We live in eventful times. During these tough economic times, it can certainly feel like the glass is half empty. The disconnect between the current economic environment and the recent rally in equity markets has left many people scratching their heads. Is this the start of a strong bull market or merely a slight recovery from the aggressive sell-off we saw in March 2020?
The world was overturned in March when outbreaks of Covid-19 started accelerating and affecting most markets across the globe. This saw almost one-third of the world’s population going into lockdown and many companies coming to a complete standstill.
During this time most financial markets sold off aggressively due to the uncertainty around the effect on businesses both locally and abroad. This resulted in some of the most aggressive local and global sell-offs seen in history and, in turn, also resulting in one of the fastest sell-offs in history. With this being said – in the weeks post 18 March, markets have also seen some of the strongest returns, resulting in most equity markets clawing back most of its losses.
So, the question begs, is the sell-off/risk-off trade done?
Let’s look at previous sell-offs and their subsequent recoveries in the South African equity market, namely 1998 (emerging markets) 2003 (technology) and 2008 (financial crisis) as well as 2020.
The graph below demonstrates the four above mentioned crises, the time the sell-offs started and the period it took for all capital losses to be recouped.
In other words, if an investor invested R100 on the day the sell-off started, the below graph shows how long it took (measured in days) the investment to reach the bottom (lowest amount) along with the subsequent recovery (in other words, how long it took for an investor to get back to the initial R100 investment). The x-axis signifies the number of days and the y-axis the change in the value of the initial R100 investment.
From the above graph, it becomes clear that the most recent sell-off was one of the most aggressive sell-offs, but the rebound has also been one of the quickest.
So, is it the end? Unfortunately, it is unlikely. Remember that share prices reflect the future earnings expectations of companies. So while prices of shares might have adjusted, companies haven’t realised earnings yet. There might still be some further headwinds that the market will have to digest as companies release their earnings results and the real impact of the lockdown is realised.
From the above graph, we can see that it can take anything from 190 days to 600 days to make up previous losses. You can get cycles during a 12-month time frame that feel like they should actually be playing out over the course of 12 years.
Once you start digging into the historical numbers you begin to realize the equity market is even more unsystematic than advertised. Surprisingly, huge up and down moves happening in the same year is not out of the ordinary.
Investments with more cyclical equities (such as airlines, banks and energy companies, to name but a few) are typically more volatile. That’s because a share’s return is based on the business’ profitability, which is difficult to predict. In uncertain market environments, like the current one, investors tend to be especially pessimistic about how businesses will perform, which can result in an overreaction (to the downside) in the share price.
So, why would you want to own equities when there is so much uncertainty? Because you’re likely to be rewarded with a higher return over the long haul if you can remain calm and stomach the volatility and noise.
When your portfolio’s value has declined amid this volatility, you might think that you’ve taken on too much risk. However, you shouldn’t necessarily conflate volatility with risk. Risk could be better defined as the permanent loss of capital (which is realised if you exit at a low point) and the chance that you won’t meet a financial goal. Even though a portfolio that is heavily tilted toward equity might bounce around in volatile environments like this, your total portfolio asset allocation might not be overly risky.
By reducing your exposure to more volatile or “risky” assets such as equities, you could significantly limit your portfolio’s potential return over the long run. If you have decades left to invest, a lower return could prevent your rands from multiplying at the necessary pace to reach your investment goals.
It’s easy to overplay the significance of volatility because it means we can address the overwhelming feelings of anxiety that occur in times of market stress. But with volatility comes opportunity, especially for the patient and sensible investor. Ultimately, equity market gains have offset shorter-term losses during market turmoil, and market volatility can be an opportunity to buy equities at a low price.
Eugene Visagie, CFA®, FRM®
Client Portfolio Manager
Morningstar Investment Management South Africa
This commentary does not constitute investment, legal, tax or other advice and is supplied for information purposes only. Past performance is not a guide to future returns. The value of investments may go down as well as up and an investor may not get back the amount invested. Reference to any specific security is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. The information, data, analyses, and opinions presented herein are provided as of the date written and are subject to change without notice. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided, but Morningstar Investment Management South Africa (Pty) Ltd makes no warranty, express or implied regarding such information. The information presented herein will be deemed to be superseded by any subsequent versions of this commentary. Except as otherwise required by law, Morningstar Investment Management South Africa (Pty) Ltd shall not be responsible for any trading decisions, damages or losses resulting from, or related to, the information, data, analyses or opinions or their use.
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