The second wave: H1N1 and DJII
Canada is on red alert: the swine flu is back with vengeance. The so-called “second wave” is upon us. Children have died. Vaccinations are being distributed. Everyone is paying attention and trying to defend against the attack of this virus.
The H1N1 virus was first detected in Canada earlier this year. Then it went away. Medical professionals predicted that it would come back, perhaps in a more deadly form: this phenomenon was referred to as “the second wave.”
Why do they call it “the second wave?”
Doctors who follow the spread of disease through a population observed that it sometimes occurs in two surges or waves with an intervening period when the disease seems to abate. The sequence is: Wave #1, abatement, Wave #2. And the second wave is the deadly one.
This wave phenomenon was first observed by an accountant in the late 1920s in the stock market. Ralph Nelson Elliott noted that stock market sell offs, bear markets, often occur in two waves too. [In fact, Elliott outlined his Wave Theory before medical scientists observed the same wave phenomenon in the spread of disease.] From an investment point of view, here’s how the waves look: this is a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Note: this site does not support my stock charting program: you'll have to imagine a chart of the DJII going back 2 years.
The first down wave started in October 2007 and ended in March 2009. The market dropped just over 50%. The abatement wave started in March 2009; when it ends, the second wave of selling will begin.
The same thing happened earlier this century. The US market dropped 45% in the two years from 2000 to 2002. Wave one went from February 2000 to Oct 2001; the abatement ended in March 2002 and the second wave of selling ended in October 2002, shortly after 9-11.
Canadians are seriously alert to the health risk, the second wave of H1N1. But we seem oblivious to the economic risk, the second wave of sell off in the stock market. Why isn’t Canada on red alert about our investments?
The answer to this mystery lies in the law of cause and effect. In the H1N1 wave count, viruses are the cause of the disease: human beings [our sickness] are the effect. In the stock market, human beings are both the cause and the effect. Our selling causes the stock markets to go lower and the effect is the declining value of our investment portfolios. When physicians advise us to wash our hands and get inoculated, they are trying to prevent the effect: trying to curb the spread of the disease by neutralizing the cause. When investment professionals tell us not to sell, they too, are addressing the cause: trying to prevent the selling that drives the stock market lower. If they succeed in preventing a serious sell off, the effect [lower portfolio values] will be avoided.
In the medical profession, the spirit is that we should all cooperate, wash our hand a lot and get the inoculation. Cooperation will help us all.
In the investment profession we have proof that cooperation doesn’t work. In 2007/9 the US stock market dropped over 50% in 17 months. In 2000 to 2002, it dropped 45% in 2 ½ years. Cooperation doesn’t work. The effect – a sharp drop in portfolio values, cannot be avoided by not selling. In my book, Beyond the Bull, Taking Stock Market Wisdom to the Next Level, I try to help investors understand the importance of this concept. Investment industry leaders sincerely try to keep the financial markets stable. 45% declines are not good for anyone. But the stock market is not a co-op formed for the benefit of everyone. Big declines do happen. And when those big declines occur, whoever sells first wins. There are winners and there are losers. It’s like a pandemic: not everyone survives.
The investment world is more like a theatre of war. In order to win, we have to behave like generals, conserving our resources, avoiding high risk times, retreating and fighting another day. In the financial world, we have to act like the physicians are telling us to act in the medical world. We have to defend ourselves.
The irony is that our financial defence [selling off our stock portfolio] will help cause the demise of those who do not sell. It really is like war. Massive selling drives stock prices down. The cumulative effect of many investors selling in a short time is what causes the down wave. But, if you sell early in the decline, other investors selling later will drive the stock market down to where it will be a bargain – time for you to buy back. There are winners and there are losers.
Defending against the H1N1 second wave helps you and it helps the rest of us. Defending against the DJII second wave helps you, but it could hurt the rest of us. It’s a tough decision for an individual investor.
But imagine how tough it is for a giant financial institution like Royal Bank’s mutual funds or the Teachers’ Pension Plan. They are so big that they can’t sell off all their stocks. Their selling [the cause] depresses the stock market and results in lower values for their portfolios [the effect]. Because they are so big, they are stuck. They can’t get out of the market. In big sell offs like the 2007-9 decline, they are doomed to experience portfolio loses. They can’t win.
What kind of advice do you think comes from the managers of these large pools of money? For them, defence is futile. Why should they advise you to defend yourself by selling off your stocks when they can’t sell theirs.
Our advice? Go to red alert. Defend yourself and your family against the second wave of both H1N1 and DJII.
Ken Norquay, CMT Oct 28, 2009.
Chief Market Strategist,
Links to Beyond the Bull.