A time to EVALUATE your jitters

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A time to EVALUATE your jitters

Postby nisiprius » Sun Aug 07, 2011 8:00 am

I want to say this carefully. This is not an optimistic "stay the course" post and it's not a pessimistic "OMG do something" post. It's directed at people who are feeling very uncomfortable. I want to point out some things to think about, things that are hopefully truisms that everyone can see are correct once they're pointed out.

Your investment plan needs to be in tune with your own personal willingness to take financial risk. Your tolerance for financial risk is what it is. Only you know what it is. Nobody else can tell you what it should be. Different people are really and truly different. And your tolerance for financial risk is not necessarily the same as your tolerance for other kinds of risk.

You may not know what stock market risk is really like, and you may not know what your own risk tolerance really is. This is, if nothing else, a good opportunity to assess both.

What we have today is about a 10-15% decline in the S&P over the last month or so, coupled with a feeling of seismic shifts in the financial world. A sense that the earth is moving under our feet. A sense that events are happening that are going to make it into the history books. The general mood is summarized in this headline:

El-Erian: downgrade heralds new era

Heralds new era! Strong stuff. Let's not argue about whether it's true or not, let's agree that it feels that way right now. Like there's been a turning point, a division between an old era and a new era, and therefore past history is no longer a guide to the future.

And here's my point: it always feels that way. That's always what a big downturn feels like. It's not a number, 10% or 15%. It's a sense that there's been a break, the ground has shifted, the rules have changed.

We love drama and after the fact the reality often turns out to be boring. Imagine thinking that, see, it wasn't so bad! But that's later. And sometimes it is a turning point and sometimes it is that bad.

When you're deciding what your risk tolerance is, it's not a tolerance for the number 10 or the number 15 or the number 25. It's not a tolerance for an "A" turning into a "+". It's a tolerance for accepting genuinely-scary, nothing-like-this-has-ever-happened-before, heralds-a-new-era news events.

Now, the next set of truisms. Nobody knows what's going to happen. No, really. I don't care what the best experts are saying or what the futures do or what happens tonight in Asia. On Monday, stocks might shoot right back up. Or they might plunge some more. Or they might diddle around for weeks leaving us all on tenterhooks and then plunge some more, Or not.

We see this:

Image

Well, we really don't know what will happen. It might be almost nothing... it might be like the start of this period in 1998 and it could bounce back in a few months.

Image

It might be the start of another 50% plunge like 2008-2009. Awful, but over in a couple of years.

Image

It might be like the start of this period in 1937 when stocks plunged about 50% as in 2008-9, but didn't come back for about a decade. (I'm using a long-lived stock market mutual fund as a proxy for "the market," but it's close enough).

Image

It might be like Japan in 1990, down for two decades and still down.

Image

But not to overweight the pessimism, let me add one more chart. Where's last week's plunge? When I expand the scale, it's actually there. The data being plotted includes it. But apparently it's so tiny it just gets rounded off or vanishes at screen pixel resolution!

Image

The point is, the last few weeks were a time when some risk showed up, and your job is to process it. The temptation is to deal with the discomfort by choosing a prediction. Don't. Your job is to confront the reality of that uncertainty, that you do not know what will happen, and can only make the roughest guesses as to the likelihood of all these scenarios.

Hopefully, you can say "well, yeah, I knew all that. I'd much rather see the market go up and I feel anxious, but I'm able to stay the course."

Unfortunately, if you look at all this and conclude that your exposure to the stock market is higher than your risk tolerance, there aren't any good options. It is absolutely a personal decision. The only sure way to reduce stock market risk substantially is to cut back on your stock allocation. Diversification, fiddling around with different flavors of stock, it's all bandaids. When stocks plunge, they plunge. So the S&P drops 50% and your portfolio drops 46%, big deal.

And when the stock market is falling, you can't cut back on your stock market risk without locking in a loss. It's a tough one and a personal decision. You absolutely have to measure one against the other. It's crazy to even suggest a course of action to anyone else and I'm not going to try.

What I'm saying is that this is a good time for evaluation. The risk is here. Don't exaggerate it--we all love drama, but reality is usually more boring than we expect. Don't brush it aside, look it in the eye as carefully as you can. And then look at how you really feel about it--not how you'd like to feel or how you think you're supposed to feel.

And one final thought. If we're lucky, and the stock market comes back at least part way and seems to stabilize for a while... or if it comes roaring back and soars (yes, that' could happen, too)... don't forget how you feel right now. If you feel that you are close to the edge of your risk tolerance right now, then you have too much in stocks. If you manage to tough it out and we get a calm spell, don't forget how you feel now and at least consider making an adjustment then.
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Postby Dieharder » Sun Aug 07, 2011 8:26 am

What an excellent post to read first up in the morning with uncertain times about to fall upon us in 24 hours.

The most important thing is to understand and admit that we are powerless to change the course of events that already happened, reducing stocks at this point is sure disaster.
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Postby LonePrairie » Sun Aug 07, 2011 8:38 am

Excellent post, nisiprius.
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Postby jb1934 » Sun Aug 07, 2011 8:41 am

But could it be different this time?
Probably not but...
Interesting read.
jb
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/07/busin ... ef=economy
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Postby exoilman » Sun Aug 07, 2011 8:45 am

Nisi,

Once again you dazzle me!! As stated last year either write THE book or hang a shingle outside for investing counseling. :thumbsup :thumbsup

regards
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A magnificent post by Nisiprius

Postby Taylor Larimore » Sun Aug 07, 2011 8:47 am

Nisiprius:

The point is, the last few weeks were a time when some risk showed up, and your job is to process it. The temptation is to deal with the discomfort by choosing a prediction. Don't. Your job is to confront the reality of that uncertainty, that you do not know what will happen, and can only make the roughest guesses as to the likelihood of all these scenarios.


Nisiprius:

I know how long it must have taken you to prepare your post containing the beautiful charts and valuable ideas (like the idea above).

Your contributions to the Boglehead Forum are making us all better investors.

We thank you.
"Simplicity is the master key to financial success." -- Jack Bogle
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Postby fishndoc » Sun Aug 07, 2011 8:55 am

Timely post!
As you and others have mentioned in other threads, it is surprising how many investors on the board are reacting to this, in light of how recent '08-'09 was.

Two especially good points (IMHO):
Heralds new era! ...

And here's my point: it always feels that way. That's always what a big downturn feels like. It's not a number, 10% or 15%. It's a sense that there's been a break, the ground has shifted, the rules have changed.

and
Now, the next set of truisms. Nobody knows what's going to happen. No, really. I don't care what the best experts are saying or what the futures do or what happens tonight in Asia.


and another point:
The only sure way to reduce stock market risk substantially is to cut back on your stock allocation. Diversification, fiddling around with different flavors of stock, it's all bandaids. When stocks plunge, they plunge. So the S&P drops 50% and your portfolio drops 46%, big deal.
Wonder how all those people who had been advocating high-dividend stocks as an alternative to boring old bonds are feeling right now? :o

Thanks for the post.
" Successful investing involves doing just a few things right, and avoiding serious mistakes." - J. Bogle
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Postby Scottner » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:12 am

Such a well done, well thought-out, and well written post nisiprius. I hope something like this gets incorporated into the wiki so it doesn't get lost over time. Because sure as this crisis will pass, down the road we'll find ourselves in yet another with the same questions being asked.
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Postby ObliviousInvestor » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:17 am

Any chance this could get stickied?
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Postby MarkNYC » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:33 am

nisi,

Among your many excellent posts, this might be the best. Not just because it's very well-written, but because the message is so important to investors.
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Postby Chipmaster » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:37 am

Thank you for the excellent, timely post.
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Postby MariaT » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:44 am

Thank you, nisiprius, for a well-written post and sharing your wisdom. I don't know what tomorrow brings and your post is so timely in this difficult financial times we are in. I know I will re-read this post many times.

All the best,
Maria
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Postby sandstorm » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:45 am

This is very helpful to those of us struggling with our investing emotions today. Great visuals, thank you!
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Postby RobertAlanK » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:55 am

I've spent a significant amount of time in the last 36 hours checking here and reading posts in an attempt to deal with my emotional reaction to recent events and movements of the markets.

This is what I was hoping to find. So I'll add my gratitude. Thanks, nisiprius!
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Postby Noobvestor » Sun Aug 07, 2011 10:00 am

ObliviousInvestor wrote:Any chance this could get stickied?


I was thinking the same thing - could even be Wikied somehow. Nis, my hat is off ... this is a wonderful work.
"In the absence of clarity, diversification is the only logical strategy" -= Larry Swedroe
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Postby Lorraine » Sun Aug 07, 2011 10:02 am

nisiprius,

I seldom post but thoroughly read this forum everyday and I can't tell you how valuable your posts are! I may sometimes skim posts by some but always thoroughly read yours as I know they are always informative/educational. I have no doubt there are numerous others out there who mostly read with little or no participation like myself who also value your contributions. Please keep up the great work knowing you are helping so many people!
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Re: A time to EVALUATE your jitters

Postby livesoft » Sun Aug 07, 2011 10:18 am

nisiprius wrote:....
What we have today is about a 10-15% decline in the S&P over the last month or so, coupled with a feeling of seismic shifts in the financial world. A sense that the earth is moving under our feet. A sense that events are happening that are going to make it into the history books. ....


Good stuff. Thanks for the commentary. However, I'm surprised you did not show a chart of 2010 about a year ago, but instead you started further back. From April 2010 to July 2010, there was also lots of gnashing of teeth when the market dropped 15%. August 2010 was not too pretty either.

What was the forum pulse back then? Lots of "flash crash" doom and gloom I suppose.
It's all about short-term opportunistic rebalancing due to a short-term change in one's asset allocation, uh, I mean opportunistic rebalancing, uh I mean rebalancing, uh I mean market timing.
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Postby Outer Marker » Sun Aug 07, 2011 10:31 am

Thank you, nisiprius

It is posts like this that compel me to spend hours a day reading the boglehead boards, despite my low maintenance, index portfolio. Your 13,739 posts would make a great book.
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Postby ruralavalon » Sun Aug 07, 2011 10:43 am

Nisiprius wrote: Heralds new era! Strong stuff. Let's not argue about whether it's true or not, let's agree that it feels that way right now. Like there's been a turning point, a division between an old era and a new era, and therefore past history is no longer a guide to the future.

And here's my point: it always feels that way.


Nisiprius wrote:Hopefully, you can say "well, yeah, I knew all that. I'd much rather see the market go up and I feel anxious, but I'm able to stay the course."



Great post.

Good points.
"Everything should be as simple as it is, but not simpler." - Albert Einstein | Wiki article link:Getting Started
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Postby Mister Whale » Sun Aug 07, 2011 10:57 am

Lorraine wrote:nisiprius,

I seldom post but thoroughly read this forum everyday and I can't tell you how valuable your posts are! I may sometimes skim posts by some but always thoroughly read yours as I know they are always informative/educational. I have no doubt there are numerous others out there who mostly read with little or no participation like myself who also value your contributions. Please keep up the great work knowing you are helping so many people!


I am in the same category. Thanks, nisiprius!
" ... advice is most useful and at its best, not when it is telling you what to do, but when it is illuminating aspects of the situation you hadn't thought about." --nisiprius
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Postby GregLee » Sun Aug 07, 2011 11:02 am

Truly an approach to investing for our new age, where it's not about preserving assets or making profits. Instead, it's all about how you feel. Will you get scared into selling low? That's okay, if it makes you feel better. Seems pretty screwy, to me, but appropriate for the times.
Greg, retired 8/10.
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Postby Trader007 » Sun Aug 07, 2011 11:04 am

Good post although i try to keep losses small and let profits run.

How long will you stay in the market if it continues down? -30%? -50%?
-75%? More?


I think this time is different. Maybe we should discuss it in a thread here!?

End of growth
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjFQLGVIJak
Last edited by Trader007 on Sun Aug 07, 2011 11:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby NateW » Sun Aug 07, 2011 11:15 am

Thank you Nisiprius for providing these words of wisdom, guidance and sound advice during these suddenly challenging times. You are absolutely correct about not moving out of stocks as the market is falling. You do lock in your losses.

I was almost in 100% stocks in 2007/2008 (before I found the Bogleheads) and did not know any better. I rode the market all the way down and back up without selling. When calm began to ensue in the market, at about 3/4 of the way back up to last week's level, I balanced more into bonds in several stages. I just moved from 30% to 40% bonds about three weeks ago because I was very uncomfortable with the greater number of bad economic reports and with a market that was bouncing around a bit, without going higher, just like about 3 years ago.

The Bogelheads Forum is instrumental in my understanding of the way one should invest.

--Nate
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Postby Morgthorak » Sun Aug 07, 2011 11:27 am

Dieharder wrote:The most important thing is to understand and admit that we are powerless to change the course of events that already happened, reducing stocks at this point is sure disaster.


This.

It's best to let the market roll on while you do something else. Let your dividends and capital gains buy you more shares on a much cheaper basis. Go about your business and let all the drama flow by without you getting caught up in it.

Life is good, so we all ought to enjoy it while we can. The market will continue to do its thing and we should do ours. :)
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Postby Higman » Sun Aug 07, 2011 11:47 am

Great post Nisi! Knowing what to do and doing it is sometimes difficult. I’d love to see you as a guest panelist at the Bogleheads 10 Reunuion!
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Postby synergy » Sun Aug 07, 2011 11:48 am

nisiprius,

I would like to add my thanks for all the work you put into making this forum so good. I, also, read your posts and always come away with some new or improved or refined insight. I have no idea what is going to happen with the financial markets but because of the investing education that I have received on this site, I have learned that what is out of my control is out of my control. For the last few years I have worked on developing a comfortable AA and it has provided a level of comfort during this skid. My risk level is about 60/40 fixed and I am prepared to roll with that into retirement in a few years.

I remarked to my wife yesterday that I was surprising calm during this chaotic market and we agreed that it was because of an AA that is reasonable for us. Thanks, again, for your efforts and your wisdom.
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Postby trailmk » Sun Aug 07, 2011 12:07 pm

nisiprius,

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.

I am telling myself some of the same things but it always helps to have it all cogently written by someone you respect.

Thank you for all your wonderful posts. Whenever I see your avatar, I always stop to read your comments.
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Postby bob90245 » Sun Aug 07, 2011 1:09 pm

It's a good post. Just out of curiosity. According to my Poll, nearly every voter has been invested in a bear market. Yet are they still feeling jitters?
Ignore the market noise. Keep to your rebalancing schedule whether that is semi-annual, annual or trigger bands.
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Postby allsop » Sun Aug 07, 2011 1:35 pm

bob90245 wrote:It's a good post. Just out of curiosity. According to my Poll, nearly every voter has been invested in a bear market. Yet are they still feeling jitters?


We're human.
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Postby john94549 » Sun Aug 07, 2011 1:39 pm

You "take it off the table" when others are pumping Mr. Market UP. I took a goodly chunk off back on February 18, 2011. In my humble opinion, now is the wrong time to bail. If anything, you should be a buyer of equities.

In any event, where would you stash it, assuming you took some off the table? There really aren't many good fixed-income options these days. With a CD coming due the end of this month, I am painfully aware of the fixed-income market.
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Postby Guido » Sun Aug 07, 2011 2:06 pm

Bad news for the economy generally means tough times for stocks. But history shows that when a country loses its AAA credit rating, it's not necessarily terrible news for that nation's stock market. Stay the course
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Postby bearwolf » Sun Aug 07, 2011 2:06 pm

Nisiprius for President! You rock man.

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Postby LazyNihilist » Sun Aug 07, 2011 2:40 pm

bearwolf wrote:Nisiprius for President! You rock man.

BearWolf


I demand that Nisiprius produce his birth certificate first. :lol:

Kidding aside. Great post reminding that we cannot time the market.
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Postby 9Iron » Sun Aug 07, 2011 2:53 pm

Excellent job nisiprius! Thank you!

If the Bogelheads had an award for "Post of the year", your post would be the favorite to win for 2011!
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Postby Beagler » Sun Aug 07, 2011 3:09 pm

Outstanding post!

There's that old saying, you cannot truly appreciate peace until you've been though a war.
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Postby SVariance1 » Sun Aug 07, 2011 3:14 pm

Nisi, Excellent post! I do have concerns about the market and the potential for a steep decline in stock prices. I have had these concerns since the end of last year and still have them. Initially, my concerns were based on valuations, regardless of economic conditions, which were reasonably good at the end of last year. Now with valuations a little better but economic conditions deteriorating, I still have concerns. Not sure if my concerns are less than, greater than or the same as at the end of the year, though. I have addressed these concerns by adjusting my asset allocation. Towards the end of last year, I was 100% invested in equities and had been for almost 20 years. Since then, I have reduced equity exposure to be more in line with a balanced portfolio. Bonds aren't cheap either but I am hoping they will continue to provide some protection.
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Postby mickeyd » Sun Aug 07, 2011 3:19 pm

Spot on analysis nisiprius and suburb easy-to-read graphics!

You are gifted. 8-)
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Postby TulsaTV » Sun Aug 07, 2011 5:26 pm

I had to register to add my appreciation for nisi's post.

Re SVariance1's comment just above, has anyone been following Paul Krugman's columns about the ongoing economic follies? I wonder if his own investing reflects his fairly pessimistic take.
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Postby nisiprius » Sun Aug 07, 2011 6:39 pm

I'm blushing, thanks for all the kind words, glad people appreciated it.
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Postby Manbaerpig » Sun Aug 07, 2011 6:55 pm

thanks, it's posters like you (or perhaps, mostly just you) that makes this place great :P

hopefully this doesn't become a rally cry to "all go down together" :) (I know it wasn't intended that way, as you specifically point out in the first sentence)
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Postby pkcrafter » Sun Aug 07, 2011 7:57 pm

Nicely done, well timed. A long post that obviously took you some time, but it's short enough for those who skip or have not had time to learn risk fundamentals to read and understand.

Judging from posts on the forum, I would guess about 50-60% of investors have a fair idea of their risk (loss) tolerance, 10% are knowingly risk averse, and 30-40% overestimate their untested ability to hold though a major downdraft. A high percentage of new investor's preconceived risk tolerance is notoriously overly optimistic and unreliable for selecting an AA because it is based on experiences in life unrelated to investing. It's not just the loss, but a substantial loss coupled with the major pressure and interference of panic and noise from the media and other investors that creates fear and doubt..and failure.


Paul
When times are good, investors tend to forget about risk and focus on opportunity. When times are bad, investors tend to forget about opportunity and focus on risk.
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Postby Manbaerpig » Sun Aug 07, 2011 8:15 pm

also something like 90% of statistics are made up on the spot :P

my read on the forum is that for the VAST majority of this forum, this is not our first rodeo

that being said, participating in drama/doom-gloom/hand-wringing is probably human nature

we had an interesting thread re: capitulation I saw maybe 6 months back, it's worth a read, and probably speaks more to how we collectively act vs how we publicly discuss our fears/worst case scenarios...
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Postby caaaad » Sun Aug 07, 2011 8:30 pm

Thank you. It addresses the psychological responses to the market in a thoughtful and caring way.
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Postby staythecourse » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:00 pm

Excellent post and answers to the comment someone stated in a different thread on why we keep mentioning "stay the course?". This post and following comments answers why. Fear is an emotion and a powerful one. It does not matter if we understand the importance of staying the course based on all the logic we have read in books. What helps the most is when you have others you believe in (using herd mentality to our advantage) to reinforce what you are doing is the right thing.

One comment on Nisi's is so good that it should be people's signature line:

"We love drama and after the fact the reality often turns out to be boring."

The late Harry Browne used to espouse this point. Things always feel like things are different, but in the world of investing they rarely are.

Jeremy Seigel adviced in this own book, "Stocks for the Long Run" to re-read his chapter on the long term return of stocks when periods like this occurs to keep things in perspective. I did just that this weekend and it removed all doubt that this will pass like many other "end of the world episodes" that have come before and likely will come again.

Bogleheads forum is an excellent way to help use herd mentality to reinforce concepts that get lost during times like this. For that I am thankful to Nisi and the other great contributors to this forum!!

Good luck.
...we all think we're above average investors just like we all think we're above average dressers... -Jack Bogle
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Postby frugalhen » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:03 pm

great post! Posts like this have really taught me a lot!

Thank you!

-Frugalhen :D
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Postby efmoody » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:21 pm

A recession is whenever you see the year to year real GDP% under 2%. 100% for the last 40 years. Currently at 1.3%- though some have numbers all over the place.

Everyone should have a number for thier risk- bet no reader does since they do not have a financial caclulaotr. A `10% to 15% loss in a so-so economy is a correctoin.

This ain't no correction. The average equity loss is 40%+
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Postby rustymutt » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:36 pm

nisiprius, I don't know you, but I like you. Your reasoning skills are Superior to most. In the scheme of time this market isn't special. We all knew markets go & down or pulsate much like are blood pressure through out the day. If we have followed the Bogleheads forums for long, then were set in a manor that adjust our investments based on risk/returns. It doesn't matter to me what happens tomorrow because I'm setup correctly in the first place for my risk tolerance. Your charts are a wonderful look from outside the current situation into the longer term painting of reality.

Reading your post is like viewing a Twilight zone rerun, and knowing the ending. Thank you for you contribution to my investment world. I appreciate your effort more than you can understand.
At the Very Least, Work Hard, Do Your Best, Know the Truth and the Facts and Always Be Honest!
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Postby tnhooper45 » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:47 pm

FrankM wrote:Excellent job nisiprius! Thank you!

If the Bogelheads had an award for "Post of the year", your post would be the favorite to win for 2011!


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Postby MWCA » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:51 pm

mickeyd wrote:Spot on analysis nisiprius and suburb easy-to-read graphics!

You are gifted. 8-)


I agree! What a nice way to sum it up :)
We are all worms. But I believe that I am a glow-worm.
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Postby ClaireTN » Sun Aug 07, 2011 9:55 pm

Thank you. I've struggled to understand risk tolerance. I've been looking for a formula, something that can tell me with certainty what my exposure to the stock market should be. This post helps me more than anything else I've read to grasp that *uncertainty* is at the heart of the matter.

I do hope this post goes into the wiki for the topic on risk tolerance.
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