When is a stock correction good news? Almost always — if you’re a long-term investor, says John Bogle.
The Vanguard Group founder offers this simple advice for anyone thinking of selling as stocks declined earlier this week: Don’t fall for it. “I’ve seen turbulence in the market,” he told CNBC. “This is not real turbulence.”
That doesn’t mean stocks will go right back up. Stocks did find more solid ground over the next few days, yet things easily could go south again.
Nevertheless, stocks have been rising steadily for years now. In fact, the worst thing that could happen to true long-term investors is an unending climb that prices out future buyers forever.
After all, someday you will retire. You’ll need to sell your stocks to someone else, and they won’t buy your investments if stocks are priced far into future earnings growth.
And that’s a key point: The short-term view is nearly impossible to predict, and Bogle doesn’t even try. “I have advice for long-term investors,” he said. “I have no advice for speculators.”
Yes, I know, speculator is a loaded term. Nobody would identify themselves as such. But here’s a simple test of your seriousness as an investor.
How many stocks do you have in your portfolio? Ten or 12? Do you have more than 15% of your money in just one of them? More than 40%?
Sadly, you’re almost certainly a speculator from Bogle’s point of view. “Oh, no! I buy and hold!” you might protest. “I own my stocks forever, like Warren Buffett!”
No you don’t. Chances are, if you hold 12 stocks in your portfolio, you’ve owned them for less than five years on average, and absolutely less than 10 years.
Otherwise, you’d be holding a portfolio that reflects the late 1990s. It would be a load of legacy technology and telecom stocks, some of them bankrupted. A sleepy portfolio indeed.
It’s much more likely that you own the latest flavors of technology names, the “disruptors” in fashion these days. There’s nothing wrong with these companies, but you won’t own them in 10 years and you probably won’t own them in five.
You are a speculator, and corrections scare the heck out you, with reason.
Corrections are scary to speculators because speculative stocks test your resolve. Heavy concentrations in sectors such as technology or commodities test your resolve.
Big bets on macroeconomic events or currency movements test your resolve. Nothing seems to happen on a rational timetable. Then a correction intervenes and changes all the assumptions.
Yet nothing has changed, really, as Bogle points out. Corporate earnings are where they are. The U.S. economy hasn’t altered its direction overnight.
China is blamed for the latest crackup. It’s having the kind of economic headaches any developing economy will have. Those problems loom larger for us because of the country’s sheer size, but they remain China’s problems to solve.
A diversified, serious, long-term investor looks at the events of the day as the blips they really are. In five years we won’t be talking about the Federal Reserve, China, Greece, U.S. elections, the price of gold or anything we think matters today.
We’ll come up with other things to worry about, to talk about, to use as our excuse to sell or buy.
Meanwhile, the legitimately long-term investor (and you know who you are) will have grown his or her portfolio prudently and smartly just the same.