After two seemingly polar-opposite quarters, one thing not in short supply is the number and diversity of market commentaries and outlooks going into 2019. Through February, the U.S. stock market had its best first two months of the year since 1991 amid mixed economic news following the worst December since the dramatic days of 1931. The increase in volatility comes after a long period of ever-increasing valuations and steadily advancing markets. Many investors have become accustomed to the robust valuations and low volatility of an almost decade-long bull market. The sudden sharp volatility of a potential new “normal” calls for perspective, particularly for investors who feel nervous and compelled to act during such stress points.
The duration of this bull market has the potential to cause investors to make the wrong decisions, vis-a-vis their portfolios, when volatility reappears after a long hiatus. As we approach the 10th anniversary of the second longest bull market in modern times, the phenomenon known as “recency bias” can be a dangerous trait for investors. “Recency bias” is a cognitive condition that lulls us into believing what has happened in the recent past will continue for the foreseeable future. Investors continuously fall victim to this bias during both positive and negative market cycles.
Our brains are conditioned in such a way that recent memories are more easily recalled. Thus, it is completely reasonable to think the market will perform well when we’re in a bull market, even though most investors are cognizant of the cyclical nature of the stock market. Alternatively, when the market turns negative, we may be inclined to think that these conditions will persist and reactively liquidate stock positions. Obviously, selling low is not a good long-term investing strategy. Markets recover and invariably those who have sold are likely to be still sitting on the sidelines.