There is going to be market carnage! What will you do?

Monday, Jun 11 2018 by

We are heading towards a very painful market crash, there are few things of which I am more certain.

The trouble is that I have no idea whether it will be next week, next month, next year or next decade. I also have no idea how far the market may rise in the meantime nor how many ‘wobbles’ we may experience before the big event.

But I can be sure there will be a major meltdown sometime ,it is what markets do. At this point we will see the anointment of a new batch of economic gurus who “told us so” (irrespective of how long before they had been telling us so!)

This leads me to ponder (in part of course because I am nervous  that such an event might not be that far off) – What should I do about it?

For those investing “for the long term”, the answer might be :

Do Nothing

The underlying basis of this position is that over the long run the stock market is just such a great place to be invested that rather than risk value judgements about “short term” swings, the best bet is just to remain in the market.

This is not without merits, and indeed some of the things I found while researching this article sway me a little more towards this view than I had expected.

After all; if one had held the FTSE All share from its pre-2008 crash high point of 3,479 ( 15-Jun-07) through to the end of May this year [4,222] you would have seen a 21% increase in value (despite being down 50% in March-2009). This represents a CAGR over nearly 11 years of 1.8%, add maybe 2% pa to that for dividends, whilst that is a pretty meagre return, it is far short of being a disastrous melt-down   during such an ‘exceptionally’  turbulent period.

Except that may this period was not so exceptional after all. I recently read an article in the mainstream press  encouraging ordinary Joes and Josephines  to consider investing in the stock market. It contained a couple of comforting statistics (I cannot validate how they were calculated) from long term analysis of the market :

  • Over any 10 year period there is a 90% chance that investing in the market outperforms “cash”.
  • Over any 18 year period this chance rises to 99%.

Personally I didn’t find those stats at all reassuring. A 10 year period seems quite “long term” to me and yet there is still a 1 in 10 chance that investing in the market is the wrong choice!

Even a 1% chance over 18 years – I am a keen enough believer in Murphy’s Law  to know ‘for sure’ that this 1% freak occurrence will happen at exactly the point at which I can least afford it.

At this point, I need to call out what I regard as the fallacy of the “investing for the long term” argument, which is that in the vast majority of cases investors will at some point presumably want to draw an income from their investments (and if there is a 1% change that 18 years into the future can’t be classed as long-term there is a potential problem.)

As I am personally near that point myself I have spend much time modelling what level of withdrawals might be prudent compared with my expected investment returns. If you haven’t done such an exercise I strongly recommend it -  just be sure to include an event such as the 50% market fall we saw between June-07 and March-09 and see how your plans fall to ruin as you are forced to sell near the bottom to liberate your income stream.

Of course there are ways to deploy your capital to lessen those impacts; such as  keeping  ‘X’ month/years of your  fund in cash and not topping up that cash buffer during a downturn;  but those approaches are not certain and the safer you make them (by increasing ‘X’) the lower your overall returns.

Anyway just to round off for now on the ‘do nothing’ approach, aside from being based on the idea that the stock market is such a great place to invest that you do not want to be out of it, it is also predicated on the view that markets spend more time (and distance) going up than going down ( cue articles citing the impact of being ‘out of the market ‘ for the 1% of best days over  history.)

This perpetuates the idea that market crashes are rare freak events. The facts tell me a different story.

The ‘Normalcy’ of crashes.

I have reviewed performance of the FSTE All Share    over the period October 1986 to the present. Mostly because this is the period for which I have available data, but also as it is a period for which I have some personal recollection. (Although to be fair, as a bit of a student radical back in the day, my recollections of 1987’s Black Monday do not include a major concern for the impacts on Investors)

Here is a chart of the performance over the period including the five ‘crashes’ (which I have defined as a 20%+ fall from peak to trough) over that period.


And here are some stats on these crashes.


There are many ways you can interpret this information and I will mostly leave readers to draw their own conclusions, but there are a few things I just wanted to highlight over the period :

  • The trend has been downwards from a peak towards a trough for 20% of the time.
  • For over 50%of the time the price has been below the previous peak (and this only covers the specific peaks that I have covered.)
  • It has taken the market on average 40 months (and 6 ½ years at the longest) to recover to its former  highs.
  • The elapse time from a market low to the next market high (preceding a fall) has ranged from 1 year 9 months (Dec-87 – Sep-89) to nearly eight years (Sep-90 to Jul-98) averaging just shy of 4 years.
  • We are currently over nine years past the market low in March-09.

As I note on the chart there was a fall of 18% between  April-15 and Feb-16 and this is excluded solely because I set my trigger point (arbitrarily) at 20%.

I point this out for three reasons :

  1. If I had set slightly less rigorous definitions of a crash, then my stats above would have made crashes seem even more like the ‘norm’
  2. The idea that we are in a near 10 year uninterrupted bull market is not wholly true.
  3. The 18% 2015/2016 fall is not too dissimilar from the 21% fall 1989/90 and crucially because it occurred after the inception of StockRanks there may be some tentative lessons we can learn.

So whilst there is much that one could attempt to infer from this chart, for me the big take-away is that significant periodic corrections are very much part of the investment landscape and much more so than I see reflected in most writing on investment topics.

 If you do not have a plan of how to deal with them you put yourself at risk; for my part I have tended in the past to muddle through’ with what I have thought to be adequate results; but with the benefit of hindsight I believe I could have performed much better with a more structured approach.

If you want a broader view on market corrections there is an interesting (but I suspect incomplete) summary on Wikipedia here

So back to the original theme ,

What can one do?

I will actually deal with the options more briefly than I originally intended as  I want to cover my original hypothesis together with an interesting twist that came from my research.

I would, however, be particularly interested in readers’ views on what their approach to such events are.

In short though there are a number of themes as I see it :

Do Nothing – I have already covered this above, and whilst it is not a disastrous approach, I do feel that it is risky and can be improved upon.

Monitor the markets and the economy and respond accordingly.

I suspect that many market participants would answer something along these lines and whilst it is creditable not be to be locked into a fixed set of rules that may not be applicable to a given circumstance, I think that it can (in some cases) simply translate to “actually I don’t have a plan”, so I prefer to focus on more tangible positions.

Reduce my exposure when the market looks ‘toppy’. 

Just from casual observation I have seen a lot of evidence of this being a common approach. Over the last two+ years I have seen a lot of comments that people have a significantly more of their investment pot in "cash” than they would on average.

Not being fully invested at market highs has two clear benefits : (1) The “cash” element of your savings will not go down in the crash and (2) it gives you some firepower to hoover up bargains at the bottom of the market.

I do not think though that most of us can reliably identify the market ‘tops’ and ‘bottoms’ and there is a substantial risk of selling low and/or buying high.

The FTAS is up around 24% since June-16 (around 2x the longer term average rate of increase) , so that is quite an  opportunity cost for those that have taken funds out of the market for fear that we are near a correction.

Essentially this approach involves, to some degree predicting , the crash in advance. I’m not personally comfortable that I have any skills or ‘edge’ to do this effectively.

Deploy sector  rotation to be in the best performing sectors.

There is quite a lot written about sector rotation, such as this piece (web search ‘sector rotation’ for much more content).

But I have two challenges with this approach :

1 – For all of the pontificating I have not seen an objective evidence that it actually produces superior results.

2 – Maybe I’m just dumb, but I’m afraid that it is only through the rear-view mirror that I can accurately determine which market phase we were actually in at a given point in time. (In my mind it is akin to being able to predict the crash as noted above).

Similarly the idea that one should be in “higher quality” stocks before a crash has the same challenge of understanding when we are “before” the crash, and if you knew that with any certainty – wouldn’t you sell everything?

Adjust your balance between ‘asset’ classes dependent on the level of the market

This is similar I think to “reduce exposure when the market looks toppy” and I believe has similar weaknesses, however it is worth some comment.

In his excellent  book “The Intelligent Investor” I recall that Benjamin Graham refers to adjusting his allocation between stocks and bonds dependent on whether the stock market looked expensive or not.

I do not, however, recall him citing any evidences as to whether this produced good results or not.

In any case, I suspect that quantitative easing will have severely disrupted any counter-cyclical relationship that may have existed between Stocks and Bonds.

I have no expertise in other “asset classes”, so cannot really go there.

The only one where  I can see obvious potential would be Gold. Unfortunately I have an ‘intellectual block’ on buying Gold, I cannot shake myself from the belief that it is the longest and most powerful ‘bubble’ in the history of mankind. I should probably discard this prejudice, given that Alchemists (or despite my training I would have to contend AlPhysicists)  are more likely to have success than the ‘bubble’ popping for any other reason.

I just cannot buy Gold though – again my adherence to Murhpy’s law tells me that the day I did would be the day the world wakes up to the true productive value of it.

React to the market top – Sell near the top and Buy back near the bottom.

Excellent idea, in theory.

This is broadly what I did in 2007-2009 (probably missing out on c. 50% of the losses I would have incurred through simple buy and hold).

In hindsight though I cannot help but feel that some of my calls at the time were more luck than judgement (I have no aversion to be lucky, so long as I can consistently achieve it.)

I am also pretty sure that had I followed that approach earlier this year, when the FTAS fell 11% from 4,269 (12-Jan) to 3,811 (26-Mar) I would have probably sold near that low and finally have become convinced of the ‘false signal’ by the time the market rose back above its previous high by May. Ouch!

So whilst I of course reserve the right to change my mind on a whim, I do not think this approach is for me.


Pick a diversified set of “good” stocks to minimise the impact of any downturns.

Firstly I should say that obviously the stats I have presented refer to “the market” (as represented by the FTAS). The mere fact that you are reading articles here suggests that you aspire to beat the market; but even if you can consistently beat the market by say 5% pa , those downturns are too big to ignore.

The bigger question is, whether by selecting a good portfolio of shares you can protect yourself from major market corrections as well as overperforming in the good times.

My gut feel answer to this was (and in fact still is to a large degree)  that this is unlikely to be sufficient to fully insulate you from the vagaries of the market – market meltdowns tend to appear pretty indiscriminate. However, I’ll show tentative evidence below that slightly tempers this view.


Become (permanently) ‘market neutral’ by hedging your portfolio of ‘long’ with a portfolio of ‘shorts’

At this point I have to make a confession  - This was the thrust of the article I thought I was going to write, so much so that the original working title for the article was the slightly cheesy “In praise of Topiary”  (Topiary – Hedges – Geddit? Oh never mind).

And whilst this is still a major plank of the approach I am taking to prepare for armageddon , there is an equally (if not more) interesting outcome from digging into this that I will come on to.

The hypothesis was essentially built on data from the relative performance of StockRank [QVM] groupings over time as shown here

[I should just point out here that I show annually rebalanced figures  - they show the least positive outcome for SR performance, but are more practical in terms of avoiding the costs of over-trading]

  Over the last five years ‘good’ stocks (SR > 80) have consistently outperformed ‘poor’ stocks (SR <20). Respectively these groups have achieved CAGRs of +16% vs – 7%

Whilst this past performance is obviously no guarantee of future and indeed creating actual portfolios may produce worse (or better) performance, if this rough level of performance differential can be achieved It could allow positive performance in rising markets and very strong insulation against market downturns.

Now clearly there are many challenges, risks and costs (not to mention possible adaptations) to such an approach, but I float this an idea, rather than wishing to discuss the practicalities in detail here (except to say that I do not believe it is thoroughly impractical).

One of the clear costs though is performance dilution : if  you can make 16% pa just by going long then why would you compromise on making ‘only’ 11% pa for a hedged portfolio? Because the sun doesn’t always shine. If I could chose my profile of investment returns over the next five years, I would chose (+10%, +10% , +10%, +10%, +10%) over (+35%,+35%,+35%,+35%, -50%) every time (despite deliberately choosing the second set as having a marginally higher CAGR)

 But how effective is the hedging?

  Of course this is untested in the major crashes that I outlined at the top of this piece.

However we can perhaps tentatively learn something from 18% fall in 2015/16.

From 10-Apr-15 to 12-Feb-16 the FTAS fell by 18%.

Over the same period :

  • SRs 80-100 fell by only 3%
  • SRS 0-20 fell by 20%.

One up for the hedging!

Over that period, being “long” the market would have lost you 18%, being hedged would have seen a gain of 8.5% ((+20% -3%)/2). In fact the relative out-performance of the top SRs vs the bottom was stronger than the long run average.

But did you spot the surprise result, that slightly adjusted my thinking?

The performance variance was nowhere near evenly distributed either side of the market;  the low SR stocks performed only marginally worse than the market, but the high SR stocks (in aggregate) hardly fell at all over this period . So this might give some support to the idea that an high SR portfolio offers some degree of insulation against wider market crashes.

However, it would be highly incautious to extrapolate too far  - an 18% market fall is, in my opinion, a very different beast to a 50% meltdown and I would still expect the latter to be much more indiscriminate.

So there we have it despite that slightly unexpected result (by me at least) -  that again seems  to provide evidence as to the strength of high  StockRanks – my primary chosen tool to protect against the next downturn is to become increasingly market neutral by hedging my Long positions (not all selected on the basis of high SRs I should point out) with a basket of 'poor' (I was going to say basket case, but apparently I have a tendency to be too corny) stocks.

I started the process early this year and it is still work in progress. So far I am pleased to report that thus far my ‘Long positions’ are in aggregate up and my ‘Short positions’ are in aggregate down.

So far, so good and already (even though the balancing is not complete) I feel more 'chilled' about whether or not the market is "Toppy".

 So what are everyone else’s ‘big plans’ to cope with the next 'market crisis'?


As per our Terms of Use, Stockopedia is a financial news & data site, discussion forum and content aggregator. Our site should be used for educational & informational purposes only. We do not provide investment advice, recommendations or views as to whether an investment or strategy is suited to the investment needs of a specific individual. You should make your own decisions and seek independent professional advice before doing so. The author may own shares in any companies discussed, all opinions are his/her own & are general/impersonal. Remember: Shares can go down as well as up. Past performance is not a guide to future performance & investors may not get back the amount invested.

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40 Posts on this Thread show/hide all

Zoiberg 14th Jun '18 21 of 40

I'm in cash. We have bubbles in both the bond and stock markets. Although timing is difficult as Mr Market is an irrational person, something is going to make him panic. The air is laden with petrol fumes and although I can't say where the spark will come from, come it will.
I'm drawing up a list of possible triggers - an obvious one is the EU announcing 'rebalancing' tariffs in July.
Two observations:
1. Gold went down in parallel with the market in 2008/9.
2. A return to previous levels after a fall of 50% is a rise of 100%.

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Jbarclay 27th Jul '18 22 of 40

Anyone invested in assets that are uncorrelated to the stock market?

Catco re-insurance is one example but I am on the lookout for many more

Any help would be greatly appreciated

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ls2g08 27th Jul '18 23 of 40

In reply to post #386154

Burford capital I think should be relatively uncorrelated to the market, as people sue other people rain or shine! However there will be an element of yield chasing.

Hipgnosis Song Fund also looked quite a good alternative.

Another angle would be to look at convertible bond funds - they limit your downside but give you the full upside of equities.

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mojomogoz 27th Jul '18 24 of 40

Expect the unexpected

Tomorrow’s surprise will not be 2008’s or 2000’s.

Most important to know is that we have a routine for bailing out debt overextended and exhausted markets. We learned that in 2009-10 and Japan continues to burn the way

The US needs a lot more $s to meet liabilities.

This is unlikely to be good for its value (relative to RMB and prob gold and other commodities). It’s a form of balance of payment crisis US style rather than Argentina.

This means that asset prices will rise not crash...

A crash and debt crisis is not it won’t haplen. It will be contorted to a different flavour (as above)

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clarea 27th Jul '18 25 of 40

In reply to post #372614

Hi Gromley,

Good article out of interest what led you to feel it was time to get out before the 2009 crash and did you exit all in one go or stage out over time ?



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Bonitabeach 27th Jul '18 26 of 40

In reply to post #373009

3. Focus on cashflow positive companies with strong balance sheets at reasonable multiples.

I'm with you on that one.

To say the US market is overpriced is too much of a generalisation. I like several companies that supply the muscle to technology, whatever that technology may be, and hence hold:

Micron Technology

Coherent Inc

Skyworks Solutions  amongst others.

In any real crash, as always, "Cash will be King"

Irving Kahn


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mmarkkj777 27th Jul '18 27 of 40

Hi Gromley,

I have been giving this some thought lately, for all the same reasons.

Your analysis makes a lot of sense. Warren Buffett says he can't time the market (but Jim Mellons say that he can). Personally, I don't know if I can or not (probably not) as in the last one I only had buy and hold stocks, I didn't need the returns from them, so I just continued to hold them.

But, thinking very simply and out-loud (dangerous, I know), how do I currently de-risk the drop in one stock? with stop losses.
Maybe when I feel most nervous that the market will take a deep dive I should place stop losses against all my stocks (almost a stop loss against my whole portfolio), then, as they sell, place this capital in shorts of the companies I think will do worst in a bear market.Then reverse the process again with the first buds of spring.

Easier said than done, but at least the stop losses will kick in automatically, taking me out of the market and into cash. I should try and model this. Maybe even run it against historic data. All of this assumes I can recognise the correction for what it is when it is happening and in the same way recognise the start of the recovery. I guess they are always recognisable at some stage, but I mean early enough to prevent permanent capital erosion and early enough to make opportunistic gains in the recovery.

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andrewdb 29th Jul '18 28 of 40

The economist agrees with you

Part of the first paragraph:

... what it lacks in panache, the inverted yield curve more than makes up for in predictive potency. Just before each of America’s most recent three recessions the yield curve for government bonds “inverted”, meaning that yields on long-term bonds fell below those on short-term bonds.

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Trident 30th Jul '18 29 of 40

Purely an anecdotal reference but FundSmith, the fund baby of Terry Smith, generally stipulates a few cores rules which it applies. Buy good companies, don't over pay, do nothing. Of course behind that they factor in more elements, such as a strong element of buying companies which provide staples, which people are likely to buy in good times and bad.

One of his key key criteria is Return on Capital (ROC).

He also, says he will never get market timing right, so once they have gone through the process of filtering their selections, they sit there for a long time, doing nothing.

Obviously there is a lot more to the selection process than I have summarised. So arguably, you could put part of your portfolio into this sort of balanced approach, or other similar funds. That way, most of the thinking is done for you.

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Carey Blunt 10th Oct '18 30 of 40

In reply to post #372679

Hi Phil,
Just bumping this thread and replying to your interesting post on when to get out. In your "Crash Indicator" chart are you always looking for the S&P as the indicator or would you apply the local index for every market that you are in.
For example, if the FTSE100 broke out below the cloud and showed a couple of drops in that direction would you sell out or tighten stop losses on FTSE 100 shares you own or are you looking for one main global indicator (The S&P 100).
I think the UK indexes could be about to break out under the Kumo which would be the first part of the indicator you are looking out for, although of course that doesn't mean they will then set 2 lows below the cloud.

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Velo 11th Oct '18 31 of 40

In reply to post #406844

Volatility index has been steadily worsening over the past half dozen days. With 30 minutes to close on the futures tonight I opened some short positions at 9:30pm in readiness for a bad day for the FTSE tomorrow, Thursday.  (Appears to be trading through the night, thought it had closed at 10pm).

Profits just kept on multiplying in that 30 minutes. Optimistic for a continuance tomorrow which of course is bad for UK markets tomorrow.

So some bearishness developing - possibly just a temporary bear market correction. Trying to make some money out of it, if so.

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iwright7 11th Oct '18 32 of 40

In view of the current market uncertainty an interesting Meb Faber podcast this month with the legendary investor Howard Marks, (who has a new book out - Mastering the Market Cycle)

....We should celebrate our portfolio where 100 is maximum in the stock market and 0 is completely out. Your score  should be depend on the market cycle and attitude to risk. Think about what your normal score should be and adjust up or down depending on where you think we are in the cycle.

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DaviStoVest 11th Oct '18 33 of 40

In reply to post #406934

Well ... a week or two ago I was certainly celebrating my portfolio. Not something I feel like doing today, unfortunately.

Was that meant to read "calibrate" by any chance?

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PhilH 11th Oct '18 34 of 40

In reply to post #406844

Hi Carey,

Here's the weekly chart for the FTSE 100 ...


It's certainly looking as if the blue lagging line (chikou) is threatening to break out below the Kumo this week. Before taking any action on this though I'd probably want to see a break below the significant 7000 mark. Would I sell all of my UK holdings? Or would I seek to hedge their positions by selling the market short?

My main focus is on the US market ...

Here's the weekly chart for the S&P 500 and this is the one that calms me. The recent pullbacks are relatively insignificant ...


At present the lagging blue line (chikou) hasn't even crossed the historic price action let alone gone anywhere near the cloud (Kumo). So whilst the drops are uncomfortable my choice at the moment is to sit on my hands. I'll wait to see if the wider market rallies over the next few weeks (which is what usually happens), selling any stocks that don't recover.

If the market continues to fall then the chikou will pierce the cloud and that'll suggest to me that we're in a bear market. If that does happen in the US it could be that my UK holdings could be significantly underwater. So beware!

So what I think I'll do is review my holdings and cuts  stocks that have had reductions in earnings estimates (reducing their momentum score). This will leave me with stocks that have positive earnings estimates momentum despite wider market price weakness. Hopefully this will mean that when/if prices recover I'll have a set of strong candidates to ride that recovery. I've been 30% cash for a while now so that has helped too.

Best of luck to everyone, there is no right answer as we each have our own risk profile. 


Professional Services: Sunflower Counselling
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Howard Adams 11th Oct '18 35 of 40


These pics (below), several commentators I respect and some recent Bloomberg coverage has caught my attention over the past few days.

Also, recent personal experiences of odd (lockstep) volatility with investments in US markets.

I refer to the relationship (inverse correlation) illustrated below, between US 10-Yr treasury vs S&P 500, since 1983.


Then this shorter time frame graphic.


As some commentators noted, why should (large scale) investors seek returns in equities, with risks of capital erosion, when they can obtain over 3% (it might go higher) with relative safety in US bonds. 

A trigger such as this is arguably a realistic catalyst for large-scale investors to pivot out of equities into bonds. Then further ripples occur as ETFs copy each other selling the fall (I understand 40% of US market is held in ETFs). Following these moves, funds then hit their sell rules, and so on a so forth.

In lockstep, US dollar rates, Sterling and Euro rates all get impacted. With both short term valuation shocks (e.g. buying/selling equities across markets and currencies) as well as longer-term implications (e.g. foreign earnings being repatriated, export/import impacts)

Therefore, for me, this does not feel like the 'V' shaped fall as we experienced with the Brexit result and then the Trump result. Rather, I feel this fall might be more protracted (US bond rates are unlikely to reduce quickly).

Clearly I have no idea if my thoughts will play out. But, I am concerned enough that I am 100% cash now until I see how things play out (just to be clear I am a proverbial bull at heart).



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pka 11th Oct '18 36 of 40

My reaction to the falls in markets over the last few days has been to sell some of the most volatile stocks in my portfolio, in an attempt to reduce the remaining portfolio's sensitivity to possible further falls in market indices. I will keep the proceeds in cash for the time being and see what happens over the next few days and weeks before deciding what to do next.

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vik2001 11th Oct '18 37 of 40

my take on the market is if things bounce back up from now, unless the issues causing the fall such as fed rate hikes, trump china trade war, bond yields, brexit etc get resolved THEN its just a fake bounce, and I expect further falls later on down the line. just because prices drop then bounce back up a bit doesn't mean anything has been resolved so be cautious and have a plan....

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mmarkkj777 11th Oct '18 38 of 40

Hi Gromley,

I owe you a debt of gratitude. It was your excellent article that made me start to think about my portfolio, risk and where we might be in the overall cycle. I have been slowly moving to a higher ratio of cash over the last 4 weeks or so.

My portfolio for the last week still doesn't look pretty, but its much better than it might have been.

I'm still looking for opportunities, but will now only buy if I think its a defensive stock with a good reason to suggest it can swim against the tide. In the main I'm happy to sit on cash for a while and wait and see what happens.

Still not sure if this is the best strategy, but my previous approach of just ignoring the downturns ( "time in the market") rather than trying to "time the markets" as I am doing now, is too high risk as I don't have the 10-18 years investment time horizon required to rest easy in the knowledge that it always recovers, eventually.

There is a FT short ETF (ticker £5SIS) that I'm looking at as a possible short term hedge/part strategy (but haven't bought yet).

Thanks again for the sterling work and thought provoking catalyst.

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vik2001 11th Oct '18 39 of 40

What about cannabis stocks such as sativa investments. Was announced today cannabis now available on the nhs with prescription.. 
Also what about adding gold as a hedge in portfolio. I knw also gold doesnt like interest rates going up. But in unstability it can outperform

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covkid 11th Oct '18 40 of 40

Certainly the cannabis helps as you consider your portfolio..............or so i’m told...........

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