Isn’t Investing in the Stock Market Just Gambling?

It should come as no surprise that the biggest football game of the year ranks as one of the most popular events to gamble on. The American Gaming Association estimates that over 23 million people in the US will wager around $4.3 billion on the big game.1 It should also come as no surprise that some of the money wagered will be lost, as the old adage goes ‘the house always wins.’

Recent speculative events in the financial markets have provoked many to question if investing in the stock market is akin to gambling. While there may be similarities, such as the risk of losing money, the probabilities of having a positive experience in the stock market are much greater than traditional gambling, especially when you take a long-term approach.

When you buy a stock, you become an owner of that company and are entitled to a claim on earnings and dividends into perpetuity. Stock prices fluctuate based on new information and the expectations of companies to generate profits, and prices settle at a level where there is a positive expected return. When you gamble, money is simply transferred from one party to another and no value is created, but odds are generally stacked against the players.

Exhibit 1 illustrates the historical outcome of success when investing in the stock market, using the S&P 500 as a proxy. Even over the shortest time period, 1-day, there has been a 56% chance of achieving positive returns. As you extend the time frame the probability of earning positive returns in the market increases. 

The longer you sit in a casino the greater the odds you’ll walk out a loser, the longer you stay invested in the stock market, historically, the greater the probability you’ll experience positive outcomes. Unlike gambling, we believe the house is on the investor’s side when taking a disciplined, long-term approach to investing.

Source: 1The Lines: How Much Money Will Be Bet on the Super Bowl In 2021?
Source: Dimensional Fund Advisors


5 Mistakes to Avoid in a Bear Market

The attack on your stock holdings came quickly this time, but it’s never too late to dust off your bear market survival kit. Surviving a steep stock market slide is often more about riding out the storm than running away from trouble.

By bear market standards, the recent sell-off was super-fast. It took 16 days for the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index to fall 20%, the quickest transition from bull to bear ever. But the size of the drop, at least so far, has been below average. At the bear market low on March 23, the broad market gauge was down about 34%, shy of the 40% dip suffered in bears since 1929, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Still, this bear market, like all the prior ones, has been unsettling. Nobody feels good about losing a third of their stock portfolio in a three-week span. The good news? You can survive a bear market – if you stick to the basic survival guide that Wall Street periodically pulls from the bookcase when the bear initiates its attack on your money.

Continue Reading: USA TODAY

Q1 2020 Market Commentary

Global stock markets declined to start the year and effectively erased investor gains from 2019. Both domestic and international fixed income served as a ballast to investor portfolios during the quarter. Falling oil prices, heightened market volatility, and the global spread of the COVID-19 virus all provided large hurdles to market growth.

For the quarter, U.S. stocks (as measured by the S&P 500 Index) lost 19.6%, and non-U.S. developed market stocks (as measured by the MSCI World Ex U.S. Index) lost 23.3%. Emerging market stocks (as measured by the MSCI Emerging Markets Index) lost 23.6%.

The U.S. Dollar Index, a measure of the value of the U.S. dollar relative to a basket of foreign currencies, rose in the first quarter—the U.S. dollar increased by 2.8% compared to foreign currencies. Over the past 12 months, the U.S. dollar has appreciated by 1.8%. The increase in the dollar is a headwind to non-U.S. investments held by U.S. investors.

U.S. interest rates fell during the quarter as the Federal Reserve implemented a 1.50% rate reduction to the federal funds rate. The Fed now targets a range of 0.0% to 0.25% for the federal funds rate. Because changes in interest rates and bond prices are inversely related, the decline in interest rates helped increase the quarterly return for many bond asset classes.

U.S. Economic Review

Positive economic growth in the U.S. continued in the fourth quarter of 2019. The final reading for fourth quarter 2019 GDP showed an increase in economic growth of 2.1%. Despite the economic progress of the past 10 years, a slowdown in economic activity due to COVID-19 has started to show in more recent economic data points. The unemployment rate climbed from 50-year lows to 4.4% in March 2020. Domestic inflation remains tame, as the Fed’s preferred gauge of overall inflation, the core Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) index, stayed below the central bank’s 2.0% target with a reading of 1.8% in February 2020. Sources: Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Morningstar Direct 2020.

Financial Markets Review

Both domestic and international stocks across all size and style categories, as well as U.S. real estate investment trust (REIT) securities, declined during the quarter. Non-U.S. stock returns were also impacted by the strengthening U.S. dollar. During the quarter, U.S. large-cap stocks were the best performing asset class while U.S. small-cap stocks were the worst performing. U.S. and global bonds continued performance from the previous quarter by posting positive results.

In the U.S., small-cap stocks underperformed large-cap stocks in all style categories. Value stocks underperformed growth stocks in all style categories. Among the nine style boxes, large-cap growth stocks performed the best and small-cap value stocks experienced the largest loss during the quarter. Source: Morningstar Direct 2020. U.S. markets represented by respective Russell indexes for each category (Large: Russell 1000, Value, and Growth; Mid: Russell Mid Cap, Value, and Growth; Small: Russell 2000, Value, and Growth).

In developed international markets, all nine style boxes were negative for the quarter. International large-cap growth stocks were the highest performer. Similar to the U.S., small-cap stocks underperformed large-cap stocks across all styles. Source: Morningstar Direct 2020. International markets represented by respective MSCI World EX USA index series (Large: MSCI World EX USA Large, Value, and Growth; Mid: MSCI World Ex USA Mid, Value, and Growth; Small: MSCI World Ex USA Small, Value, and Growth).

A diversified index mix of 65% stocks and 35% bonds would have lost 16.5% during the first quarter.

Lessons For The Next Crisis

This article from Dimensional: Lessons for the Next Crisis recaps what we have learned from past major crisis-related events. The information is very applicable to what we are experiencing right now.

It is difficult to draw useful conclusions based on such
observations; financial markets have a habit of behaving
unpredictably in the short run. There are, however,
important lessons that investors might be well-served
to remember: Capital markets have rewarded investors
over the long term, and having an investment approach
you can stick with—especially during tough times—may
better prepare you for the next crisis and its aftermath.

The Toll of New Trade Tensions and Your Portfolio

It was hard to miss the headlines about escalating trade tensions between the U.S. and China this week—and hard not to notice the up-and-down market activity that went along with it. But what, if any, long-term impact does trade policy have on the economy and, by extension, our portfolios? The BAM ALLIANCE’S Director of Investment Strategy Kevin Grogan explores this topic in the following article, and reminds us, once again, that although it remains to be seen how the events of this latest news cycle will play out, your evidence-based financial plan is built to anticipate and withstand market risk.


News of an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China dominated headlines in recent days as the government imposed new tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports when the latest round of talks broke down. Per Bloomberg, the U.S. has set a deadline of “three to four weeks” for negotiations to produce a deal before the U.S. imposes additional tariffs. The most recent impasse follows a series of negotiations over the past 18 months. The S&P 500 is down about 3% so far this month in response to the news.


The Trump administration’s apparent goal with its various tariff programs is to 1) secure what it sees as a better trade balance, and/or 2) procure more advantageous trade terms by using U.S. tariffs as a tactic for compelling other countries to eventually lower their own tariffs on incoming U.S. products.


It is important to point out that, trade terms aside, a negative trade balance isn’t necessarily the same thing as being on the losing side of a trade relationship. Consider the following analogy: You buy (import) produce from, but don’t sell (export) produce to, your local grocer. This opens a negative “trade balance” with the store. Nevertheless, you probably don’t see yourself as somehow coming out short in a deal where the store gets your cash and you get dinner.


What long-term impact the Trump administration’s tariff policy will have on the economy remains to be seen. For instance, we don’t know whether even higher tariffs on even more goods imported from even more countries will be levied (or not), or how long reciprocating tariffs could be in effect. In addition, tariffs that in theory should represent only a minor drag on the economy may have an outsized influence, depending on how consumers perceive and respond to them. What we do know is that tariffs raise prices, effectively amounting to a tax on consumers. There is evidence that the tariffs already in place have had an impact on consumers since they went into effect. That is why, in the end, no one “wins” trade wars, making them a detrimental prospect for all involved. We are well aware that such events, however unpredictable, can and will happen. That’s why we build long-term, evidence-based financial plans to anticipate and incorporate market risks.


Before considering any drastic action with your portfolio, it may be helpful to recall that the stock market is forward-looking, so it already has incorporated its best guesses for how the current tariff situation will (and a lengthy trade war would) play out. And this information already is reflected in prices. Furthermore, we simply do not know how the game will end. If the Trump administration’s strategy to confront U.S. trade partners works, and all tariffs come down, it would be a huge win for the world, not just domestically. If the strategy precipitates an even bigger, all-out, long-term trade war, it likely would lead to lower economic growth around the world, with the consolation prize being that the U.S. would likely be affected the least.


In a trade war, relatively speaking, the U.S. tends to weather the storm better because trade is a much smaller percentage of U.S. gross national product than it is for most countries. This likely explains much of U.S. stocks’ outperformance over the past couple years. In the event of a trade war, small-cap stocks tend to do better than large-cap stocks because, in general, they are exposed to less global trade. Again, this likely helps to explain small-cap stocks’ outperformance since the beginning of 2018. Moreover, the dollar tends to strengthen as investors flee to safety and liquidity.


Conversely, international stocks tend to do worse in a trade war, and emerging market stocks tend to do the worst of all because their economies often are more reliant on global trade and their currencies take a hit from investors’ flight to safety. This can be a double whammy for foreign economies, as much of their debt tends to be in dollars (which are appreciating relative to other currencies, making debt financing more expensive). That is exactly what has happened as the risk of an extended trade war has increased.


If the market anticipates that the odds of a full-blown, long-term trade war are rising, investors likely will see more of this type of action. When the odds of a bad outcome seem to decrease, likely the reverse will occur. Indeed, an increasing risk of continued trade conflict likely explains equities’ relative performance (that is, it helps explain why U.S. stocks, particularly U.S. small-cap stocks, are outperforming).


In virtually all cases, economic or geopolitical news is not value-relevant information, unless you have a copy of tomorrow’s newspaper. The prudent course of action remains to adhere to your comprehensive financial plan, ignoring speculation in the financial media. The only time you should alter your plan is when your assumptions about your ability, willingness or need to take risk have changed.


Information from sources deemed reliable, but its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. By clicking on any of the links above, you acknowledge that they are solely for your convenience, and do not necessarily imply any affiliations, sponsorships, endorsements or representations whatsoever by us regarding third-party Web sites. BAM Advisor Services is not responsible for the content, availability or privacy policies of these sites, and shall not be responsible for liable for any information, opinions, advice, products or services available on or through them.

© 2019, The BAM ALLIANCE®

The 5 Stock Market Crashes I’ve Lived Through —

Re-posted from Apple News

We get more pain from losses than pleasure from gains—which might explain why I often think back on the five major market crashes that have occurred during my investing lifetime.

There’s something about the massive hemorrhaging of money that has a way of focusing the mind and sticking in the memory.

Here are those five crashes, and what I learned from each:

Black Monday

I was age 24—with no money invested in stocks—when the S&P 500plunged 20.5% on Oct. 19, 1987. I still vividly recall the shock of the market’s stunning decline, as well as the palpable sense of panic among both Wall Streeters and everyday investors.

Black Monday was a classic example of why you shouldn’t panic during periods of market mayhem. Those who dumped their shares got out at the market low or close to it. But that was hardly the only lesson to be learned.

For months after, commentators harped on the possibility of a recession that never came to pass. Anyone who listened missed a great opportunity to buy stocks at bargain prices. Are the talking heads talking? Try mightily not to listen.

Tech wreck

The late 1990s tech-stock boom was a textbook bubble, the madness of crowds on full display, with investors buying simply because others were buying. For me, it was a baffling time. I barely comprehended what all these start-up technology companies did, let alone why investors were so excited about their prospects. Most other investors, I assume, were equally clueless. But that didn’t stop them from bidding tech shares ever higher.

In fact, I suspect that, for many, their lack of understanding fueled their desire to buy. It’s the same reason hedge funds continue to attract investor dollars, despite wretched returns. It’s the reason people imagine an article is more insightful if stocks are called “equities” and bonds are labeled “fixed income.” It’s why folks shoveled money into bitcoin in 2017, despite scant understanding of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. It’s almost as if folks say to themselves, “If it’s confusing, it’s got to be clever—and lucrative.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. To invest successfully, we need to stand apart from the crowd, never purchasing something we don’t understand and never buying just because others are doing so. That doesn’t mean we should be knee-jerk contrarians. But it’s crucial to diversify broadly, while shunning big bets on the market’s most popular merchandise.

Housing bust

Even now, I find it flabbergasting that the housing bubble could follow so quickly after the tech-stock bubble. Did folks learn nothing?

In fact, the housing mania was arguably even worse than the tech mania that preceded it. It affected far more people. Barely half of Americans own stocks, while—at the time—almost seven out of 10 owned their home.

On top of that, the housing boom and bust involved a large, undiversified, illiquid and often leveraged asset. If you own a diversified stock portfolio, you can’t lose everything, unless you buy on margin. But with homes, leverage is a way of life—and it’s all too easy to have your home equity wiped out.

The financial pain of the housing bust was exacerbated by the psychological shock: Folks expect stocks to be risky, but they’d long viewed homes as the safest of investments. The 27.4% peak-to-trough decline in the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national index shattered that perception. Even now, I sense a lost innocence about real estate, though the crash—like all crashes—will eventually be forgotten, leaving us vulnerable to another mania.

Great Recession

The housing market peaked in mid-2006. Initially, it seemed the subsequent bust would be felt only by foolish mortgage lenders and borrowers.

But 18 months later, the economy started contracting and, soon enough, the reverberations from soured mortgages were pummeling the world financial system. The global economy’s interconnectedness was never more apparent. You and I may be sensible. But that doesn’t mean we won’t pay a hefty price for the speculative excesses of others.

Even in early 2009, with stocks at half 2007’s level, valuations weren’t especially compelling—and yet it was a great time to buy. Admittedly, purchasing stocks simply because they’ve fallen sharply seems like the most naïve of strategies. But I’m not sure there’s any alternative: Thanks to the rising valuations of the past three decades, we can no longer look to average historical valuations—whether it’s price-earnings ratios, the Shiller P/E or something else—to figure out whether stocks today are a compelling investment.


The Great Recession and accompanying 57% plunge by the S&P 500 may have been the biggest crash of my investing lifetime and the greatest buying opportunity. But I don’t think it was the most significant.

Instead, I’d argue that honor goes to Japan’s three-decade bear market. Imagine it’s 1989 and you’re a Japanese investor who suffers from home bias—the preference for investing only in local companies. Today, almost 30 years later, you’d be sitting with shares whose prices have been almost cut in half, and your financial dreams would likely be in tatters.

Could a three-decade bear market happen elsewhere? Of course. Could it happen in the U.S.? I doubt it. But I can’t rule it out, which is why I worry whenever investors tell me they own.

Could a three-decade bear market happen elsewhere? Of course. Could it happen in the U.S.? I doubt it. But I can’t rule it out, which is why I worry whenever investors tell me they own only U.S. stocks—and it’s why I keep half my stock portfolio in foreign shares.

Yes, there are all kinds of arguments for why U.S. investors should avoid foreign stocks. Folks note that property rights and accounting standards are weaker abroad. They say U.S. companies have such extensive international operations that there’s no need to buy foreign shares. Indeed, according to Morningstar, 38% of the revenues of the S&P 500 companies come from outside the U.S.

Perhaps, under normal circumstances, U.S. investors could fare just fine without foreign stocks. But what if circumstances aren’t normal? As we learned from the 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal, when we ponder the risks we face, we need to think not only about probabilities, but also about consequences. It’s extraordinarily unlikely that the U.S. stock market will be the next Japan. But, if it came to pass, imagine what the consequences would be for your portfolio—and for your ability to meet your financial goals.

This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.