How bad was the Great Depression?
A timely, eye-opening Wall Street Journal article by Jason Zweig.
“The Dow peaked at 381.17 on Sept. 3, 1929. It finally hit bedrock at 41.22 on July 8, 1932, down 89.2%. In less than 35 months, a dollar invested in stocks shriveled into barely more than a dime.”
How wrong were the experts?
“In a newsreel from Oct. 30, 1929 . . . Irving Fisher, the nation’s leading economist and a Yale professor, proclaimed: ‘It now looks as though the bottom of the market had been found.’
The market found the bottom, all right—84% lower and almost three years later.”
How long did it take for the market to rebound?
“The Dow didn’t surpass its 1929 high until Nov. 23, 1954, a quarter-century later.”
How many people held their stock investments long enough to break even? A clue.
“A 1954 survey by the Federal Reserve found that only 7% of middle-class households said they preferred to invest in stocks over savings bonds, bank accounts or real estate.”
How are we still getting the lesson of the Great Depression wrong?
“No one who lived through the crash of 1929 would agree with the view, advanced in the late 1990s, that stocks become riskless if you hold them long enough.”
Zweig’s cogent conclusion:
“To be a long-term investor in stocks, you have to be prepared to lose more money for longer than seems possible. Anyone who takes that risk lightly is likely to sell out, in the next crash, near the bottom.”
The investors first task, know your time horizon. If it’s less than 10-25 years, proceed into equity markets with due caution.