Last week, we observed a syndrome of evidence that matches only a handful of market extremes in history, including August-December 1972, August 1987, April-July 1998, July 1999, and March 2000, and April-July 2007. Investors with a good sense of market history will recognize all of those instances as points from which subsequent outcomes were steeply negative, even if stocks held up or advanced moderately over the short-run. With regard to the potential for steeply negative outcomes, we find that when we look across history, conditions similar to the present have been “enriched” with steep declines – another way of saying that the negative tail of the distribution is very fat here.
For example, if we break our estimates of prospective market return/risk into five quintiles or “buckets”, present estimates are clearly in the most negative bucket. Historically, 31% of instances in that worst bucket have been followed by a market decline of at least 10% over the following 6 month period, while 41% of all 10% market declines (occurring within a 6-month period) have started from instances in that bucket. In other words, while the lowest quintile captures 20% of the historical data, that bucket captures 10% market corrections more than twice as often as one would expect if those 10% declines were randomly distributed across market conditions. Similarly, the periods in the lowest quintile of prospective return/risk capture 45% of all 15% market declines that have occurred within a 6-month window, 54% of all 20% market declines, 69% of all 30% declines, and 87% of all declines of 35% or more (what would commonly be considered “crashes”).
In short, saying that our estimates of prospective return/risk are negative does not indicate that the market will or must plunge. Rather, it says that the average outcome has been quite negative, and the likelihood of extreme “tail events” is vastly enriched compared with more typical conditions throughout history. In this environment, market exposure has typically been far more costly than it has been beneficial, and investment opportunities have generally emerged after a period of market losses.