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February 27, 2020 | The Real Deal

A best-selling Canadian author of 14 books on economic trends, real estate, the financial crisis, personal finance strategies, taxation and politics. Nationally-known speaker and lecturer on macroeconomics, the housing market and investment techniques. He is a licensed Investment Advisor with a fee-based, no-commission Toronto-based practice serving clients across Canada.

Nancy’s in a state. “Hope you pick a scared-looking puppy for this post,” she says.  “Feels very appropriate.”

No, we’re gonna use a cat.

However, she caught my attention with a pretty good MSU: “My husband initially forced me to read your blog (out loud to him) with plenty of sighs and eye rolls on my end but now I look forward to our nightly ritual, I swear!”

Okay, N. You’re in. Now what’s this anxiety thing?

I’m hoping you can quell my anxiety right now by helping us not lose all of our money. We make 160k combined and have close to 900k invested in rrsps and tfsas. Our investments are relatively balanced but we do own pretty large portions in our “winning” stocks (Tesla, Shopify, Apple and Facebook) the rest are in ETFs. As the stock market is currently taking a gargantuan tumble, what should we do? Should we take our money out now and buy again at the bottom? Should we stay put hoping this sneaky virus goes away and things return to normal? Should we buy a house with our money – seems like that market isn’t being effected by the virus… Please help otherwise I’m afraid we’ll be right where we started years ago with nothing left in our savings!

Yes, fear is the strongest of emotions. It trumps greed, sex or the way you feel when someone says ‘hereditary chiefs.’ This week has been ugly for investors as the virus spreads, traders take risk off the table and the stock market lurches into a correction (down 10%). As described here two days ago, money has cascaded from equities into bonds, driving prices up and yields down. Oil’s been whacked as have most commodities. And look at volatility – wow, an eruption. Similar to 2011.


Now contemplate the comment made by blog dog Bill about the stock market’s slide from record highs. This is what I mean about the effect of fear:

Garth doesn’t get it. This virus is the real deal. Tens of millions will die. The global economy will be completely wrecked. I think we break the 2008 lows. Ultimately, your investment portfolio right now is going to be less of a concern than how much food and supplies you have stocked up on. It’s going to be a shock when this hits people and they will panic when they realize how unprepared they are. Grocery store shelves will get cleared out one day soon. It’s happening.

Covid-19 cases are fading in China and growing outside. The crap on social media and the icy fingers gripping the hearts of some of wussy doubters down in the steerage section are predictable. People never change. They think half the world will get this and countless millions die. But in Wuhan, a city of 11 million, there were (at most) 70,000 cases – .6% of folks. Deaths there have run at 0.02% of the population at large.

So, Nancy, there may be empty store shelves in the coming weeks but you probably won’t get the virus and you surely will not die. Nor is this what Mr. Market has been worried about, either. Instead the issue is a drop in global economic output caused by the public health response, leading to diminished corporate profits. If you think that sounds like a temporary hit, well, bingo. Exactly the case. And in that reality there is much optimism.

Investors hate uncertainty, so until a timetable emerges, the selling will continue. We’re maybe half-way there. The correction of 10% that has occurred could turn into a 20% drop – the technical definition of a bear market (the same thing happened at the end of 2018, when people on this blog utterly capitulated. Then markets gained 30%.).

What’s likely to occur at that point (or sooner)? Central bank action, for one. The market now believes rates will drop two or three times by the end of the year, lopping 60-70 basis points off existing levels. That will inject a huge amount of liquidity into the economy, and because this is a global issue there will be a global response. Central banks will likely move in a coordinated fashion, while governments also scramble to restore equilibrium. Look at Hong Kong. This week they handed spending cash to every adult.

Meanwhile the reasons markets went up two months ago are still in place. “Even with the retracement… we’re still at cycle highs,” says a Wall Street manager. “But once we get through this very large uncertainty, markets will have an enormous coordinated tailwind of fiscal and monetary stimulus to help those equity valuations in 2021.”

Expect the Bank of Canada to trim its key rate in April, given the virus, the FN blockades, the oil sands disaster and the plopping price of oil. (There should be a cut next week, the CD Howe Institute argued on Thursday.) All that is pushing Canada towards a temporary recession, and pushing the bank to act. Which it will.

So the virus may be a new challenge, but the ultimate pattern should follow that of past shocks – from the GFC to Y2K to 9-11. It may come with more emotion, and more disruption in daily lives if subways and schools close for a while. And the sight of malls full of people in surgical masks is chilling.

But in terms of your portfolio, Nancy, sit tight. Never sell into a storm. The balanced and diversified part will be fine. The individual stocks will be more at risk. Sounds like you failed to realize capital gains and move them into safer, broader assets. Remember that lesson for next time.

Yes, there’ll be one. We shall have exactly this conversation again. Count on it. Now go and load up on toilet paper before Bill hoards it all.

Letter from a Chinese blog dog…

Thursday, 8 pm ET. I just received the following letter from a regular reader working in China, who is living through the Covid-19 storm. You might find this of interest.

Writing you again as a Canadian investor working and living in China through the Coronavirus.  I’ve written you in the past, but I just thought I’d share with you a response to Bill who you featured a fearful comment from today on how the Coronavirus is going to destroy the worlds population and market.

Over here in China (where I’ve been living and working for over 2 years now), at least in my southern city near the Hong Kong border things are returning to normal. More and more shops are open.  People are out and about in parks and sidewalks.  People have returned to work – myself included.  Everyone still wears masks outside their house all day and we sign in to every location we visit via an app so potential outbreaks could be tracked quickly.  But there hasn’t been any new confirmed cases in this City of nearly 20 million in days.

As a daily reader of this blog for years now, who’s recently started a new job with a 30% salary increase, I’m excited to see this downturn and will be investing every cent I possibly can into this storm to take advantage of these sale prices!

Thanks again for all that you do!  You’ve helped this moister relate more to boomers financially, and looking at my portfolio, that’s a good thing.

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February 27th, 2020

Posted In: The Greater Fool

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