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'So far this is exactly October 2008': veteran hedge funder

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer

“So far this is exactly October 2008,” Nicholas Colas, former hedge-funder and author of Datatrek’s newsletter, wrote Thursday morning. 

Colas has been drawing parallels from the end of September and October 2008 to the present day, noting a similar shape on the stock market charts: a 9% loss, a 5% gain, and two more plunges in rapid succession.

As he wrote on Tuesday, this situation means he’s recommending “the 2008 Financial Crisis playbook.”

There are myriad reasons for modeling what’s happening now with 2008 and following the “Financial Crisis playbook” as opposed to the October 1987 playbook or other ones, but Colas specifically called out the lack of efficacy for a monetary stimulus-type of response.

“Fiscal policy will need to take the reins (and quickly),” he wrote. “That leads us to a 2008-like environment where DC wrangling/Congressional votes on fiscal measures could whipsaw markets.”

But the thing is, the market has realized the exact same thing, which is changing the dynamics from the 2008 model. Essentially, it has become paradoxical: Because this is like 2008, everyone has realized that it’s like 2008. That makes it different from 2008.

“We’re dropping faster than at the start of the financial crisis because everyone knows that playbook and are trying to run ahead of it,” Colas told Yahoo Finance in an email.

Here’s the current market since the February highs:

Here's the market over the past month through Thursday. (Yahoo Finance)

Here’s the financial crisis:

Late September and early October had a similar drop in the markets. Click for more. (Yahoo Finance)

On Friday, Colas wrote that Thursday’s massive 9.5% drop in the S&P 500 means that “investors have the Q4 2008 experience in their sights and are pushing ‘fast forward’ through that history, anticipating what other investors with a similar framework will do.”

“It is the classic Keynesian Beauty Contest paradigm, but one bent on predicting the ugliest consensus outcome,” he wrote. Essentially, everyone’s trying to guess what other people think the market should be at, not what they think it should be at.

“A bottom for stocks doesn’t come where/when you think it should, but rather where other investors think it should,” Colas explained. Now an investor has access to sites like Yahoo Finance with historical data of the S&P 500 and the VIX, but also, everyone has access to these same tools. That should take us to the bottom far faster than it otherwise might, Colas reasons. 

So what does Colas recommend? Still the “Financial Crisis playbook.”

The Financial Crisis playbook essentially recommends buying the next four +5% drawdowns in the market, “if you have a +12 month time horizon and a strong ability to weather possible drawdowns,” Colas wrote. Thursday was certainly one of those.

In Colas’s view, buying multiple large drops in the stock market amounts to a form of dollar-cost averaging.

“If the current environment is ‘just’ a mini-Financial crisis (our assumption), history says this dollar-cost averaging approach should yield good forward 1-year returns,” he wrote.

There’s a big caveat, especially given that “everyone” knows the playbook.

“The bottom line here: 2008 may not be a precise template,” he wrote. But, it’s “still a useful reminder that it is reasonable to expect more 5% drawdown days and there will likely also be some remarkable snap back sessions as well.”

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Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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