BULLS & BEARS: This year has been good, but 2007 might be better

December 25, 2006

If you are reading this before Christmas Day, you most likely have only about 24 hours of shopping time left to find that last stocking stuffer.

What are you doing reading this now? Get out there and finish shopping!

Or, if you are reading this after Christmas Day, I hope Santa was good to you.

Unless something dramatic happens to the stock market in the last two weeks of the year, your portfolio should be shouting "hoho-ho" with gains for 2006. As I write this, the stock market, as measured by the S&P 500, has gained about 13 percent for the year.

This year's return is a couple of percentage points above the average 11-percent annual gain posted in the last six and a half decades.

The year has been a little choppy, and most of the gains have come in the last couple of months. But you should enjoy and savor the nice, slightly above average year.

Enjoy it because, even though the average is 11 percent, stocks rarely provide those returns in any given year.

In fact, since 1970, when "Bridge Over Troubled Water" became the No. 1 song, the stock market has provided the normal, low-double-digit gains only four times.

Sixteen years of the last 37, the market has delivered plus or minus returns of more than 20 percent.

The market normally is the troubled waters, tossing your portfolio up and down like a dingy in a gale.

However, the declines of 20 percent or more are rare, occurring only twice in the last 50 years-1974 and 2002. So normally, the big waves are tossing your portfolio up. In the previous six decades, the stock market popped out annual returns of 20 percent, or an average of four out of 10 years. The best of the six decades was the 1990s, with six out of 10 banner years. The worst was the 1970s, with only two out of 10 banner years. We are now closing out the seventh year of the 2000s decade. Let's see how the current one stacks up. In the first seven years of the 2000s, we have had only one year with gains of 20 percent or more. That was 2003, which gave us a 28-percent return. Also in the last six decades, you would normally experience two or three losing years out of 10. The worst number of losing years was three out of 10 in the 1940s, '60s and '70s. Thus far in the 2000s, we have already suffered three losing years: 2000, 2001 and 2002. So, on balance, the average decade delivers four 20-percent-plus hot years, four warm years of gains between 1 percent and 20 percent, and two cold negative years.

We new-millennium investors already have had a decade's worth of cold negative years, three of the four average warm years, but only one of the normal four hot years.

Think about it. We would have to close the decade with three hot 20-percent-plus years in a row just to hit the norm.

Three hot ones in a row is too much to ask for. But don't stop believing yet. The odds are Santa should be even nicer to your portfolio next year.

Gilreath is co-owner of Indianapolis-based Sheaff Brock Investment Advisors, money management firm. Views expressed are his own. He can be reached at 705-5700 or daveg@sheaffbrock.com.
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