Run, Ride or Buy? What Should Investors Do? Don't Sell on Mondays!

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Recently by Frank Holmes: The 2011 Gold Season Is Just AroundtheCorner

     

There’s an old contrarian investing maxim from Baron Rothschild that says “the time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets, even if the blood is your own.” The idea is that the best investors strategize when others panic, allowing them to buy stocks on “sale.” The legend of Warren Buffett was built on this philosophy during the market turmoil of the mid-1970s.

There was more “blood in the streets” Monday as the world continued to digest S&P’s downgrade of U.S. debt, the two-week market selloff, and the likelihood the U.S. economy could possibly slide back into recession. These concerns, combined with continued political/economic struggles in the eurozone from socialist policies, have created a potent concoction of fear across global markets and sent volatility skyrocketing Monday to its highest level since the May 2010 “Flash Crash.” While many investors are running for the exits, others have chosen to ride the wave of volatility or buy depressed shares.

The S&P 500 Index has fallen 11 percent over the past three trading sessions. This has only happened fives times since 1960: The 1987 Crash, the Asian financial crisis in 1998 and twice in 2008, according to research from Desjardins. In each of these instances, markets gained an average 9 percent the following month.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) rose more than 46 percent to break the key 40 level, signaling an extreme event, and is up over 164 percent for the year. In general, any time the VIX reads above 30 means conditions are volatile. Above 40, it’s clear the only thing at a premium in this market is fear.

The S&P 500 isn’t the only investment that’s been experiencing extremes. A flood of safe-haven buying sent gold prices up more than $50 an ounce (more than 3 percent) to $1,715.40 at market close Monday. Gold continued its climb early Tuesday morning, rising another $34 an ounce. Gold prices are up over 46 percent for the past year and roughly 13 percent the past 30 days. The increase over the past month is roughly equal to gold’s normal volatility over an entire year and is a short-term risk for a minor correction in a secular bull market.

Meanwhile, oil (along with oil-related equities) has been bludgeoned down to price levels not seen in a year – off almost 30 percent from April 2011 highs. Other commodities such as copper, wheat and cotton have also taken sizable haircuts over the past two weeks.

Such market turmoil creates a real challenge for investors who are in it for the long haul. Investors must control their emotional response and remain on the lookout for opportunities. Equity performance and fear-driven volatility carry a strong inverse correlation. This chart shows sharp spikes in the VIX trigger an autonomic selloff in the S&P 500. However, these selloffs have historically resulted in strong rebounds, thus providing an opportunity for clever investors who like to buy their summer clothes during a winter sale and their winter clothes during the summer.

Before Monday, the VIX closed above the 40 level five times since 1995, and in all but one occurrence the market was at higher levels just three months later. The exception is 2008, when the VIX passed 40 on its way to 90 and remained elevated for months during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

You can see from the table that the market has rebounded roughly 6 percent on average over the three-month period after hitting the 40 mark. Short-term reactions are more mixed. The market has swung 11 percent in either direction during the next month of trading and the average gain is only 80 basis points.

For the purposes of this exercise, the analysis is based on weekly data from August 8, 1995 through August 8, 2011. There were stretches of time, such as in 2008, when the VIX remained above 40, but we’re only counting the initial breach.

Market selloffs are actually common this time of year. According to the Stock Trader’s Almanac, August has been the second-worst month of the year for the Dow Jones and S&P 500 since the 1987 crash. The 7.2 percent decline for the S&P 500 last week was the worst week ever recorded during the month of August, beating out another dismal week for performance in 1974.

With this in mind, investors must remember there are some good opportunities out there and we’re working relentlessly to find them. Some of the best are in great American companies, whose balance sheets are the envy of Washington, with many carrying dividend yields above the 10-year Treasury bill. Currently, the 2.28 percent yield for the S&P 500 is the highest level since July 2009, Desjardins says.

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Frank Holmes is chief executive officer and chief investment officer of U.S. Global Investors Inc. The company is a registered investment adviser that manages approximately $4.8 billion in 13 no-load mutual funds and for other advisory clients. A Toronto native, he bought a controlling interest in U.S. Global Investors in 1989, after an accomplished career in Canada's capital markets. His specialized knowledge gives him expertise in resource-based industries and money management.

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