today, perhaps a year from now. Perhaps longer.
I do know we’ll get there sometime. And then things will turn around.
There will be no fanfare. You won’t notice it at the time. I won’t either. The bad news will continue. The bottom will feel like just another day in the markets. Like that night in August of ’15 felt like just another Friday night in Nashville.
But it won’t be.
If you stay invested.
Sean Cawley, CFP®
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Content here is for illustrative and educational purposes only. It is not legal, tax, or individualized financial advice; nor is it a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any specific security, or engage in any specific trading strategy. Results will vary. Past performance is no indication of future results or success. Market conditions change continuously.
This commentary reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints, and analyses of Resolute Wealth Management. It does not necessarily represent those of RFG Advisory, clients, or employees. This commentary should be regarded as a description of advisory services provided by Resolute Wealth Management or RFG Advisory, or performance returns of any client. The views reflected in the commentary are subject to change at any time without notice.
[i] US Surpasses 1 Million Coronavirus Cases. Lynsey Jeffery. April 28, 2020.
[ii] YCharts, SPX Total Return Fundamental Chart, 03/23/2020 – 05/29/2020.
[iii] YCharts, SPX Level Fundamental Chart, 03/09/2009.
[iv] YCharts, SPX Total Return Fundamental Chart, % Off High, 01/01/2007 – 03/09/2009
[v]Troubled Mortgages Hit a Record High. Les Christie, CNN Money. May 28, 2009.
[vi]GM Bankruptcy: End of an Era. Chris Isidore, CNN Money. June 2, 2009.
[vii] YCharts, SPX Total Return Fundamental Chart, 03/09/2009 – 12/31/2009