(Belated) Full English Accompaniment – Ways to skin a bear

Over the course of the next few months, as the news is dominated by ‘OMG CORONAVIRUS TERROR’, I’ll try and stay off the topic. I couldn’t fail to discuss the changes in markets this week though. It’s quite hard to actually get a long term graph to show the progress of the market, so here’s one I knocked up using every week end closing value for the FTSE 100 since it’s inception:


At the start of last week, when I started writing this post, there was fear that we were in a correction, that there might be a larger drawdown. The market has moved fast, driven by anxiety. December 2018’s correction is suddenly a distant memory. There were plenty of potential threats, many detailed in SeekingAlpha’s article from last week (1). Everybody was already looking for a reason for recession, eyes peeled for the signs. What they didn’t expect was this viral black swan to come drifting serenely over the horizon before shitting all over the picnic (2, 3). That is the nature of the cause of a bear market; if it was predictable it could be expected and adjusted for. The cause will always emerge from the unknown unknowns.

What’s working now won’t always work

I’m not going to speak to the markers, numbers and hallmarks of a bear market. The figures and data used by investors are better discussed in that same SeekingAlpha article than I ever could (1). As it explains:

“Bull and bear markets are NOT defined by a 20% move. They are defined by a change of direction in the trend of prices.”

There have been times (see below) in the last decade where the long term moving average has trended downwards, but they have not resulted in a bear market. Quantitative Easing (QE) at those times has shored up the market and returned us to the Bull course. So what has changed? Looking at it from my stock and trade, I would have to say anxiety amongst the general public and uncertainty. When looking at data and analysis we often fall prey to cognitive biases; cherry picking evidence to support our decisions, applying selection bias (4, 5). We look for the news we want to see. When anxiety peaked previously amongst market investors the FED/ ECB/ BoE stepped in and applied QE. This reassured investors and dampened anxiety. Joe Public, for whom it was a blip on the road, were fairly nonplussed.

Image credit: Seeking Alpha/ Real Investment Advice

Was the market the boy that cried wolf too many times to central banks? That allegory was being touted last year, with the observation that the commitment from central banks to maintaining asset prices had left them unable to normalise policies without risking recession (6). At some point the propping up would no longer support the fall. This time, as the Fed/ BoE reached once again for the chequebook, it’s not worked. Instead it’s been called ‘misjudged’, and appears to have driven the markets further (7). Fear and anxiety has not been eased, it’s remained high. Anxiety amongst the general population, visible in panic buying and the general hysterical pitch of the news cycle, has infected the markets. The VIX, a measure of the stock markets expected volatility, shot up from a moderate baseline to the mid-70s last week, and is currently sitting around the 78 mark (8). That’s well into expected nosedive territory. 


Is this a reversion to mean – Fed rate cuts usually accompany recessions because declining interest rates suggest wider economic deterioration. Hard nosed market timers have been scoffing at new normals (9).

Image credit: Elliott Wave International

‘All bull markets are the same, all bear markets are different’

So, as I write this on March 15/16/17th, the Fed has slashed the interest rate to 0-0.25% (10). It’s a hallmark of a bear trend, accompanying volatility. We’re seeing 4-12% swings daily. This market is the saw blade, whipping down through your investment logpile. But this market noise covers the underlying drivers; uncertainty and anxiety. The market thrives on certainty and predictable outcomes. COVID-19 is an unknown and can’t be priced into the efficient market. We’ve never had a virus driven recession we have data for (11). The Black Death, Smallpox and Plague of Justinian tell no tales. 

We don’t know when it will end or what the fallout will be. People try to provide structure and certainty by reflecting on what can now be expected (12). They tell themselves it’s cyclical, that we’re in a recession and will bounce back (13). This market is not a response to internal cyclical events, or broad economic fallacies. This is the result of a pandemic threatening millions of lives and requiring a global response. The market won’t be able to price in the outcome until we’re past the peak of the virus, and we’re only just getting started. Leave your speculation at the door. Keep calm and carry on investing (14)As TI/ TA on Monevator intone:

“DO NOT SELL.” (15)

We’ve all got bigger things to worry about.

Keep handwashing!

The Shrink

Thought for the week:
“It is a mark of a mean capacity to spend much time on the things which concern the body, such as much exercise, much eating, much drinking, much easing of the body, much copulation. But these things should be done as subordinate things: and let all your care be directed to the mind” – Enchiridion XLI, Epictetus

Other News:

Covid-19 mini-special:

The History of Pandemics by Death Toll

Image credit: The Visual Capitalist (16)


Life goes on:

Comment/ Opinion:


  1. https://seekingalpha.com/article/4330865-technically-speaking-on-cusp-of-bear-market
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory
  3. https://monevator.com/investing-in-the-face-of-a-disaster/
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_picking
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selection_bias
  6. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-fed-put-on-the-stock-market-may-expire-worthless-because-of-these-mistakes-stifels-bannister-2019-09-19
  7. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2020/03/04/feds-misjudged-pyrotechnics-may-have-brought-us-even-closer/
  8. http://www.cboe.com/vix
  9. https://www.forbes.com/sites/investor/2019/07/27/the-fed-is-going-to-cut-rates-be-careful-what-you-wish-for/#4ed414f560b2
  10. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/mar/15/federal-reserve-cuts-interest-rates-near-zero-prop-up-us-economy-coronavirus
  11. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/goldman-sachs-analyzed-bear-markets-back-to-1835-and-heres-the-bad-news-and-the-good-about-the-current-slump-2020-03-11
  12. https://www.forbes.com/sites/simonmoore/2020/03/14/what-to-expect-from-this-bear-market/#4def34e661ff
  13. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/14/not-every-bear-market-is-accompanied-by-an-economic-recession-but-chances-are-high.html
  14. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2020/03/coronavirus-stock-market-crash.html/
  15. https://monevator.com/weekend-reading-do-not-sell/
  16. https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-of-pandemics-deadliest/
  17. https://www.history.com/topics/middle-ages/pandemics-timeline
  18. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/05/even-as-behavioural-researchers-we-couldnt-resist-the-urge-to-buy-toilet-paper
  19. https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/stock-market-news-today-indexes-plunge-oil-market-coronavirus-selloff-2020-3-1028978137
  20. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/coronavirus-cdc-1918-flu-pandemic-death-toll-symptoms-a9389171.html
  21. https://t.co/ZejfSQcO0Y?amp=1
  22. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-51825089
  23. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-york-north-yorkshire-51736395
  24. https://www.mortgagesolutions.co.uk/better-business/2020/03/02/equity-release-is-heading-into-the-eye-of-a-perfect-storm-blackwell/
  25. https://www.ft.com/content/fa038361-1faf-4083-8128-257f83d4b2ed
  26. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-your-money-51841748
  27. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/mar/15/prepare-for-the-coronavirus-global-recession
  28. https://investornews.vanguard/a-message-from-vanguards-ceo-on-the-coronavirus/
  29. https://monevator.com/how-to-prepare-for-a-recession/
  30. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/01/millennial-millionaire-shares-what-he-refuses-to-spend-money-on.html
  31. https://metro.co.uk/2020/03/07/couple-ditch-jobs-retire-30s-live-greek-island-5000-year-12362827/
  32. https://ofdollarsanddata.com/the-worst-day-of-our-investment-lives/
  33. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2020/03/hunting-for-dividends.html/
  34. https://www.finumus.com/blog/covid-19-and-bonds-no-time-to-die
  35. http://diyinvestoruk.blogspot.com/2020/03/asset-allocation-re-visited.html
  36. http://diyinvestoruk.blogspot.com/2020/03/national-grid-portfolio-addition.html
  37. http://www.retirementinvestingtoday.com/2020/03/lenses.html
  38. http://eaglesfeartoperch.blogspot.com/2020/03/thoughts-on-investment-portfolio.html
  39. http://eaglesfeartoperch.blogspot.com/2020/03/lockdown-in-tenerife.html
  40. https://gentlemansfamilyfinances.wordpress.com/2020/03/09/february-2020-month-end-accounts/
  41. https://awaytoless.com/monthly-spending-february-2020/
  42. http://quietlysaving.co.uk/2020/03/08/ravaged-dogs-of-the-ftse-and-random-shares-update/
  43. https://firevlondon.com/2020/03/10/feb-2020-buy-high/
  44. https://www.thefrugalcottage.com/my-updated-portfolio-march-2020/
  45. https://southwalesfi.co.uk/2020/03/13/innovative-finance-isa-pros-and-cons-ifisa/
  46. http://bankeronfire.com/pension-vs-isa-settling-the-debate
  47. https://pursuefire.com/playing-the-long-game/
  48. https://theescapeartist.me/2020/03/13/victory-is-inevitable/
  49. https://indeedably.com/prison-of-my-own-making/