Once, when asked for the umpteenth time about his most recent trip, the late Prince Philip reportedly replied: "Have you been on a plane? Well, you know how it goes up in the air and then goes back down again? Well, it was just like that."
That's a line investors and pundits alarmed by the fall in sharemarkets around the world since the beginning of the year should bear in mind. And, like the Prince's plane, after coming back down to earth sharemarkets have the capacity to take off again.
There have, to date, been three precipitous equities events this century; the GFC of 2007 and 2008, the 2020 pandemic crash and this latest plunge. People relying on the money they have put into superannuation to support their retirement should be aware that following every previous market plunge - including the crash of 1929 - investment values returned to, and have then gone on to exceed, previous levels.
The trouble is the time this takes can vary greatly. The GFC and the coronavirus are a good case in point. During the GFC it took the All Ordinaries Index 16 months to lose more than half its value, falling by 3483 points from a high of 6779 points to just 3296 points.
It took more than a decade to regain its previous high in June 2019 before peaking at 7121 points on January 31, 2020 - just before the pandemic turned what had been a thriving economy upside down. Over the next two months the index fell by 2011 points, or 28.24 per cent of its value, to 5110 points on March 30 that year.
However, in stark contrast to the GFC, sharemarkets around the world proved remarkably resilient with the all ordinaries regaining its previous peak by the first days of April in 2021. This was remarkable given the impact the pandemic and its associated lockdowns were having on supply chains, key industries such as education, tourism and hospitality and the like.
The Australian economy, underpinned by strong demand for resources such as iron ore and coal, was more resilient than anybody had expected. High levels of economic stimulus, the development of vaccines, and the phasing out of lockdowns all helped return a degree of certainty to the business and investment sector.
This latest downturn has seen the all ordinaries fall by 1175 points (or 15 per cent) from a near record high of 7789 points on March 31 to 6614 on June 20. That's slightly more than half the fall the market suffered in a significantly shorter time frame in 2020.
While nobody can say how low the market will go, unlike the GFC, or the 1929 crash, the latest falls are not so much the result of a systemic failure as a response to events.
While central banks had always been aware inflation was on the radar as a result of the trillions of dollars in stimulus spending, their plans to contain this have been hampered by soaring energy prices as a result of the war in the Ukraine, supply chain issues associated with the Chinese government's zero-COVID tolerance policy, and the like.
There is reason to hope that as some of these situations are resolved the recovery in the value of people's investments could be relatively swift. The Reserve Bank governor Phillip Lowe was quite right when he said on Tuesday: "[This] doesn't feel like the precursor to a recession".
All of that said, the plunge has come at a bad time for those about to retire or who are already retired. However people who have been directly affected have lost nothing until they either sell their shares or switch investment categories. It would be prudent to seek the advice of an independent financial adviser before taking any precipitate action.
Sometimes, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said during his inauguration speech on March 4, 1933: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
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