We have noted before that standardized return periods, especially shorter-term ones, can unfortunately drive investors to make poor decisions. To illustrate the point, below we discuss the trailing three-year returns of the equity markets. These three-year numbers have been rising for several months, and we think they are likely to rise next month—fairly substantially, in fact. This observation is not in any way a prediction; it is based on the known past rather than on the unknowable future.
Nobody knows what will happen in September 2014, but we do know what happened in September 2011. That is, a short bear market that many seem to have forgotten came to a close. Specifically, from May 1, 2011, through September 30, 2011, the S&P 500 Index fell –16.26%, the MSCI EAFE Index dropped –22.19%, and the Russell 2000 Index lost –25.10%. Many use a drop of –20% as the measurement of a bear market and largely pay attention to the large-cap market, so some view the event as a simple correction. On the other hand, Russell and other experts use a –15% drop to define bear markets; that is our standard at Ariel. Given small caps’ –25% decline alongside sharp drops globally, from our perspective it clearly merits the label of bear market. Whether or not you call the five-month drop in 2011 a bear market, it certainly greatly affects the current three-year return numbers. Obviously, as new monthly returns become a part of the three-year record, older months “roll off.” For this reason, standardized period returns can jump or plummet around inflection points that happened years ago. Below we show the last three-year returns from the past five months to illustrate the point. Continue Reading »