The stock market has been responding positively to better than expected earnings, “The Melt Up is officially here. This is the boom we’ve been waiting for.  And this phase should last 12 to 18 months”,  said Steve Sjuggerud, Stansberry Research. He went on to say, “The Melt Up will propel U.S. stocks to fantastic heights. The Melt Up is the final push of a bull market. It’s when the leading companies of this near decade-long boom really take off and propel the overall market dramatically higher.”

As I have written before, do not be complacent, you must be vigilant.  Please enjoy the melt-up as you prepare for a melt-down. I don’t know what the catalyst might be for a reversal of fortune, but we all see the huge elephant in the room. Charles Sizemore, CFA, Dent Research put a trade war in historical perspective. “The Great Depression didn’t start out as ‘great’. It was a deep but not necessarily extraordinary recession. That is until Senator Reed Smoot and Representative Will Hawley pushed through the Smoot-Hawley Tariff in 1930, one of the highest and broadest tariffs in U.S. history.” Of course, the intent should sound very familiar, in this case, by imposing a 40% tariff on 20,000 goods, to breathe new life into the American farming industry that has been struggling for some time. We are not in a trade war yet. So far we’ve seen a war of words. But as the tit-for-tat escalates, all bets are off. It’s ‘a tariffically bad idea,’ according to The Economist, March 8, 2018.

As a child, I was always amazed to hear about the families enjoying the fireworks on their street celebrating the Fourth of July who noticed after all of the excitement that somehow someone accidentally put their own house on fire.  Playing with fire is fun until the result becomes a catastrophe. Unintended consequences are my real concern with a trade war.

No matter what the market may do, Linda Ferentchak, Proactive Advisor Magazine, put forth two very realistic scenarios. She points out that for those with a 2005 starting balance of $500,000 in the S&P 500 who didn’t take any withdrawals, the account would be worth about $1.1 million by year end 2017.  But if it were the case that you retired that year by setting up withdrawals of 6% a year or $2,640 per month, by 2017, your year-end value would be less than $355,000.  Withdrawals total $406,560, “but another bear market could easily result in the account running out of money.” Ferentchak goes on to say, “While the long-term trend of the market has historically been to the upside, it is very difficult for a retiree to recover from a market decline if the individual also needs to be making withdrawals from the portfolio to meet living expenses. The drag from withdrawing funds from a retirement portfolio can quickly turn a market downturn into retirement shortfall. It’s all a matter of math. If your portfolio declines by 40%, it takes a 67% gain to return to its prior high. Add in the drag of steady withdrawals and recovering becomes even more difficult.”  If not, impossible.

The combination of one severe market loss and annual withdrawals can quickly reveal that investors could well run out of money before they run out of time.

Source: Market data, FCA

The difference is the result of changing the investor’s portfolio from passive management to active management. Instead of holding risk assets, most notably during 2008, actively managed accounts went from shares to cash, then back into risk assets in 2009 as the market enjoyed volatility to the upside. While passive accounts may have taken nearly four years to get back to even, actively managed accounts may have taken less than two years.

Active investment strategies can be applied to bond and fixed-income portfolios as well as to help reduce market losses.

Once the funds are gone for whatever reason, be it market losses or withdrawals or some combination of the two, it doesn’t matter how quickly the market recovers. If a downdraft combination becomes minus 60%, the investor needs a gain of 150% to get back to even.  Now we’re talking a hail-Mary pass just to get back in the game.  Clearly, such odds are a long shot at best. When an investor can keep losses and withdrawals to 20%, the math is a gain of 25% is needed to get back to the starting value. Those are losses from which you may recover. At least the odds are more in your favor. “Active management: Don’t retire without it,” wrote Ferentchak, July 18, 2018.

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