Current Thinking About Secular Bear Markets

Most Pinnacle Advisory Group clients are familiar with our view of secular (or very long-term) market cycles. My partner, Michael Kitces, and I first published a paper on secular bear markets in the Journal of Financial Planning in 2006, where we predicted correctly that stock prices were likely to deliver much less than average returns for years to come. In my 2009 book, Buy and Hold is Dead (AGAIN): The Case for Active Portfolio Management in Dangerous Markets, I reviewed in some detail the rationale for why stock prices can disappoint investors ‘on average’ for decades. (In fact, the “(AGAIN)” in the book title referred to the fact that we’re currently laboring through the fourth secular bear market since the 1900’s.)

Now What?

One of my favorite scenes in the Pixar movie Finding Nemo comes at the end. The fish had managed to outwit the Dentist (who was holding them captive in a tank) by dirtying the water enough to force a water change. In order to do that, the Dentist had to bag the fish and leave them outside the tank, at which point they jumped out the window and into the harbor below. Unfortunately, they hadn’t considered how they were going to get out of the plastic bags. The movie ends with one of the fish asking, “Now what?”

The Cliff Averted: What the Fiscal Deal Means for You

The past week’s fiscal cliff deadline has been averted, at least for now. The last-minute compromise — the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) — extends the majority of tax cuts scheduled to expire at the end of 2012, in addition to retroactively reinstating some rules that had expired in 2011. However, the legislation also introduces a number of changes as well — including a new top tax bracket and an increase in the top long-term capital gains and qualified dividend rates. Some old rules that had lapsed have returned, such as the phaseout of itemized deductions and personal exemptions, and a new rule will allow 401(k) participants to complete intra-plan Roth conversions.