Panic has never been a good adviser

The coronavirus is now officially a pandemic. A serious threat not only to human lives but also to the world economy, to our health system, and yes, even to our financial system.

As the virus spreads further, entire countries are closing borders, schools are closing doors, events get canceled, elections move online. People get scared to go for a beer to their local pub. Even the premiere of the new James Bond movie has been postponed!

So the ultimate outcome, and changes to our lives, possibly to the world, it’s all very uncertain. And nowhere is this uncertainty better reflected than in the stock market. Having crashed almost on a scale comparable to the financial crisis of 2008, we can see the negative sentiment of investors on full display.

Where do we go from here?

After three weeks of markets being basically in free-fall, the last Friday showed something of a possible turn around. After the US-President decided to declare a national emergency and at least showed something more of seriousness about the situation, confidence seemed to return to the markets and stocks recovered some of their losses.

But is this enough to start a full-scale recovery? In my humble opinion, it’s still way too early to even think about it. Not only does the response from the White House lack enough credibility to be trusted and to trigger a sustainable recovery. Even more importantly we will need to see some real numbers before the full impact of the crisis can be assessed. What numbers am I talking about?

  • Lost revenues
  • Lost jobs
  • Recovery costs
  • Updated annual forecasts (for everything)
  • Dividend payouts and dividend cuts
  • Repercussions on globalization as a system
  • Political repercussions

That’s a lot of data to digest and I don’t dare to predict how long the evaluation of it may take. And I am not alone there. Markets tend to react quickly to possible opportunities because there are plenty of speculative traders who are willing to take a risk to bet on the direction which they consider more plausible. But more than often these emotional and non-data driven speculations go wrong. It’s a 50:50 bet.

Don’t panic. Analyze. Invest.

Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some additional bad weeks ahead of us. The short spike-up which we observed on Friday could turn out to have been only a short-sighted flare of hope from some speculative investors betting on a turnaround, ahead of having done the required due-diligence and analyzing some real numbers.

For us private investors it’s a challenging time. First of all, we got to keep a cool head. Panic doesn’t help. As my personal portfolio has lost over 30% in value, I haven’t lost any sleep about it.

First of all, the loss is not real until I actually sell the shares. Until then, it’s only a loss on paper. And do I have any reason to sell my shares? I don’t think so. All the stocks in my portfolio have been bought for a reason. While the dividend payments might get cut or even fully canceled for a year, as long as the business itself doesn’t face an existential threat, I don’t worry.

Secondly, markets go up and down. That’s what they do. We had an 11-year run-up and it might be time for a turn-around. Will this turn-around last forever? Very unlikely. Bull-markets are followed by bear-markets and vice-versa. Do I, or my generation (I am from Gen X), need to worry? Very unlikely. I have still plenty of time ahead of me and will almost certainly see more recessions – and more recoveries.

Lastly, I am an optimist, and what I see is a great opportunity to continue building up my retirement portfolio. Even if we should have now entered a bear market and a possible recession. All I see is companies and businesses, learning to adapt, getting more efficient, improving their resilience and tweaking their operational proficiency, to come out even stronger once this bear market will be over.

So don’t panic. Analyze. Invest.

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