“To a contrarian like me, constant advice not to do something almost always starts me quickly down the risky, unpopular path.” – Michael Bloomberg
The Russian military takeover of the strategic Crimean peninsula has caused an international uproar. While the focus is on how the EU and the US will deal with the Russian threat, both the Russian ruble and local stock index have gotten creamed. As measured by the Market Vector Russia ETF Trust, the market has dropped about 20 percent since the beginning of the year. More interestingly, it has dropped close to 50% since 2011. The government raised interest rates sharply and spent more than $11 billion to help support the ruble, which dropped significantly anyway.
Backward thinking? Some investors have an inverted perception of risk. They tend to buy stocks when they have already appreciated significantly and sell them after they have already gotten crushed. However, this is the opposite of the golden rule of investing: Buy low and sell high.
Should you time the market? One important investment strategy is called market timing, where the investor decides on the best time to either buy or sell his portfolio. Market timers depend heavily on market trends, both historical and current. Portfolio managers and brokers often use market-timing strategies to try and increase gains for their clients, and they claim that these timing strategies are more successful than other methods of investment.
It’s time in the market, not timing the market One of the biggest risks of trying to keep timing the market is the potential of “missing” the market. This occurs when an investor, thinking the market will go down, reallocates his investments and places them in more-conservative investments.
While the money is on the sidelines, the market shoots up. This means that the investor has incorrectly timed the market and “missed” the best performing months.
There have been numerous studies done to illustrate how much an investor can lose by being out of the market. For example, if $10,000 were put in an investment that performed similarly to the S&P 500 Index from December 1990 to December 2005 and left untouched, this sum would have grown to $51,354 by the end of this time. However, if the investor missed even the 10 best days of the stock market during that 15-year period, his investment would have grown to only $31,994. And missing the stock market’s best 50 days during that time would have led to a loss, and the original $10,000 investment would have been worth only $9,030 by the end.
Is now the time to be a contrarian? Investors who go against the general market trend are called “contrarians.” A contrarian is also defined as an individual who believes that certain crowd behavior among investors can lead to exploitable mis-pricings in securities markets. For example, widespread pessimism about a stock can drive a price so low that it overstates the company’s risks and understates its prospects for returning to profitability. Identifying and purchasing such distressed stocks and selling them after the company recovers can lead to above-average gains.
As such, the question that should be asked after the huge Russian market drop is whether it is a good time to buy right now? The naysayers would say that this crisis could continue for months or years, and this drop may be just the start of bad things to come.
Contrarians would answer that the market often overreacts to geopolitical issues. They would say that the market has lost almost half of its value over the past three years, which makes it compelling.
According to Matthew Lynn in Marketwatch: “True, there are plenty of problems in Russia. The economy has been stifled by greedy officials and exploitative oligarchs. It may well face sanctions over its seizure of the Crimea. It could easily get dragged into a costly war in eastern Ukraine.
And oil and gas – its two key industries – are under pressure from the development of shale gas. And yet everything has its price. Russia was already the cheapest significant stock market in the world going into this crisis – and it just got a whole lot cheaper. Russia may be in a bad way right now, but it remains a huge country, rich in natural resources, with a well-educated workforce.”
While buying and selling constantly and trying to time the market are not always advisable, it is worthwhile remembering that there are always opportunities in the market, especially after it has dropped. When potential investments are analyzed objectively, without getting caught up in the pessimism that pervades the current investing climate, this could mean that now may be a good time to invest. Do your own research and see if some Russian investments make sense in your portfolio.
The information contained in this article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Portfolio Resources Group, Inc., or its firstname.lastname@example.org Aaron Katsman is a licensed financial professional in Israel and the United States who helps people with US investment accounts. He is the author of the book Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing.