Are We Nearing the End of the Bear Market?

There were glimmers of light in the UK stock market last week. I actually purchased a few shares to add to my current holdings although I still have a lot of cash in my portfolios. It is worth repeating what Mark Slater of Slater Investments Ltd said at the end of the week:

“The bear market that started in late 2021 is now getting fairly long in the tooth. It has led to significant de-ratings across the board, with a small number of exceptions among the megacaps that dominate the FTSE 100 index. We have now seen a run on a major bank. Many investors are trying to work out which is the next shoe to drop – perhaps a real estate collapse, perhaps a worse recession than expected. We are well and truly into the disillusionment phase. Sir John Templeton said that “bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on scepticism, mature on optimism and die on euphoria.” Conversely, bear markets kill off the euphoria of the previous phase quite quickly and then grind away at any residual optimism until almost all market participants are deeply pessimistic. Given the current mood, the odds are that this bear market is nearing its end.

We are not advocates of market timing for the simple reason that it is extremely hard to get it right, both at the point of entry and exit. Investors who can do this are extremely rare, and most of them get it badly wrong at some point. Instead, we prefer to buy businesses we understand that can compound their earnings over time. We expect the majority of the companies we own to do this even though the economic backcloth is challenging. Some other companies we own will probably see their growth rates slow temporarily but we expect them to improve their competitive positions during tough times by taking market share or by making cheaper acquisitions. Only a handful of companies in the portfolio have experienced problems but these are typically due to unforced errors or things like China’s lockdown, issues that are temporary or fixable.

We have not seen so many companies we own trade on single digit PE multiples since 2008-9. Now, as then, as companies grow their earnings while their multiples fall they are getting cheaper and cheaper. It is analogous to holding a beach ball under water. Sooner or later you cannot hold it down any longer and it jumps above the water. For a more accurate analogy, someone would also be pumping air into the beach ball while you try to keep in down.

It is fashionable to be “down” on the UK, especially after the Truss budget. It is therefore worth remembering that the UK is not all doom and gloom. The Mid 250 index has broadly matched the earnings of the S&P 500 over the past twenty years. The UK market also produces a higher proportion of “tenbaggers” than the US market. Michael Caine might say that “not a lot of people know that” and he would be right. Our view is that we saw peak gloom about the UK last autumn.

While we cannot predict the end of the bear market with any accuracy we also believe we should not try to do so. We are comforted that we own good businesses that are cheaper than they have been for a very long time. If we look ahead a couple of years rather than a couple of months, we expect to make money When things are going wonderfully, people can rarely imagine that they can go wrong. Similarly, when times are tough, people often struggle to imagine that they will one day be wonderful again.”

These are wise words from a very experienced stock market investor.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: )

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