The Biggest Gains Start at the Darkest Times

The bomb dropped in the New York Times on September 14, 2008...

"Lehman Files for Bankruptcy; Merrill Is Sold"

The collapse of an institution like Lehman Brothers was unthinkable just months before. It blindsided the world. And it was the turning point of the financial crisis.

But by the time the bank went under, 342 days of pain were already on the books...

The S&P 500 Index was down 24% from October 9, 2007 to September 15, 2008. The housing crisis was starting to unwind. Lehman Brothers was simply the first U.S. bank to go belly-up.

Fear spread that it would be the first of many... Other financial companies like AIG and Washington Mutual could see a similar fate.

The U.S. financial system was on shaky footing. And that drove investors into an even deeper panic. Stocks fell another 43% from the day Lehman went bankrupt to the bottom in March 2009.

It was a crisis for the ages. But it was also an opportunity. And as I'll share today, the biggest gains always begin during the darkest times...

In a crisis, the pain gets so immense that people give up on investing for good. The "world is ending" scenario seems like a guarantee. The question is no longer how much further stocks will fall... Instead, people ask, "Will the whole financial system collapse?"

It's a terrible feeling. But once investors think the world is ending, you don't need things to turn all the way around to "good" to make a lot of money.

You just need one day to go by without the doomsday scenario coming true... And then another... And then a couple more.

Before you know it, things start to get "less bad." One moment, the market's head is on the chopping block. Everyone's waiting for the axe to fall – except it doesn't. Life goes on... Instant ruin turns to relief... And stocks soar.

By March 2009, the financial crisis was starting to look manageable. (At least, the second wave of financial defaults didn't happen.) Then, U.S. stocks went on the longest bull market in history... rallying more than 400%.

The same setup happened in Asia in the late 1990s...

You see, the Asian "economic miracle" was about to implode in 1997. Countries like Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and South Korea were coming off a decade of incredible growth.

Many of these economies grew by 8% to 12% in the late 1980s and early '90s. It was an impressive run – so much so that by around 1993, analysts and groups like the World Bank started using the word "miracle" to talk about what was happening in Asia.

But all this growth came with a hefty bill to pay. It was fueled by massive amounts of foreign investment.

Eventually, those foreign investors pulled out of Asia for opportunities in the U.S. The money dried up. Not only that, but Bangkok unpegged the Thai baht from the U.S. dollar, crushing the baht's exchange rate.

Ultimately, this led to broader collapses in currencies and asset prices in many Asian countries.

By the end of 1997, Indonesia's gross domestic product ("GDP") per capita had dropped 43% from the year before. Thailand's GDP per capita was down 21%. The financial shock spread to Hong Kong, China, and even Russia.

The miracle was over... and the Asian financial crisis was born.

It was an economic disaster. But it didn't take long for stock markets to bottom... and then turn into a fantastic buying opportunity.

Bailouts saved countries. The flood of money leaving Asia stopped. The "disaster" scenario got slightly less bad. And the improvement was all it took to send stocks on a tear.

Thailand's market soared 191% from its September 1998 bottom into June 1999. The market nearly tripled in just nine months.

Chinese stocks surged 156% from late August 1998 into July 1999. And Russia took off on a 483% run from early October 1998 into early July 1999.

This is the power of investing in markets that go from "bad to less bad."

There's a lot of bad out there today. Inflation is running rampant. So are recession fears. And stocks and bonds have both crashed this year.

Times are dark today. But dark times always create the best buying opportunities.

That doesn't mean stocks can't fall further. And it certainly doesn't mean you should back up the truck to buy right now.

But if you're a long-term investor, the money you put to work in the months to come will likely go toward some of the best buys of your life. So please, don't let the fear of this dark moment paralyze you.

Good investing,

Chris Igou

Further Reading

Bad times set up incredible opportunities. But it's crucial to wait for the uptrend before going bottom-fishing for cheap stocks. If you don't, you could risk joining the "negative 80%" club... Chris shares how to avoid this mistake right here.

We all want to be "right" about what stocks will do next. Everyone's wondering when the market will turn around. But as one legendary investor discovered over the course of his career, "being right" isn't enough to make money in the markets... Get the full story here.