The spooky stock market month of October is being trumped by the volatility in November, but professional investors said Tuesday that the latest sell-off is just a return to historical volatility.
The Standard & Poor's 500 benchmark index is now basically flat for 2018. Moreover, investors are rotating out of some of the winners — think Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google, affectionately known as the FAANGs — into more defensive sectors like utilities and consumer staples.
The market is always divided between gainers and losers, but we've lived in a world of double-digit returns for so long that sell-offs feel strange, said Dan Wiener, cofounder of Adviser Investments.
"This market has just gone back to normal. We've gotten used to an abnormally calm market, with low volatility, but that's just not reality," he said.
The market's measure of fear, called the VIX, averaged an extremely low 11.1 in 2017. The long-term average is 19.3, Wiener pointed out.
"So, we were spoiled. Meanwhile, low interest rates and double-digit earnings was a huge catalyst for the market. Today, we have low rates, but they're going up. Double-digit earnings growth will change to single-digit earnings growth in 2019, because the effect of the tax cut will have dissipated and comparisons with 2018 will be harder," he added.
Few corners of the stock market managed to avoid this November sell-off, as investors grew jittery at the prospects of further rate hikes from the U.S. central bank and hope of resolutions in Europe or America faded.
The NYSE FANG+ Index, which includes international companies like Alibaba, Amazon, Nvidia, and Tesla, is officially in a "bear" market, defined as a drop of 20 percent from a recent peak in June.
November follows a shaky October, when the S&P 500 fell 6.84 percent over the month, while European markets fell 7.82 percent, according to Deborah Fuhr, managing partner and a founder of ETFGI, an independent research and consultancy firm.
Over the past year, many stocks still have gains. But some sectors have been slammed in particular, dragging down the averages.
Facebook shares, for instance, have dropped roughly 25 percent year to date, while Microsoft gained 22 percent over the same period.
Pros say that we should think of these episodes as "lifeboat drills." Times of stress are often an opportunity to reexamine goals and assess how well portfolios are positioned to get there.
"Individual investors are becoming more aware of the volatility in the market, as negative headlines seem to be feeding into one another at this point. However, we have not yet seen capitulation in the equity markets. Meaning, it could get worse before it gets better. And we still face many unknowns in the market, such as China and the battles over tariffs and trade with the country, as well as the Fed's role in our economy and its ultimate path in terms of setting interest rates," said Rosemary Caligiuri, managing director with United Capital in Langhorne.
"Investors love upside volatility while fearing downside volatility, which is what we are experiencing after years of advances thanks to the bull market. Given this, it is paramount for investors to review their financial plans and to make certain that their risk-tolerance level matches how their portfolio is set to perform at present and in the near future," she added.
Despite the recent weakness in stocks, corporate earnings continue to exceed earnings estimates, and those earnings are expected to grow at a solid pace in 2019. Moreover, credit markets look healthy.
Questions for these sort of times should be long-term, said Brian Portnoy, director of investment education at Virtus Investment Partners and author of Geometry of Wealth.