Once in a very great while, there comes a year in the economy and the markets that may serve as a tutorial—in effect, a master class in the principles of successful long-term, goal-focused investing. Two thousand twenty was just such a year.
On December 31, 2019, the Standard & Poor's 500-Stock index closed at 3,230.78. This past New Year's Eve, it closed at 3,756.07, some 16.3% higher (not including dividends).
From these facts, you might infer that the equity market had, in 2020, quite a good year and it surely did. But what should be so phenomenally instructive to the long-term investor is how it got there.
From a new all-time high on February 19, the market reacted to the onset of the greatest public health crisis in a century by going down roughly 33% in 34 days. The Federal Reserve and Congress responded with massive intervention, the economy learned to work around the lockdowns—and the result was that the S&P 500 regained its February high by mid-August.
The first lifetime lesson here: At their most dramatic turning points, the economy can't be forecast, and the market cannot be timed. Instead, having a long-term plan and sticking to it—acting as opposed to reacting, which is your and my investment policy in a nutshell—once again demonstrated its enduring value.
(Two corollary lessons are worth noting in this regard. (1) The velocity and trajectory of the equity market recovery essentially mirrored the violence of the February/March decline. (2) The market went into new high ground in midsummer, even as the pandemic and its economic devastations were still raging. Both outcomes were consistent with historical norms. “Waiting for the pullback” once a market recovery gets under way, and/or waiting for the economic picture to clear before investing, turned out to be formulas for significant under-performance, as is most often the case.)
The American economy—and its leading companies—continued to demonstrate their fundamental resilience through the balance of the year, such that all three major stock indexes made multiple new highs. Even cash dividends appear on track to exceed those paid in 2019, which was the previous record year.
Meanwhile, at least two vaccines were developed and approved in record time and were going into distribution as the year ended. There seems to be good hope that the most vulnerable segments of the population could get the vaccines by spring, and that everyone who wants to be vaccinated can do so by the end of the year, if not sooner.
The second great lifetime lesson of this hugely educational year had to do with the presidential election cycle. To say that it was the most hyper-partisan in living memory wouldn't adequately express it: adherents to both candidates were genuinely convinced that the other would, if elected/reelected, precipitate the end of American democracy.
In the event, everyone who exited the market in anticipation of the election got thoroughly (and almost immediately) skunked. The enduring historical lesson: never get your politics mixed up with your investment policy.
We at DCH Wealth Management look forward to working with all of you to help you meet your most cherished long-term financial goals and we thank you again for being our clients. It is a privilege to serve you.
David R Henderson
This is being provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any specific securities. Past performance is no guarantee of future results, and all investing involves risk. Index returns shown are not reflective of actual performance nor reflect fees and expenses applicable to investing. One cannot invest directly in an index. DCH Wealth Management, nor any of its members are tax accountants or legal attorneys, and do not provide tax or legal advice. For tax or legal advice, you should consult your tax or legal professional. The views expressed are those of DCH Wealth Management and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mutual Advisors, LLC or any of its affiliates.