This month I celebrate my 20 year Anniversary as part of the Halpern Financial family. As I approach this happy milestone, I reflect back on everything I have experienced during the past 2 decades, and the changes I have observed in stock markets, in the wealth management industry as a whole, and even within our business here at Halpern Financial.
Stock markets are volatile – as investors we are told this over and again. We know this in theory. But what does this actually mean in terms of how it feels to experience this over an extended period of time….like 20 years?! A brief history of markets during my 20 years as an investor.
2002: In the third quarter of 2002, RIGHT as I joined the Halpern team, stock markets saw their worst dip since 1987! During that quarter the S&P500 fell by 17.3% - in just 3 months! By years end, the dip had worsened to -28.15%. The cause of this dramatic dip was the selloff of extremely inflated internet stocks. In fact the tech-heavy Nasdaq dropped by -39.9% that year!
2007: Just 5 years later, the housing and sub-prime lending crisis caused the ‘Great Recession’ or the ‘Great Financial Crisis’ – both terrifying names – and pretty terrifying to live through! The Great Financial Crisis lasted from December 2007 until June 2009 and saw stock markets lose anywhere from 40-50% of their value from the top to the bottom.
2020: COVID-19 – a pandemic unlike anything we have experienced in our lives. The effects of the global economy being shut down overnight caused the fastest bear market for stock markets EVER in history. Stocks saw their values drop by around -20% in just the first 3 months of the year.
Those are just the ‘most significant events – the ones we all remember – and will likely never forget. Mixed in there are MANY other global events which were serious at the time, and which also caused stock market shocks for all investors in this globally interconnected economy. These include a Trade War with China, the War on Terror, Greek Debt Crisis threatening the EU, Tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, hurricane Katrina, Britain historically exiting the European Union….just to name a few. There were many other serious hurdles that stock markets, and the economy, had to overcome during this 20 year period.
With all those challenges, as serious as they were, you might expect stock markets to have delivered losses or muted gains during that time. Yet the morning I started at work in August 2002, the S&P500 opened at 929…..and this week is hovering at a whopping 4,274. On price alone that’s a total increase of 360%, roughly 18% per year! That doesn’t even include the dividends you would have collected each year from investing in an S&P500 fund!
The chart below shows the performance of the S&P500 index during the past 20 years – all the interim dips look like small blips on the landscape when you take a long lens or ‘zoom out’.
As an investor, one of the most important and time-tested lessons I have learned during my time here – is that stock markets go up over time – but not straight up by any means! Patience and being able to withstand market volatility without derailing your investment plan are truly key to investment success.
The chart above also shows that stock markets don’t really care WHEN you start investing. As the saying goes – time IN the market is much more important than timing the market. Don’t wait for the ‘right time’ to begin investing – invest when you have the money to do so!
At Halpern Financial we are incredibly proud to be fee-only, independent Fiduciaries for our clients. In fact we say it so often that our clients perhaps take it for granted now – and know this means we truly always act in our clients best interests. We can’t imagine any other way! However the financial industry was not always set up in a manner that allowed clients to find a firm structured like this. In fact the fee-only industry is fairly new. Ted Halpern founded Halpern Financial as a fee-only firm in 1998 when the vast majority of firms were still accepting commissions from clients – something our fee-only status would never allow us to do. Now, with greater education and access, fee-only is accepted as the optimal structure for our industry and we have seen a significant rise in firms transitioning to this structure. We are proud of the fact we have been a Fiduciary for our clients, long before this was required!
In addition to the movement towards fee-only from the industry as a whole, I have also seen many other changes which impacted this industry in my 20 years. These have included ever-decreasing expense ratios on investment options as part of the ‘race to zero’, an increased focus on planning and the marriage between investments and long-term plans, reduced or eliminated trading costs on stocks and ETFs, shorter settlement dates on stocks and ETFS, increased regulation (for better AND for worse), tax changes impacting our clients and their portfolios, changes to the Required Minimum Distribution age…..and many, many others! We have always stayed abreast of these changes, and always do our best to help our clients take advantage of good changes, and minimize the impact of those less-than-favorable changes!
When I began working with Halpern Financial, I was incredibly optimistic about all the opportunity this industry, and specifically this firm, offered! As most of you know, our fearless leader Ted Halpern, is more passionate about helping our clients than anybody I have ever met! This attitude is infectious and I’m delighted to have been working with our wonderful clients for so long now.
During this time we have constantly striven to make things ever-better for our clients – including investing in technology for your access to a variety of solutions for investments and wealth planning, campaigning successfully for access to Institutional (and thus cheaper!) share classes for the funds we include in your portfolios, studying for designations and certifications to broaden our knowledge, and adding specialist team members who have expertise in a variety of financial issues!
We have welcomed new faces and families to our Halpern Financial family – which include both team members and new clients. We are thrilled to be a part of the financial journey for each and every one of our clients and I extend a heartfelt ‘cheers to 20 years’ to all our clients and Halpern Financial teammates for the next 20 and more!