The year isn’t over. But U.S. stocks are up a lot. They soared more than 17 percent over the first nine months. Global stocks are up about 14 percent. Most investors, however, should be disappointed.
If you’re retired today, stop reading now. You’re not going to like this column. But keep reading if you’re younger. If you’re at least five years from retiring, you should hope to see stocks fall.
I know. This might not jibe with how you feel. Nor does it jibe with what you might see in the news. When stocks rise, headlines say, “Investors Win As Stocks Rise Again.” And when markets fall they’ll say, “Investors Lose As Stocks Pull Back.” But such headlines aren’t fair. It’s much like saying, “Americans Celebrate as the Boston Red Sox Win.”
Some people love the Red Sox. But Major League Baseball has 30 teams. Not everyone cheers for Boston. In fact, based on the law of numbers, most baseball fans don’t. That same rule should apply to the stock market too.
About 15 percent of American adults should hope to see stocks rise. After all, this is roughly the population of Americans over the age of sixty-five. Most of these people are retired. They’re living off Social Security and the proceeds of their investments. In other words, they’re selling parts of their portfolios to cover the cost of living.
Unfortunately, headlines cater to this relatively small percentage. They ignore roughly 66 percent of the American population between 15 and 64 years of age. Most of these people are working. In other words, they should be buying stock market assets. But business headlines push too many people to cheer for the wrong team.
Let me explain: buyers and sellers are on different sides of every deal. Assume you want to buy a coffee cup from me. It has a lovely little image of a bull and a bear butting heads. You bought a cup from me last week. I charged you $10. This week, however, I’m asking for $12. If you buy it, I should be happy. After all, I’m the seller. I would get a higher price than I did last week. But that shouldn’t make you happy.
This premise is simple. It also applies to stocks. If you’re retired, and selling, you should be happy to see stocks rise. If you’re working, and buying, rising prices shouldn’t make you smile.
I’ve been investing in the stock market for 30 years. I started to invest when I was just 19. This has given me plenty of time to compound my money. But I’m just 49 years old. I’m still earning an income, so I’m adding money to the markets. If my portfolio dropped by $500,000 over the next few months, I would be thrilled. For the past 30 years, I have been reinvesting the dividends in my portfolio. When stocks fall, those dividends buy a greater number of shares. If stocks stayed low, it would be much like loading coins on an ancient catapult. The more money I shovel onto that catapult when it’s low, the more money I’ll make when it decides to spring up.
This doesn’t mean you should wait for stocks to drop before investing. Over my lifetime (49 years so far), U.S. stocks hit all-time calendar year highs 33 times. Long-term, stocks go up two out of every three years. Even during recessions, stocks almost always rise.
But there’s no market pattern. Stocks might rise several years in a row. They might then fall or flat-line for a handful of years.
Instead of trying to time the market, investors should add the same amount of money every month. By doing so, they’ll buy more units when stocks fall and fewer units when stocks rise. If they have a lump sum, they should invest it all right away.
No, I’m not waiting for stocks to crash. I add to my portfolio every month. And when the markets fall, I’ll be dancing in the streets. Don’t think I’m crazy. If you aren’t retired, smile and join me instead.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller Millionaire Teacher and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas