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.
Crowd-to-let: How crowdfunding sites can give investors a slice of the property market for £500
Q&A: What’s the best way to invest for our baby?
Simon Read: 'Seven Families campaign offers an escape from financial and emotional distress'
After the election: What will Britain's financial future look like on 8 May?
General Election 2015: How you vote next week could affect your finances
- 1 Which country would be hardest to invade?
- 3 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 4 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 5 Royal baby girl born: Duchess of Cambridge's second child will be a princess thanks to Queen
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
Indonesia executions live: 'Hysterical' families heard prisoners being shot dead by firing squad
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
iJobs Money & Business
£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...
£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...
Day In a Page
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
Surrounded by the Western fells, this five-bedroom Georgian home retains many original features including panel-plastered ceilings, sash windows and fireplaces.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
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