Secrets of Success: No one sees when bullish turn to bearish
Saturday 12 March 2005
Market timing, a hundred academic studies have told us, does not really work.
Market timing, a hundred academic studies have told us, does not really work. Calling the precise points at which markets turn from bullish to bearish, or vice versa, is simply not a feasible option. You might get lucky once or even twice in a row, but to hope to do it on a consistent, regular basis is the stuff of dreams (though that does not stop investment banks and a host of other dream-peddlers continuing to offer advice of this sort).
This is one reason why, for most of us, professional and amateur alike, a more sensible approach is not to try. It is a better use of your time and emotional energy to stick to focusing on a few big-picture trends and stick with them until or unless they begin to show signs of excess. Investing on a regular basis and rebalancing your portfolio once a year to adjust for valuation shifts is another tried and tested way of protecting your assets from bad timing calls.
Yet the reality is that most of us cannot resist getting involved in trying to call the twists and turns of each successive market phase. Market timing is an addictive drug, which fulfils some deep-seated emotional need we all share. Why do bull markets have to "climb a wall of worry", as the old market saying has it? Because deep down we are all market junkies and would not have it otherwise.
The same goes for the age-old debate about whether "growth" or "value" is the better investment approach. There is no debate, as far as I am aware: all the evidence I have seen shows that, in the long run, a buy-and-hold value-based approach will provide the better, more reliable returns. But it can be dull work putting such a philosophy into action.
The real fun in the stock market comes in phases when either growth stocks do spectacularly well as a class, or there is some great speculative surge that holds out the prospect of sudden, large-scale returns. We are seeing one develop in the mining and natural resources sector at the moment. You only have to look at the exotica now finding its way daily to the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) to see that.
It is all intoxicating stuff - and probably worth joining in with your fun money. The evidence that we are entering a new long bull market phase in commodities and natural resources seems pretty robust. Coupled with a low interest rate environment (the essential precondition of any speculative bubble), that provides a useful backcloth against which speculative stocks can flourish.
Many new mining exploration companies now appearing will turn out to be worthless. It will all end in tears, though not for some time. The prudent investor will look to play the new bull market in commodities in a more cautious, strategic way: for example, through well-diversified dedicated funds and the larger diversified oil and mineral companies.
There is, as the market strategist David Fuller points out, a common theme in these developments. It is what he calls "supply inelasticity", the notion that demand for many natural resources and industrial commodities is growing strongly while, after years of weak or falling prices, the investment needed to bring on new sources of supply will take time to mature. That imbalance will underpin the upward trend in the oil, gold and industrial commodities markets for some years to come, although the trend will be obscured from month to month by periodic sharp falls in prices.
By contrast, Fuller suspects that stock markets in general will shortly be heading in the opposite direction: in his view, we are now two years into a typical "bear market rally" that will in due course see Wall Street and other leading markets resume the secular downward trend that began in 2000. This seems a plausible argument to me, and one I find that is quite widely shared by the professionals whose opinions I rate highly. We should all be preparing ourselves for such an eventuality.
As a long-standing Warren Buffett watcher, I think that this is also the real message contained in his latest letter to shareholders, which came out last weekend. Having moved a lot of money into bonds four years ago, and bought into the energy sector in a big way more recently, Buffett is now sitting on $40 billion of cash and signalling that he is not tempted by values in the stock market at current levels.
But the most important thing to remember, as a pragmatic investor, is not to let feelings about markets, however strong they might be, tempt you into too much precipitate action - which is the real snare of market timing.
The bullish phase of the stock market is still running, and there is no powerful reason yet to jump off, at least without more compelling evidence that the markets have turned. Fuller advises us to look out for what happens to the Australian and New Zealand stock markets. In his experience, the markets that lead the global stock markets up tend to be the ones that "top out" first.
Australia and New Zealand have both carried out that role in the global stock market rally of the past two years. When they start to deteriorate, that could be a powerful signal that the bigger market trend is drawing to an end - especially if it is seen to be combined with evidence that bond yields are also starting to rise.
Just don't expect to catch the turn precisely. Most successful investors are brilliant market timers in retrospect, but rarely in advance.
What they tend to do, if they think the market might be turning, is put a small bet on the fact and then gradually increase their exposure to that point of view, if the subsequent market action suggests that the move is indeed becoming an enduring trend, rather than a short-term alarum of the kind that keeps all market junkies happy.
Debt in Britain: Numbers seeking help on how to cope with mounting bills goes up by more than half in three years
General election 2015: David Cameron's promise brings uncertainty to investors
Bargain Hunter: BT improves its mobile reception with 'incredibly competitive' deals
Have a happy new financial year
Simon Read: 'It went below the radar but you could be eligible for a tax break on your savings'
- 2 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 3 Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival streaming service criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
- 4 Brixton squat flats now costing up to £3k per month show how out of control rent is in London
- 5 A new (old) cure for MRSA? Revolting recipe from the Dark Ages may be key to defeat infection
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
iJobs Money & Business
£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...
£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...
£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...
Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...
Day In a Page
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
A boutique mews house, set around a central courtyard, with three bedrooms and a private roof terrace
A four-bedroom farm-conversion with three bathrooms and two reception rooms
A two-bedroom detached house with ensuite bathrooms and a sun-drenched decked terrace, £750,000
A modern and spacious two-bedroom, penthouse flat with two bathrooms in a prestigious development
A beautifully renovated five-bedroom terrace with three reception rooms and a courtyard garden, £700,000
A four-bedroom period house which has been extended to provide almost 2,500sq ft of living space, £675,000
A pretty three-bedroom Georgian home with a 22ft drawing room and a master suite with a balcony, £525,000
A substanstial family home with five bedrooms and landscaped gardens in the much sought-after Branksome Park area
A well-presented three-bedroom house with front and rear gardens, close to White City station, £475,000
A handsome five-bedroom house in a sought-after location close to the city centre
A five-bedroom country home with valley views, equestrian stables and 27 acres of land, £725,000
A six-bedroom farm house with separate, detached cottages and 371 acres of land
A two-bedroom cottage with parquet floors, chunky beams and an open fireplace
A three-bedrrom flat with 2,733sq feet of living space, a beautiful private garden and 15 acres of communal grounds
A four-bedroom chalet bungalow with three bathrooms and a spacious garden, £525,000