MANAGE | Sep 16, 2023

Expecting the Unexpected

Crazy things happen regularly. Unexpected things. Unimaginable things. Often, such things are expensive. And without fail, they happen at inconvenient times.

I suppose the most surprising thing about surprising things is that they so often take us by surprise.

As John Jennings wrote in his book, The Uncertainty Solution,

“The highly improbable happens all the time…. Being surprised by unlikely occurrences can leave us unprepared both in our portfolios and in our lives.”

Last week, just a couple of days before my family was set to take a five-hour road trip, I noticed what looked like a pebble in one of our car’s tires. But it wasn’t a pebble; it was a screw. At first, I was surprised. Then I was frustrated at the inconvenience. But then I thanked God for helping me notice.

At a car repair shop the next morning, hoping the tire could be repaired inexpensively, I was surprised and disappointed to hear the mechanic tell me that the location of the screw meant that a repair might work and it might not.

It was frustrating to think of having to replace the tire in order to have peace of mind in taking the car on our road trip, and it was even more frustrating to realize that you really need to replace two tires at a time. Soon enough, though, I was thankful to have enough money in our car maintenance and repair fund to pay for two new tires.

Far worse than my unexpected, inconvenient, and expensive car repair, a good friend’s father-in-law died suddenly last week. Aside from the emotional toll, one of my friend’s take-aways from the experience was, “Make sure you have your affairs in order.” Apparently, his father-in-law did not, and already that is taking an additional toll on his family.

Striking a balance

Don’t you love how practical the Bible gets in its teaching about life and money? For example, it tells us in no uncertain terms to expect times of trouble.

“A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”Proverbs 22:3

And it instructs us to maintain a reserve.

“The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets.”Proverbs 21:20, TLB

By the same token, God’s most frequent command is, “Do not fear.” The challenge, then, is to be wise in preparing as well as we can for times of trouble by maintaining an emergency fund and adequate insurance (and having our estate planning documents in order!) while at the same time not living in fear that at any moment something bad is going to happen.

The market in surprises

There’s a lot of application here for us as investors. With great regularity, the market behaves in surprising ways. Of course, it isn’t really “the market.” It’s investors reacting to world events. And there are plenty of surprises in the world.

Even if you zoom out and look at world events over the past 100+ years by the decade, as Chad Gordon documented in his book, “Wealth by Virtue,” each one had its share of major market-moving events, many of which came as complete surprises:

  • 1920s – The Great Depression begins
  • 1930s – Germany invades Poland
  • 1940s – Pearl Harbor, nuclear bombings in Japan
  • 1950s – The Korean War
  • 1960s – JFK, MLK, and RFK assassinations, Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War
  • 1970s – Vietnam, Watergate
  • 1980s – Falklands War, Iran-Contra scandal
  • 1990s – Persian Gulf War
  • 2000s – September 11th terrorist attacks
  • 2010s – Boston Marathon bombing
  • 2020s – COVID-19 pandemic

What’s an investor to do?

1) Take the long view. As the Bible says,

“Steady plodding brings prosperity; hasty speculation brings poverty.” - Proverbs 21:5, TLB

On any individual trading day, there’s about a 50-50 chance that the market’s return will be positive. In other words, in the short-term, there’s a lot of noise. However, the longer the time horizon, the more the odds move in your favor.

2) Understand that the market moves in cycles. Bull markets are followed by bear markets, which are followed by bull markets, and on it goes. Historically, bull markets have lasted longer than bear markets and they’ve added more value than bear markets have taken away. We shouldn’t be surprised by bear markets, nor should we fear them.

3) Use an objective, time-tested investment process. As I saw in a blog post from Mike Repczynski the other day,

“Motivated reasoning is a pervasive tendency of human cognition.... People are capable of being thoughtful and rational, but our wishes, hopes, fears and motivations often tip the scales to make us more likely to accept something as true if it supports what we want to believe.

The value of quant work is that there is no motivated reasoning. A trend is either up or down. A signal is yes or no…. There is a belief — a belief in the system.”

Eyes up

In managing money, as in life, there’s a certain living in the tension that’s required. We understand that bad things will happen, but we don’t let fear get the best of us. We take prudent precautions, but most of all, we live with confidence and joy because our trust is in the Lord (Psalm 20:7).

What have you found helpful in striking the balance between knowing that bad things will happen and living with peace?

*Image used with permission. *

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