Investing in stocks can be intimidating, especially considering the volatile nature of the stock market. However, understanding the best time to buy stocks can significantly impact your investment returns. In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at the historical trends of stock ownership and highlight why bear markets present excellent opportunities for long-term investors.
The Historical Perspective
Looking back at the Great Depression era, we find that stock ownership was relatively low. Only a small percentage of the population, around 1.5 million out of a total population of 120 million, had any exposure to the stock market before the crash in 1929. Witnessing the devastating 80% decline in stock market values during the crash left a lasting impact on a generation, leading to a widespread lack of trust in stocks.
Even as the United States experienced post-war prosperity and subsequent bull markets in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, stock ownership remained a minority pursuit. By the early 1980s, only 19 percent of households had a stake in the stock market. This lack of interest was fueled by high bond yields, which made fixed-income investments like bonds and money-market funds more appealing. Furthermore, the prevailing sentiment of the “Death of Equities” in the late 1970s further discouraged investors from participating in the stock market.
The Turning Point
The 1980s and 1990s witnessed a paradigm shift in stock ownership. As the U.S. economy experienced a great bull market, the narrative around stocks began to change. The percentage of households owning stocks started to rise significantly. By 1992, households with incomes of $250,000 or more owned only 23% of publicly traded stocks, compared to 43% in 1983. At the same time, Americans with incomes of less than $75,000 saw their share jump from 24% in 1983 to 42% by 1992.
By the turn of the millennium, the dot-com bubble further fueled interest in stocks. Retail investors flocked to the market, with individual investors accounting for 30% of trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Stock ownership surged to 60%, with a large portion of investors entering the market after 1990. Approximately two-thirds of those who owned stocks had purchased their first share after 1990, and one-third of equity owners had made their first purchase after 1995.
Following the dot-com bubble burst, stock ownership stagnated and even declined after the Great Financial Crisis. Fewer people owned stocks in the mid-2010s than in the late 1990s. However, since around 2016, there has been a gradual increase in stock ownership, and this trend gained momentum during the pandemic-induced boom.
According to Gallup surveys, stock ownership among U.S. adults reached 61% in recent times, the highest percentage since 2008. This upward trend is encouraging, as it indicates a growing interest in the benefits of stock market participation. The stock market boom following the onset of the pandemic has had a similar, albeit more muted, impact on people’s interest in equities.
It’s important to note that during periods of economic downturn, like bear markets, stock prices tend to be lower. This presents an opportune time for investors to buy stocks at a discounted price, potentially enhancing long-term returns.
Unfortunately, many investors fall prey to emotional investing behaviors. They tend to buy stocks after prices have risen and sell them when prices decline, which is counterproductive to successful investing. However, it is essential to recognize that the best time to buy stocks is during bear markets when prices are down.
In conclusion, understanding the historical trends of stock ownership provides valuable insights into the best time to buy stocks. While stock ownership was historically limited to a minority of the population, the landscape has been changing over time.
The Great Depression and subsequent market crashes left a deep impact, dampening trust in stocks. However, the 1980s and 1990s marked a turning point, as the U.S. experienced a great bull market and stock ownership began to rise significantly. The dot-com bubble further fueled interest, with retail investors entering the market in large numbers.
Following the dot-com bubble and the Great Financial Crisis, stock ownership stagnated or even declined. However, since around 2016, there has been a gradual increase in stock ownership, with the pandemic-induced market boom providing an additional boost.
Investors should recognize that bear markets, characterized by economic downturns and lower stock prices, present excellent opportunities for long-term investors. It’s important to avoid emotional investing behaviors and capitalize on discounted prices during these periods. Buying stocks when prices are low can potentially lead to enhanced returns over the long term.
As more people embrace stock market investing, it is crucial to learn from historical trends and make informed investment decisions. By understanding the patterns of stock ownership and recognizing the benefits of investing during bear markets, individuals can position themselves for long-term success.