A Personal Note from Cam – Dated April 18, 2020
Oh, the joy of living through history when you know that history is being written!
And when I say “history,” it’s not an empty expression. History is being recorded on a number of fronts right now. For starters, the past month of March was in fact the wildest month in stock market history—and no other month even comes close!
A 38 Year Market Recap
When Cameron Thornton Associates was started in January 1982, America was already six months into a recession that had started back in July 1981. History confirms that the 1981-1982 recession was caused by the Federal Reserve raising interest rates to combat inflation.
It would be years before the next shock to the US financial markets occurred on Monday, October 19, 1987, when the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average both fell more than 20% on the day that came to be called “Black Monday.” Fast action by the Federal Reserve in slashing interest rates helped calm the financial markets and a recession was avoided.
Next, during 1990-1991, America was faced with its next recession. This recession, which ran from July 1990 to March 1991 was triggered by the 1989 savings and loan crisis.
Approximately 10 years later, in March 2001, America was once again faced with a recession, which started as the result of a boom and subsequent bust of dot-com businesses. Then, while we were right in the midst of this recession, the 9/11 attack happened—and things felt like they might not ever be the same again.
The Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 was the worst financial crisis the United States had since the 1920 Depression. It was also the longest-lasting recession, running from December 2007 to June 2009. The subprime mortgage crisis was the trigger.
This brings us to March, 2020, where the speed and whipsaw action of the stock market drop, which we lived through last month, was absurdly fast and volatile. In March, it took just 20 days for the markets to go from their all-time peak to a bear market (defined as the market going down 20% from a peak).
While the financial markets in March 2020 went down at a record pace, the swings upward during the month were equally extreme. One day, the market had a big drop. The next day, the market had a big gain…it went up big, and then it went down bigger, then back up. When you add the 22 trading days of March 2020 results together, we had a cumulative percentage change in the financial markets of 117%. That is an average daily change of 5.3%!
So, what do we make of all of that?
Since 1982, I have worked and lived through each of these severe market corrections, and have done my best to help our clients stay focused on their goals and objectives.
From my perspective, long-term goals and objectives don’t change just because we enter a recession, or are even faced with a world-wide pandemic like COVID-19. In the grand scheme of things, these are short-term concerns. Rather, these situations help laser focus us to the importance of having and maintaining a written financial plan that is updated as life unfolds.
The key to remember is not to allow yourself to be shaken out of your long-term goals during the months that the financial markets get really scary. The best way to do that is to stop watching what the market is doing and instead focus on the abundance you have been blessed with.
What we experienced in March was a full realization of how severe this pandemic is and the brutal impact it is going to have on the economy in the short term. It is the suddenness that created the wild ride.
This week we are starting to hear talk from the White House and elsewhere about cautiously reopening the economy. In these conversations, you are hearing both hope and the idea that we will soon begin to return to normalcy. The question that must be asked is what will this new norm look like?
I am beginning to believe that the COVID-19 global pandemic will cause permanent changes in our lives, our psyches, and in the normal way that business is conducted in America and around the world. Will we ever go back to the way we were before the virus struck?
There are obvious changes, like companies having purchased the equipment that allows their staff to work from home. Many businesses, both large and small, are overcoming their reluctance to allow their staff to work, at least part of the time, without having to make the commute into the office.
This could have a ripple effect in other areas. If staff can work from anywhere, companies might consider downsizing their offices, and instead provide desks that anyone who comes in to work can plug into. Employees who escape brutal commutes might be more productive while enjoying more flexible hours. On the downside, commercial real estate owners will likely suffer lost rental income, and demand for commercial space might decline.
The importance of sick leave and health insurance (or greater access to effective healthcare) is something people who survived the coronavirus are not likely to forget. There could be a move to more universal healthcare, which would impact middlemen like pharmacies and insurers.
People who are suddenly forced to work from homes that have young children (who are, of course, no longer trekking off to school) are beginning to realize the extraordinary value of our school teachers and after-school caregivers. Men in the workforce, now trying to concentrate while children are running around the kitchen table, are discovering a new appreciation for the amount of labor put in daily by stay-at-home mothers. But those same full-time workers may be forming new bonds with children that they formerly saw only in the morning and in the evening before bedtime.
Will education ever get back to the “normal” that we knew a few months ago? K-12 schools are discovering that kids can be educated remotely. Colleges are discovering the same lessons as corporations: that sitting in a lecture hall is not necessary when the same lesson can be delivered online. How long before the very best and most charismatic professors in every field, wherever they happen to be, will record their best lectures and share them for free online? That’s already happening, accelerating the trend toward online learning without leaving auditory learners behind.
Another obvious change: people have become more comfortable using Zoom and Google Hangout for remote meetings. When we are once again free to move outside our homes, will people be as motivated to get on a plane to make sales calls, visit headquarters or otherwise physically travel to remote locations when they can save time and money by hopping on a teleconference? Companies might set new policies banning non-essential travel, and the post-COVID definition might be strict.
The result? Potential savings of time and money for companies, declining revenues for airlines, rental car companies and hotels, and fewer opportunities to catch diseases in crowded airports and on even more crowded airplanes.
With malls closed, people have moved en masse to online shopping. Will they go back to patronizing stores that they have to drive to, or avoid the frustrating search for parking? Instead of going to a restaurant, will they be more likely to opt for takeout and eat in the comfort of their homes? Online grocery shopping has become more popular during the lockdown; will the trend become a part of our lives going forward?
A catastrophe on the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic can also change the psyche in interesting ways. Think of stories you have heard of people who survived the Great Depression and the rationing during World War II. The most telling residue of those times is people living frugally for the rest of their days, right through a long period of abundance. At the very least, people will have an enhanced appreciation of things we once took for granted, like being able to move around freely without gloves and a mask, and knowing that toilet paper will be on the grocery store shelves when we need it.
Meanwhile, millions of people thought putting money away for a rainy day was just a cute saying. Now, through hard experience, they realize how important it is to have cash on hand for emergencies.
Finally, tragically, friends, neighbors, relatives and loved ones are leaving our midst as the virus ravages their bodies. This must be something like what people in previous generations felt like during wars, except that the human cost of this pandemic, when it is all said and done, hopefully no later than 2021, is likely to be greater than any war that America has ever experienced. As we mourn, we also may feel a renewed gratitude for our own lives and the people we love—and be less likely to take our (and their) unique, precious mortal existence for granted in the future.
Everywhere, we see people stepping up with courage and responsibility, vowing to take the fight to the virus until it is exterminated, and we are determined not to surrender our lives or the lives of our loved ones. People are finding new ways to connect and support each other through this adversity. Hopefully, we will come out of this with a new sense of community, all of us fellow survivors of the pandemic, and we may find new energy toward making our corner of the world more fun, interesting and engaging.
How are you changing? Will you ever feel comfortable again in a crowded bar scene or sitting elbow to elbow with strangers at a sporting event? Will you be more likely to stock up on supplies in case there’s a new unexpected shortage just around the corner? Are you more frugal now than you were a couple of months ago? The COVID-19 virus isn’t over, but the changes it has wrought have only just begun.
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The opinions expressed in this letter are those of Cameron M. Thornton, CFP® and Trevor M. Cole, CFP®. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. All economic and performance information is historical and not indicative of future results. Past performance does not guarantee results.
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Cameron M. Thornton, CFP® is a Representative with Cetera Advisor Networks LLC and may be reached at www.cameronthornton.com or (818) 841-1746.