Be prepared – when you see a Grizzly it’s too late to run away. How to take advantage of a recession?

Epic Stock Market Crashes - How much can you lose? How long will it take to recover? Guide on how to take advantage of a recession

Key Takeaways

  • The Stock Market is a powerful money-making machine that can make you rich and financially independent
  • How much can I lose? Let’s face it, in theory you can lose it all. There have been instances in history when some investors lost all their savings
  • How quickly can I recover my savings? What’s poorly understood is that in reality, it’s almost impossible to lose money in the long term if you follow common sense investing rules and you will likely recover your money relatively quickly
  • How long will the downturn last? It can be quick. In the US the worst day was a 23% loss for the Dow Jones Index. Often it will take a year or two
  • Can I do something to prepare for it? Absolutely – it’s all about prevention and limiting the damage. If you review some of the previous market crashes you will understand that there are powerful weapons at your disposal to mitigate downside risk without technical knowledge
  • Preparing for a crash includes diversifying (but not too much), getting international exposure and ‘hedging’ with some Bonds/Inflation Protection to protect your portfolio from your emotional decisions
  • You can take advantage of a market crash! Yes – Dollar Cost Averaging with additional injections trumps any crisis (yes, Japanese style, too), reinvesting dividends and re-balancing will also help tremendously
  • You already know that you need to stay flexible. It’s prudent to have an emergency fund before investing and one of (i) spending flexibility and/or (ii) additional income can make you even more robust during a downturn. Tax loss harvesting can help, too.
  • Should I prepare for the worst? You need to strike a balance between long term gains from the market and some downside protection
  • A too conservative portfolio can hurt you. Frankly, if an extreme event strikes all markets at the same time, you will have other things to worry about than checking your broker account
  • In the meantime, learn how to benefit from stock market crashes, take calculated risk and enjoy the returns of the Stock Market – probably the best source of passive income 

What do you know about Bears?

brown bear grizzly quiz - shiretoko japan - japans lost decade stock market crashes
Source: BoW Instagram

Japanese warning sign with a quiz about Grizzly Bears in the northern Island of Hokkaido (Shiretoko National Park – 知床国立公園)

Cycling in Shiretoko was not the most relaxing despite breathtaking views – it’s the most densely populated bear area in the world  (yes, even including Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory)

How do people lose money in the Stock Market?

In the wrong place...

  • During some of the most spectacular market crashes investors lost all their money – circumstances have been quite extreme in most cases: wars, revolutions, changes in political regimes – all seemingly remote in today’s developed markets
  • A lot of others were restricted to very specific countries – unlucky were those that didn’t hear about  diversification 
Select spectacular market crashes over the last 100+ years

... At the wrong time

In any conversation about long term investing the Great Depression or Japan’s Lost Decades will come up

Below are a few facts you need to know

I also describe what would have worked in the past – the goal is not to forecast how the next downturn will look like but be robust to most scenarios

The Three Grizzlies - profiles of painful downturns

Crashes brought opportunities

This guide is not meant to be exhaustive but gives you the possible profiles of recoveries 

Why did I select those? It largely boils down to answering the questions:

  • How you can prepare for the unpredictable?
  • How do you take advantage of a recession or a market crash?

With that in mind, I listed best practices to help you construct a portfolio

There are also theories that the rise of algorithmic trading may amplify future crashes (and may make them shorter)  with possibly shorter recoveries as well similar to what witnessed during COVID-19

The Mainland Grizzly - Great Depression (US)

Great Depression (Loss from Market Peak on $1,000)
  • This is a widely documented crisis with a profound impact 
  • It took 7 years to break even from the 1929 crash and less than 5 from the trough in 1932 (25 Years to Bounce Back? Try 4½
  • The reality is more subtle than the NYT article above of course since there have been another few years of negative returns
  • The fact is, this very much a black swan series of events with Great Gepression followed by World War II 
  • Above is the drawdown profile adjusted for deflation (and then inflation) with reinvested dividends. The initial deflation has made Bonds attractive and reduced real losses on Stocks (more on that in the sections below)

The Kodiak Grizzly - Inflation Shock (UK and other countries)

Inflation Shock in the UK (Loss from Market Peak on £1,000)
  • The Great Depression is widely referenced and the below Japanese case is frequently discussed when people talk about their FIRE Strategies
  • However, I think that the most dangerous crisis that occurred in the past century is largely ignored – the 1970s Price shock
  • The real price of imported oil in the U.S. increased 6-fold in the 1970s
  • Initially, stocks were hit the hardest, declining up to 50% within 18 months in the US and 73% in the UK  
  • Later, as inflation accelerated, bonds (e.g. US Treasuries) suffered as well, declining up to 40% by 1981. Yes, your Equity and Bonds would be significantly down – at the same time 
  • Above are the inflation and dividend-adjusted drawdowns for a  UK 100% domestic Equity Investor

The Hokkaido Grizzly (ヒグマ) - Lost Decade (Japan)

Japan's Lost Decade (Loss from Market Peak on ¥1,000)
  • You would be hard pressed to find somebody who hasn’t at least heard of Japan’s Lost Decade(s)
  • It’s a popular topic people raise as soon as early retirement and living off an investment portfolio comes up in a conversation
  • Since this is the hottest topic with regards to Long Term Investing (and it shouldn’t be – look at the 70s above) I have expanded on it in the section below about how to prepare for such a crisis since the portfolio consequences of this crisis were actually (in retrospective – I know that’s easy) one of the easiest to avoid 
  • Above is the decades-long drawdown adjusted for dividends and periods of deflation (mainly) and some inflation in between (overall averaged a 0.5% annual inflation since 1989) from the perspective of a Japanese 100% domestic Equity  investor

Did you know that Black Bears can be brown?

Source: BoW Instagram

Grizzly Bear can be dangerous. The largest ones are located on the Kodiak Island in Alaska. Black Bears are usually less dangerous because they often attack only when they have no other alternative

Black bears are easily confused with Grizzly bears because it’s not the colour that defines them (an easy way to spot the difference is the shape of ears)

Markets can be more tricky – a black bear (described below) is an opportunity, a grizzly (described above) can be a bit more challenging. And you initially can’t tell the difference

Black Bears - "V-shaped" market recoveries

  • These may be painful at first but overall they are probably the best buying opportunities in their decades
  • The below graphs show the drawdown from market peak but don’t consider the prior rallies, to illustrate that consider the following:
  • In the Flash Crash in 1987 the S&P 500 (adjusted for dividends) finished the year flat despite the worst one day performance of the Index in October – On Black Monday the Dow Jones lost c. 23% and S&P 500 just over 20%
  • The recovery represented  positive returns when you take January 1987 as a starting point
1987 Flash Crash (Loss from Market Peak on $1,000)
 
  • We are yet to see the full extent of the COVID-19 damage on the Economy but as of August 2020 the S&P 500 has already recovered all its losses. The NASDAQ is up 25% in 2020.
COVID-19 Sell-Off (Loss from Market Peak on $1,000)

How do I prepare for the unpredictable?

The idea of this analysis is not to predict outcomes as I fundamentally believe most people waste their time trying. Rather, it is to learn from the past to build the most robust portfolio to withstand most of the possible situations. Here are the common errors investors made in the past decades and major lessons we have learned from past bear markets

Market Crash Portfolio Protection in 3 Steps

Invest Internationally
Buy Bonds
Get Inflation Protection
Invest Internationally
Buy Bonds
Get Inflation Protection

1. Why you need International Diversification

How do I select Emerging Market and Developed Market ETFs?

International ETFs can be confusing due to the different naming conventions of the Index Providers – I had a deep dive into the way they work, and hope you can benefit from it as well. 

Understand how ETFs track benchmarks to control (i) Countries, (ii) Developed vs Emerging economies, and (iii) Size of companies (large to micro caps) and choose the Best International ETFs for your Equity Portfolio

  • International Diversification may have been a lifesaver at some point if you were based in pretty much any country outside the US 
  • There has been a lot of cases where damage could have been limited by international diversification (arguably, any of the above scenarios including major Asian ones except the Depression, the 1970s, dot Com crisis or the Great Financial Crisis)
  • For US Investors it was more a return enhancing tool over the long term (since World Equity Markets tend to be correlated and International Markets tend to see more outflows during crashes) but ultimately history may prove it to be a risk tool as well 
  • Critics will argue world equities are correlated but this argument is irrelevant. Especially if you are in a small country but even if currently restricted to a large economy the benefits are clear

Are you willing to restrict yourself to one market? Relative performance (by size) of Equity Markets from 1900 to 2020

A no-brainer

  • Being a Japanese investor in the 1980s you must have been thinking “The Japanese stock market has been a better investment for many years now. It is reasonable to eliminate the rest of the developed world and the US from my portfolio since it’s a drag on the performance”
  • Japanese Market represented a higher capitalization the US Market
  • In fact, by investing 1,000 ¥ in 1970 your portfolio would have gone up x17 to 17,000 ¥ by the end of the 1980s if you held an equivalent of the Japanese Nikkei vs only x4 from $1,000 to c. $4,000 if you held the S&P 500 (and that’s not even taking into account that the USD lost 60% relative to the YEN) 
THE MOTHER OF ALL BUBBLES

bubble in six countries

  • In their fascinating Book “Manias, panics, and crashes – a history of financial crises” Charles Kindleberger and Robert Aliber describe an extraordinary time when Japan and Scandinavian countries experienced their largest asset bubbles at the same time – below are some facts related to Japan’s Lost Decade
  • Asset price bubbles in major industrial countries are rare; the previous bubble in the United States had been in the late 1920s. Japan had never had an asset price bubble before and neither had the Asian countries 
  • There were more asset price bubbles between 1980 and 2000 than in any earlier period. Japan experienced the ‘mother of all asset price bubbles’  in the second half of the 1980s. Real estate prices increased by a factor of nine, stock prices increased by a factor of six, and Japanese financial wealth surged. The Japanese economy boomed. Finland, Norway, and Sweden also experienced bubbles in their real estate markets and their stock markets at this same time. Other Asian markets followed.
  • A bubble in six or eight countries at the same time is an extraordinary phenomenon; nothing like it had ever happened before.
  • The 1980s real estate bubble in Japan was so massive that by the end of the decade the chatter in Tokyo was that the market value of the land under the Imperial Palace was greater than the market value of all of the real estate in California. The land area in California is several billion times larger than the grounds of the Imperial Palace, which meant that there was an enormous difference in the price per acre or hectare. All of the financial values in Tokyo were sky high at the end of the 1980s. 
  • The market value of Japanese stocks was higher the market value of U.S. stocks, even though Japanese GDP was less than half of U.S. GDP. The comparison between Japanese and U.S. firms in terms of the ratios of the market value of stocks to profitability was even more skewed. The market value of Japanese real estate was twice the market value of U.S. real estate, even though the land area in Japan is 5 percent that in the United States and 80 percent of Japan is mountainous

Below is an example of how keeping the S&P 500 and European Equities would have looked as a major drag to the portfolio for the Japanese in the 1980

Japanese vs. US Equities in the 70's and 80's

….and now if we zoom out

Japanese vs. US Equities since the 90's

Market Crash Portfolio Protection in 3 Steps

Invest Internationally
Buy Bonds
Get Inflation Protection
Invest Internationally
Buy Bonds
Get Inflation Protection

2. Why you need Bonds

Understand the role of Bonds in your Portfolio

Don’t feel intimidated by the number of asset classes – investing can be simple and you don’t need to understand all the technical details.  There are only three things you need to watch out for when assessing assets for their diversification benefits and you will realize how bonds can be useful

  • This is the big one. Remember those horrible drawdown charts at the top of this guide? It won’t be half as bad if you get reasonable amount of Bonds which will protect your portfolio from your worst enemy – your emotions
  • But let’s face it. While a lot of analysts and some of the smartest retail investors (Bogleheads) claim that you need to stay course in tough times I personally think that they are living in a fantasy worldwhat’s the likelihood you would have additional savings to inject during a Great Depression? There would be more vital needs and high likelihood of income loss (job). COVID-19 is not dissimilar with that regards (likelihood of job loss combined with healthcare costs and helping out family). 
  • However, if you already had Bonds then at least you could re-balance and buy cheap stocks benefiting from the market crash
  • Alternatively if you really need cash you can withdraw it from your Bond allocation (but you will increase your risk profile) to avoid selling Equities at the worst possible moment
  • Bonds also protect you in all deflationary scenarios – during the Great Depression (1928 -1940) the cumulative real total return of 10-yr Treasury Bonds was 100% that you could have sold to buy Equities
You may not always be able to stay course (and inject savings)

Market Crash Portfolio Protection in 3 Steps

Invest Internationally
Buy Bonds
Get Inflation Protection
Invest Internationally
Buy Bonds
Get Inflation Protection

3. Why you need Inflation Protection

How do I protect my portfolio from Inflation?

I have designed an illustrative long term portfolio that incorporates Inflation Protected Bonds and/or Gold. Read this if you want to understand what Gold can bring to your portfolio.

Blind trust in Bonds can be fatal
oil price shock 1970 long term treasuries intermediate treasuries bonds S&P 500 Gold 60 40 portfolio bogleheads
Click on the chart to read more
  • Ok, you may think the following example is extreme. And I tend to agree. German bonds from WWI lost 95% of their value relative to cash in the year or so after Germany surrendered. 
  • Despite earning more than a 900% excess return since then, investors never recovered their wealth – this may be a very specific case, again a black swan (let’s not dive deeper)
  • But if you look at the 1970s and ALL major developed markets, while you may think this scenario is remote it clearly can’t be totally excluded (given recent Central Bank activity) . Oil and food shocks boosted inflation and by end of the 1970s, bond yields had increased to double digit levels. 
  • As the FT summarized it well “Investors not only earned negative real income returns but also suffered punishing capital losses. No wonder a bond came to be considered an unmentionable four letter word and bond investors came to believe they had in effect been slaughtered
Inflation Protection benefits (Loss on $1000 from Market Peak)
  • Inflation Linked Bonds were not available back in the 1970s. But another Inflation  Protection instrument is Gold
  • I don’t have high quality Bond Data for the UK for this period but US markets reacted in the same way (albeit not as bad as the UK). I looked at the S&P 500 and Long Term Treasuries.
  • The Red surface is the drawdown profile on 60% Equity / 40% Bonds Portfolio
  • The Yellow one is  60% Equity / 20% Bonds + 20% Gold
  • Re-balacing (see section below) also plays a role here – I have assumed it’s done annually, so you effectively sold expensive Gold and bought Equities during that period
  • If we take 1970 as a starting point (and Jan 1986 as end date) the annual return adjusted for inflation was 5% for the Portfolio with Gold vs. 2.3% without it 

How do I take advantage of a Market Crash?

  • There are empirically and research proven ways to benefit from market crashes – even if you get the timing completely wrong – Investing regularly (if you have the ability, which most of us should if we control expenses) will trump ANY crisis
  • Assuming you reinvest dividends and rebalance you will end up buying the Stock market at a discount
  • To remain robust in worse times create flexibility with side revenue sources or options to reduce spending 
  • Think also about reducing taxes when you incur losses loss harvest

Take advantage of a Market Crash in 3 Steps

Keep investing
Re-balance (aka time the market!)
Create Flexibility
Keep investing
Re-balance (aka time the market!)
Create Flexibility

Buy the dip

Most people would still have their jobs (and ability to invest) in a typical bear market

But what if I get the timing wrong?

Look, the above worst case drawdown charts are assuming you invest at the worst possible moment. And you invest all of it in one go. In reality rarely anyone invests lump sums.

But what would happen if you did just that?

REGULAR INVESTING TRUMPS ANY CRISIS

BOB - US' WORST MARKET TIMER

 

  • In 2014 Ben Carlson wrote a piece about the worst market timer named Bob
  • “Bob was a diligent saver who started working at 22.  His commitment was to save 2k/year through the 70s, 4k/year through the 80s, 6k/year through the  90s, then 8k/year until retirement
  • He started out by saving the $2,000 a year in his bank account until he had $6,000 to invest by the end of 1972. The market dropped nearly 50% in 1973-74 so Bob basically put his money in at the peak of the market right before a crash. Yet he did have one saving grace. Once he was in the market, he never sold his fund shares. He held on for dear life because he was too nervous about being wrong on both his sell decisions too
  • Bob didn’t feel comfortable about investing again until August of 1987 after another huge bull market. After 15 years of saving he had $46,000 to put to work. Again he put it in an S&P 500 index fund and again he invested at a market peak just before a crash
  • The final investment was made in October of 2007 when he invested $64,000 which he had been saving since 2000. 
  • He rounded out his string of horrific market timing calls by buying right before another 50%+ crash from the credit blow-up
  • Luckily, while Bob couldn’t time his buys, he never sold out of the market even once.  He didn’t sell after the bear market of 1973-74 or the Black Monday in 1987 or the technology bust in 2000 or the financial crisis of 2007-09. He never sold a single share

Investing regularly - single best accelerator of wealth

Bob the Millionaire

  • Now that you’ve read about Bob you may ask how did he do?

  • Even though he only bought at the very top of the market, Bob still ended up a millionaire

  • After a net contribution of $184,000 his portfolio is worth $1.8m before inflation and $800,000 after adjusting for inflation 
Bob, US Worst Market timer is close to being a millionaire (after inflation)

Kumiko (久美子) - Japan's Worst Market Timer

  • If you thought Bob was unlucky consider Kumiko
  • Kumiko is Japan’s worst market timer (she invests in Yen but I keep same amounts to make her case easier to compare with Bob)
  • She invested the same amount of money over time as Bob, but she lives in Hakodate, on the Japanese island of Hokkaido (yes, that same island with the highest concentration of Grizzly Bears in the World)
  • Not only did she miss the greatest bull market ever but also didn’t compound interest over 20 years when Bob had already skin in the game
  • So she decided to deploy 20 years of hard earned savings in 1989 at the peak of the mother of all bubbles 
  • She thought she’s seen it all when her savings plunged c. 70% by 1998 (dividends offset some losses) so she prepared for another injection of her savings. The rally until March 2000 comforted her that the time was right and she invested another 60,000 at the peak of the dot com bubble 
  • Similar to Bob she didn’t have much luck in 2007 either when she deployed another 64,000

Kumiko (久美子) realized, too late, that Japan's relative stock market size was a historical aberration

  • Kumiko invested at the worst of all possible times in the worst market and she had only 30 years of returns compared to 50 for Bob
  • How did she do? Well, Kumiko is not millionaire yet but she’s considering adding some bonds/inflation protection and investing overseas from now on!
  • Her portfolio is now worth 265,000 after contributing 184,000. After inflation, the value is just over 230,000. Maybe not that bad for the worst timing ever.
Kumiko's (久美子) portfolio value after Japan's lost decade(s), dot com and GFC Crashes

When you see a bear it's too late to run away from it

Source: BoW Instagram

Bear sprays work 90% of the time, but nothing is certain. Like in markets.

You will put your life in danger if you start running away – an easy pray for bears that I saw running at 40 mph, climb trees and swim in the sea. Don’t worry  – unless they just woke up from hibernation their main food sources remain berries or wild salmon

Alaska is a great place to see  them in the wild (drop me a message if you want to know my safe spots)

 

Reinvest dividends

Compound Interest is the 8th Wonder

In the long run, no matter the severity of the crisis if you set up your portfolio correctly you will reap benefits of the most important force that impacts wealth – compound interest

Understand why time matters and your risk profile is paramount

The benefits of reinvesting dividends are propelled by simple math. Both new investments (like Bob’s or Kumiko’s) and reinvesting dividends work wonders. I wrote about it in the principles that guide me in my personal investing

Take advantage of a Market Crash in 3 Steps

Keep investing
Re-balance (aka time the market!)
Create Flexibility
Keep investing
Re-balance (aka time the market!)
Create Flexibility

Re-balance your portfolio

This aspect necessitates a whole different guide to re-balancing (coming soon) but the idea boils down to intelligent market timing

For example, say an original target asset allocation was 50% stocks and 50% bonds. If the stocks performed well during the period, it could have increased the stock weighting of the portfolio to 70%. The investor may then decide to sell some stocks and buy bonds to get the portfolio back to the original target allocation of 50/50 

Opportunity favors the prepared mind

Buy low, sell high (purely rule-based – no arbitrary decision from your side)

Essentially, you are reaping the benefits of the portfolio preparation for a crisis steps that I explained earlier (Bonds/Inflation Protection) and benefit from it at the best time (when Equities are cheap) 

Take advantage of a Market Crash in 3 Steps

Keep investing
Re-balance (aka time the market!)
Create Flexibility
Keep investing
Re-balance (aka time the market!)
Create Flexibility and optimize

Create flexibility and use tax-loss harvesting

  • This analysis focuses on long term investing but ignores any withdrawals (which merits another analysis and de-risking of your portfolio before retirement)
  • As we’ve seen the single most important factor in building wealth is regular investing
  • To allow for that spending reduction flexibility and/or additional income that can be used for investment is paramount 
  • Of course, selling individual loss-taking positions in taxable accounts (aka tax-loss harvesting) can help reducing your tax bill

#4 The big picture

Be cautiously optimistic

It’s one of those phrases Bankers use a lot.

Why? Because it’s saying something without really saying anything.

However, in this case it’s a good way of defining things. You need to look at the bigger picture (Stocks tend to go up in the long run) but hedge your downside and remain cautious

Doomsayers will ultimately be right
how to take advantage of a recession - staying positive -doomsayers are always right S&p 500

Active vs. Passive

There is no doubt that there will be years without returns. But that’s the nature of the market.

 

But in the end markets bounce back, and the worst declines quickly revert. If your portfolio is set up these periods will feel more like an opportunity cost on other things you could do with your money rather than real losses.

It’s  choice you need to make – do you have ideas to develop a business or invest in real estate and actively manage it? 

These may prove superior to Stocks, but I am yet to find out a better way of getting passive income than investing – a powerful money making machine

 

Wildcamping in Bear Country

Source: BoW Instagram

Falling asleep when you’re in Bearland is not easy but you only control certain things – and you should focus on them

If you ever go to Japan, don’t miss out on Hokkaido – Shiretoko National Park and Shakotan Peninsula are my personal favorites. Happy to provide you with some recommendations

Conclusions

Let’s summarize what we know:

  • By investing internationally you avoid country-specific risks and although equities are correlated nowadays this is very important to avoid any home bias and potentially increase returns in the long run
  • Stay diversified with broad Indices e.g. Dow Jones 30 is too narrow (only 30 stocks)
  • With Bonds and Inflation Protection Bonds/Gold you are protected in case of deflation and inflation but most importantly it’s a protection from your own irrational decisions (your biggest enemy in becoming wealthy)
  • These protections really start paying off during a crisis when you can reap benefits using re-balancing and buying cheaper equities
  • But the key, unless it’s an extreme down-turn is to keep buying equities and reinvesting dividends – this will almost trump any crisis – because in the long run (world) equities always go up 

Good luck!

How to Build a Long Term Portfolio?

I have created a model portfolio for Long Term Investors. While this takes a view of a US Investor the same asset allocation applies for European or UK Investors

What's your take on this topic?

Let me know in comments section below 👇
[ultimate-faqs include_category="recession"]

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DISCLAIMER

The information provided in Bankeronwheels.com is general in nature only and does not constitute personal financial advice.The information has been prepared without taking into account a reader’s personal objectives, financial situation or needs.

Before acting on any information contained in Bankeronwheels.com you should consider the appropriateness of the information having regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs, and seek professional advice where appropriate.

I only talk about products, services and companies I use / would use myself.


DROP A KIND WORD

This website is non-revenue generating. In addition to time I dedicate to this, I pay for hosting and software to provide you with the analysis.

If you enjoyed my work and found it useful please do leave a comment below or share it with someone that may benefit from itI am grateful for any single feedback

Stay safe & healthy, 

Raph

 

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Matt
1 month ago

I love the bear analogy, did you see any on your trip through Japan? Beyond that great analysis. Personally I’ll balance things off with income producing real estate (but that just happens to be something I am familiar with)

Damien
Damien
1 month ago

A wonderful piece. Every investor needs to read this.

Ferdi
Ferdi
28 days ago

As usual, a very informative and thought-provoking piece. Also It was very soothing to read about how Bob the worst market timer of the US still ended up millionaire 🙂 To be honest, almost every topic discussed above resonates with me except global stock diversification because : A – I mainly invest in an ETF tracking S&P 500 index and most companies in that index have global exposure themselves, and they are seen as multinational because the considerable part of their revenues come from abroad. B – As you mentioned I’m one of those critics who thinks more or less… Read more »