On average, the market returns 10% per year. But since March 23, the S&P 500 index has rallied nearly 30%, condensing three years of typical gains into a mere few weeks. This rally comes after the fastest stock market plunge ever.
Put simply, the COVID-19 pandemic has created historic volatility. Unemployment, low oil prices, credit risk, and a closed consumer sector lend to a bearish outlook. But a record government stimulus, the promise of reopening the economy, and the hope of a coronavirus cure are all bullish wildcards.
There's legitimate reasons for both short-term optimism and pessimism, creating uncertainty. But one thing is certain. As we enter the period that companies report financial results -- commonly called "earnings season" -- the numbers are going to be ugly. Here's how not to panic.
Expect the worst but look for the good
Panic is a horrible financial advisor. Its only concern is to stop the pain now; it cares not for tomorrow's gain. It'll tell you to sell companies with great prospects over the next decade, merely because it had a bad couple months. Savvy investors must quiet the voice of panic by bracing for the worst while looking for the good.
I'm reminded of friendly Mr. Rogers, who once said, "[w]hen I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"
He's reminding us to minimize our fear of the bad by focusing on good. As the companies in your portfolio report earnings, there will be plenty of troubling trends to fret over. But surely there's something positive you can fixate on to mitigate panic.
But there's something else to ponder. As Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner says, "Make your portfolio reflect your best vision for our future." We can invest in companies committed to doing good, and those stars shine brightest during dark nights.
One company worth highlighting is Bloomin' Brands (NASDAQ:BLMN). Other companies have opted to furlough the majority of hourly employees, while top executives merely take a pay-cut. Bloomin' did the opposite. It's kept all employees while the CEO's salary has been suspended.
Bloomin' Brands is burning $8 million to $10 million per week, so it's reevaluating furloughs every two weeks. And it's possible hourly workers could be unemployed before the coronavirus ends. But give credit to this restaurant chain for being one of the "helpers" Mr. Rogers' mother looked for.
Review your thesis
Certain trends will emerge during earnings season. A reduction to advertising budgets is one such early trend. That scares me as a shareholder of the The Rubicon Project (NASDAQ:MGNI), a business that revolves around ads.
Investment bank Cowen & Co. predicts ad giants Facebook and Alphabet's Google alone will miss out on a combined $44 billion in ad spending in 2020. Spending less on advertising makes sense during an economic recession, especially for consumer brands. And the the U.S. economy is likely heading for a recession.
I plan to read The Rubicon Projects' quarterly results (expected in May). It'll probably talk about ad budgets, and the impact could be ugly. But I'll keep my long-term thesis in mind.
Long term, there's a profound shift from traditional TV to connected TVs. Advertisers and publishers negotiate prices, and representing the advertisers on the buy side is The Trade Desk -- leaving The Rubicon Project almost unchallenged on the sell side. The shift to connected TV hasn't changed, and the company hasn't lost its prominence. It's why I consider The Rubicon Project one of the best small-cap stocks right now, even if ad spending drops in coming quarters.
Finally, as much as possible, check out during earnings season to avoid panic. It's not crazy -- investing in solid companies will allow you to do just that. For example, it's highly unlikely that anything will fundamentally change with Keurig Dr. Pepper's business in the next couple months. That's part of why I hold it in my IRA.
Dr. Pepper, the drink, was invented in the 1880s and has been through the Great Depression, the Great Recession, two world wars, countless fluctuations in consumer preferences, and yet it's never gone out of fashion. And since its merger with Keurig, the company now has one of the most complete beverage portfolios in the business, almost guaranteeing it'll remain relevant in the future.
Keurig Dr Pepper's dividend currently yields 2.2%. It's not considered high yield. But the stability of the business makes me comfortable to buy and hold for years, allowing those reinvested dividends to compound my gains. If you must read something during earnings season, read up on compounded gains. That's sure to soothe any panic threatening to well up inside you.