Stock investing – The need for mindset change (1)

In the discussion during a webinar that spanned over 2 hours yesterday evening, it was a natural progression that participants touched on the subject related to Straits Times Index (STI) movement. Almost all the participants lamented that the STI has been at its high now and that some stocks are also trading at their historical high. Many were concerned they might be holding the last baton if they buy stocks at this time.

It is a fact. At this level above 3500, the STI is within 10% of its all-time high of 3,822.62 made on 30 September 2007. Yesterday, it closed at 3,512.14 even though it had retreated for the past three days in succession. The general view was that the STI was high, and it was better to wait for it to retreat to a comfortable level before one should invest again. This is the general sentiment of the small sample of participants and I believe many investors out there think like-wise too. This is particularly true in a relatively well-protected Singapore, whereby entrepreneur spirit ranks low and the willingness to take risk is almost non-existent. Many investors get into the stock market with a mindset of maximum return together with low risk, or better still, zero risk. Perhaps, they would only lay their hands to buy stocks when it retreats to below 3,000 level. So, the whole situation becomes a waiting game. In fact, some time ago, there was someone in a social media mentioning that he would only buy when the STI falls to 1,800, when at that time, the STI was probably at around 2,700 level. I am not sure if he is still waiting till today. If he does, then he has missed out one of the best run-ups in STI in the recent years. From a level of 2,700, many good stocks like DBS, Venture and OCBC have advanced at least 35% by now. (In fact, 35% could be an under-statement if we include the dividends that were paid out in all these years.) My point here is that this. Sometimes, our mind gets too microscopic zooming too much on the highs of the index that we have forgotten the fact that behind the rise in the index are component stocks whose earnings have been breaking new highs for several years. The growth in their earnings are not just 1-2%, but at phenomenal growth in double-digits. Even some non-index components stocks also did well over the past few years.

To illustrate my point further, let us look at the Dow Jones Industrial Index (DJII). During Mr Bill Clinton’s presidency term between 1993 and 2001, US enjoyed one the best stock market run. The DJII advanced from less than 3,500 to more than 10,000 by 2001. In percentage terms, the index advanced 200%, so worrying a trend that the FED chair at that time, Mr Alan Greenspan, coined the term “irrational exuberance “, to reflect the extreme market optimism at that time. He was extremely concerned that the market optimism could have run well ahead of the real economy. But then, how is it today? The Dow Jones at this level has been another 15,000 (150%) higher than the 10,000 made in 2001, despite several disruptions like US, DOT-COM burst in 2000, recession in 2001, terrorists attack on the New York World Trade Centre and the global financial crisis in 2008/2009. By the same argument the high of STI at 2,500 some 20 years ago would have been considered extremely low based on today’s STI level. So, in essence, stock market high today does not mean that it cannot set a new high somewhere in future. In fact, if the stock market does not break new high from time to time, then we have a bigger cause to worry. It may mean that the economy has stalled and all our assets, apart from the stocks that we hold, are at risk. Even if we were to divest all our assets and hold them in cash would not help either. The Singapore dollar by then would have depreciated significantly in the foreign exchange market.

So, in essence, we should not let the high of STI intimidate us to think that it should fall in the near future. It is possible, but it is not necessary. Certainly, when the index approaches its all-time high, there will be some resistance as some investors would definitely held back their purchases. But over time, so long as the economy is chugging along and companies are reporting profits, it is possible that new highs be attained. After all, since the global financial crisis, wall street has made new highs at least 40 times, shared between Obama and Trump presidency terms.

Disclaimer – The above arguments are the personal opinions of the writer. It is not a recommendation to buy or sell the mentioned securities, the indices or any ETFs or unit trusts related to the mentioned indices. 

Brennen has been investing in the stock market for 28 years. He trains occasionally and is a managing partner for BP Wealth Learning Centre. He is the instructor for two online courses on InvestingNote – Value Investing: The Essential Guide and Value Investing: The Ultimate Guide. He is also the author of the book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks” which is available in both soft and hardcopy.