In its simplest form, timing the stock market means trying to figure out when stocks are either very expensive or very cheap and acting on your conclusion by selling stocks at the high points, holding cash for a while and backing up the truck to buy them again when prices are at their lows.
Two problems with market timing:
–it’s risky. Historically the bulk of the positive returns from owning stocks occur on about 10% of the days. Missing them can be devastating.
–it’s difficult to do. In fact, in almost thirty years in the business I’ve never met a successful market timer. I’ve encounter lots of unsuccessful ones, though.
There are professionals who are good at calling market tops. Some are good at calling bottoms. But I don’t know anyone who can do both. More typical is the portfolio manager who “helps” his clients by raising a ton of cash on his view that the market is toppy, is psychologically unable to admit his mistake as stocks continue to rise and whose successor gets the task of cleaning up the resulting performance mess.
I have no idea where the strong negative emotion driving stocks lower globally is coming from. So I think it’s best to stay on the sidelines until the craziness burns itself out.
Still, I noticed a couple of things about yesterday’s trading that suggest a bottom may be approaching.
–the S&P 500 broke through support at 1865 or so at the open and in short order found itself at the next support level of around 1815 at lunchtime. The market made an immediate reversal and closed right around (just below) the former support.
The next support below 1815 is at 1870 or so. We’ll see in the next few days whether the S&P can either recover above 1865 or hold above 1815.
–some stocks that I don’t hold but which are on my screen went crazy yesterday.
SCTY fell by -12% in the morning but closed up by almost +9% for the day. That’s a 20% intraday swing.
LC fell by -9% in the morning but closed up by +8% for the day. That’s a +17% intraday swing.
Yes, these are speculative stocks. And they’ve been pummeled during the market downdraft. But wild intraday swings like this are most often found at market turning points.
What to do?
I’m starting to comb through my portfolio for stocks that have held up well during the downturn to date and thinking about switching them for more interesting stocks that have been slammed over the past couple of months. I’m not doing anything yet. And I’m in no way contemplating making basic changes in portfolio structure. But there may be an opportunity developing to upgrade at reasonable prices.