A lot of cues are pointing to a tough 2016 for stocks and retirement savers. Stop gambling and protect your investments now.
The stock market bull turned seven years old last week, taking stocks higher by 243% over the period. Other than flat returns in 2011 and last year, it’s been a pretty easy ride for investors and retirement savers.
While bull markets don’t die of old age, there are signs that point to a tough investing environment for 2016. It’s not certain that stocks will fall this year but it’s beginning to look much more like gambling on higher prices rather than investing.
In fact, the market is looking a lot like 2008 when investors kept telling themselves they had one more good year of returns left before they would take some profits and protect their retirement savings. We know how that bet turned out and quite a few are still trying to figure out how they are going to retire.
Will 2016 be a repeat of stock market pain and retirement ruin?
Are Stocks Ready for a Tumble in 2016?
There are enough reasons to worry about the 2016 stock market that I would say the downside outweighs the potential for slight gains over the year.
First, corporate profits fell for the third consecutive quarter to wrap up 2015 and Wall Street analysts are expecting another down quarter to start off 2016. Sales are looking even worse as revenues are expected to fall for five straight quarters when results come out for the first three months of this year according to FactSet Research. Since stocks are just an ownership stake of profits, investors are getting extremely edgy about the value of their ownership.
That valuation, the price of stocks per share of earnings (P/E ratio), is now over 23 times and well above the long-term average of just 15 times earnings. Seven years of gains had investor enthusiasm bidding up the price of stocks as if there would always be someone to buy the investment from them. Historically, returns over the next ten years haven’t been very good when stocks were this expensive. In fact, legendary investor Jack Bogle has warned that stocks will likely only provide a 6% return at best over the next decade.
The Federal Reserve stopped supporting stock prices with its historical money-printing program last year. The central bank started increasing interest rates in December and will likely raise rates at least a couple of times this year. Past rate cycles show about a six to 18 month lag from the first interest rate increase to an economic recession.
Not everything is bad news though. Europe and Japan are still printing their currencies in huge economic programs, trying to artificially drive asset prices. Energy prices are extremely cheap relative to the last decade and should help put a little more money in consumers’ pockets.
Should you Gamble on the 2016 Stock Market?
The idea of retirement investing isn’t to eke out every last penny from stocks but to meet your retirement goals and live comfortably. Sure, you could earn an extra percent or two by gambling that stocks will increase again this year but what are the consequences if you’re wrong?
Take advantage of seven years of strong stock gains by protecting some of those profits. You shouldn’t necessarily sell all your stock portfolio but bringing your retirement allocation down to invest in other assets could be one of the smartest moves you make.
But where to put your retirement money to work in 2016? Bonds may not be the safety investment they typically provide. As interest rates increase, bond prices will fall and investors will lose money. Real estate could also struggle as the cost of borrowing increases.
We outlined the case for gold and other precious metals as a perfect 2016 IRA investment back in February. Investor demand is surging again as people look for shelter from the coming collapse in stock prices and gold may be the only true protection against inflation. The price of gold is up 10% since the prior article was published but will still provide the safety and upside return that investors need in what could be a very rocky 2016.