Should You Buy Stocks at the Top of the Market?

Should you buy stocks at the top of the market?  This is a question submitted by a listener.  Click below to hear our answer.

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Answering a Listener Question

John asks, “With the stock market so close to all-time highs, should I buy stocks, or should I wait?” 

The stock market is very close to all-time highs. We also keep hearing how this is—arguably—the longest-running bull market in history. And at some point, there will be some sort of major drop.

So, should you buy stocks at the top of the market?

It Can Be A Long Way Down

Here is the root of John’s concern. Nobody wants to be the person with perfectly imperfect timing.  This means you buy at the market’s high right before a bear market.  It can be painful. 

The last four major declines were

  • -49%(2000-2003),
  • -57%(2007-2009),
  • -19.4% (2011), and
  • -19.8% (2018).

Seeing your investment drop significantly and quickly isn’t exactly a good time.  But the bigger question we should ask is:

What would have happened if you had bought stocks right before the last 4 bear markets?

Buy Stocks at The top
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The Dot Com Bust (2000-2003)

Buying at the top in March of 2000, and holding it until the end of last year, your average return would have been 6% per year. And remember, you would have gone through four total bear markets in those two decades, including the worst one since the great depression.

The Great Recession

The next “top” was in October 2007. If you bought then, by the end of 2019, your average annual return would have been 8.% per year.

Buy Stocks Top
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Top of the market
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Spring 2011

 Buying the top in the spring of 2011 resulted in an average of return of 12% per year over those 8 plus years.

4th Quarter 2018

The last one was in the fourth quarter of 2018. Buying the top in late September 2018 resulted in a 10% return at the end of last year.

Market Top BUy Stocks
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Those returns won’t be as good as someone who was able to avoid those bear markets. But the number of people who can correctly guess those events are few and far between.

If Not Now, When?

The next thing you need to consider: if you don’t buy now, when will you? Do you use a rule or your “gut feeling?”

Some people will set a rule. If the market drops 10 or 15% they’ll buy. But what do you do if prices don’t drop far enough? If your target is 15% lower, and the market only drops 12% before it turns around, you miss opportunities.

Or do you use the “gut feeling” method? You’ll buy when it feels right.

When stocks are declining, the prevailing mood will tell you it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Buying low might be the right thing, but it will also be the hardest thing to do.

Lessons Learned

Here’s what I’ve learned over the past 24 years.  If you have the right mindset, the best time to buy stocks is when you have the money. On March 24, 2000, the closing high for the S&P 500 was 1527.  Four bears and twenty years later, the index closed at 3230.  And two of those bears two are two of the worst we’ve ever seen.

Chances are, and I believe this, we are going to see much higher highs in the future.  Trying to miss the trouble will likely mean you end up missing the returns you want.

What's On Your Mind?

This was a great question, and we are glad John sent it to us.  Do you have a question? We try to answer it on a future episode of Monday Morning Money.

To submit your question, fill out the form.  If you prefer, you can send us an email directly.  That email address is neal@flemingwatson.com

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Financial Planning

About the Author

Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors  He typically works with people who are planning for retirement.  Fleming Watson is a Registered Investment Advisory firm located in Marietta Ohio.  Our firm primarily serves Marietta, Parkersburg, Williamstown, St. Marys, Belpre, Vienna and the surrounding communities in Washington and Noble Counties in Ohio and Wood and Pleasants county in West Virginia.

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