The media loves milestones. Last month, there was a proliferation of “One Year Later” articles to mark the anniversary of the Wall Street meltdown. I almost wrote one myself.
Last week, CNBC ran a special called “Dow 10,000” to commemorate the stock average breaking the milestone. It was a feel-good story, but not nearly as exciting as their first “Dow 10,000” special 10-1/2 years ago when the stock market hit the landmark level the first time. They didn’t have a special when the market plunged below 10,000 on its decent to 6500, nor did I hear how the mark had been crisscrossed many times during this decade.
This past Monday was the 22nd anniversary of Black Monday – the stock market crash of October 19, 1987. As you might expect, this also got some media attention. After all, it was a significant event. When the value (at least on paper) of U. S. blue chip stocks drops close to 25% in one day, you should take notice. I’m just not sure we need to be reminded every few years.
I don’t mind these stories. In fact, I kind of enjoy them. Even so, I would like to hear the entire story. An overlooked fact is that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) fully recovered from Black Monday within a little more than a year. You would have been well rewarded if you had owned stocks at the time, as long as you didn’t sell in a panic.
I remember starting my first job in 1978 just after graduating from college. I recall the neon sign on the stock brokerage office in downtown Detroit displaying a three-digit number. Looking up the historical quote from my first day of work, the Dow closed the day at 907.74.
About a year later, in August 1979, Business Week published its famous headline proclaiming “The Death of Equities”. The DJIA is now more than 10 times what is was 30 years ago and the Dow does not include the dividends that investors have enjoyed. These dividends have averaged close to 4% per year.
Stocks weren’t dead then and they aren’t dead now. Conversely, the fact that the stock market has rebounded over 50% from the low point last March doesn’t mean that everything is rosy.
The outlook for the financial markets looks much better now than twelve months ago when the banking system nearly collapsed. The economy has stopped contracting and is now starting to grow again. Yet it could be a long time before we return to the growth rates of prior years and until the economy can absorb the vast number of unemployed people.
The point I’m trying to make is that the underlying issues are always more complex than the headlines suggest. No matter the daily news, what I take away from these stories is to look at the big picture and to put the issues in perspective. This will keep you from getting swept up in the euphoria of boom times and help you avoid panicking during difficult times.
I had hoped to refrain from writing about “One Year Later”, “Dow 10,000” or “Black Monday”, but you can see that I’ve fallen into the same trap. These milestones are just too compelling.