Those 729 days without a correction sure were fun while they lasted.
The end of a historic run of exceptionally low volatility for the S&P 500 this month is something everyone saw coming (just ask them). It was legitimately overdue, and perhaps inevitable.
So, where do we go from here?
For starters, get used to the reality that good news may be bad for the stock market in the immediate future. The fear of inflation has become the stock market’s driving force in February, which means any economic data that indicates accelerating growth also increases expectations that real inflation will follow. That’s a reasonable outlook, but one that is more difficult to digest given that we’ve spent the past decade with below-average inflation.
The strongest wage growth since 2009 (reported in early February) served as a reality check. Inflation is back, and investors can expect higher volatility along with it. Watching the Dow Jones industrial average drop 1,000 points in a day is far from ideal, but investors should remind themselves this certainly beats the alternative.
A stock market coming to terms with accelerating economic growth is far better than one dealing with economic weakness. U.S. unemployment remains near 17-year lows; the global economy is experiencing a coordinated expansion, and corporate earnings have only just begun to benefit from recent tax cuts.
Stock valuations have now reset to more reasonable levels and investor sentiment will be less optimistic. Both of those things are healthy if stock prices are to continue rising over the next 18-24 months. The evidence suggests we are dealing with a relatively normal correction, not the end of this bull market.
The Federal Reserve will play an important role in the market’s direction. Inflation coincides with higher interest rates and new Chairman Jerome Powell leads the organization tasked with managing inflation without choking off an accelerating economy.
It’s a difficult task and the fact that we have yet to hear much from Powell since he became Fed chairman two weeks ago may be adding to the anxiety. His six years of service as a Fed governor indicate a status quo of slow-but-steady hikes is likely, but Powell’s first public comments as chairman should provide more certainty.
In the meantime, don’t let your emotions drive your decisions. The long-term outlook remains positive and stocks just went on sale.
Patience will ultimately pay off.
Ben Marks is the chief investment officer at Marks Group Wealth Management in Minnetonka.