The Informed Investor
Turbulence is a normal and expected part of air travel. Similarly, volatility is a completely normal part of investing. Stocks move up, but they also move down. And whether we like it or not, sometimes the markets will experience long periods where things remain volatile. All of this market movement can make you feel uncertain about your investments.
Feeling stress when the market swings is a normal reaction for investors. Almost everyone feels it. Because of this expected response, it’s best to have a financial plan in place so your portfolio is prepared for volatile times before they inevitably occur.
But even with a strong plan, living through uncertain times can still be stressful.
While everyone’s situation is different, here are some things to consider when you’re dealing with rocky markets.
First: Stay Calm, Cool, and Collected
The first thing to remember in times of volatility is to do your best to stay calm and not make decisions based on fear. Yes, the fear is real, and as previously mentioned, a natural result of watching your investments drop in value.
Your first instinct may be to take some action to stop the pain and usually that instinct tells you to sell. Unfortunately, research suggests that reactive investors lose out in the long run when they pull their capital out of falling investments. Ultimately, those who stay the course through difficult times are more likely to come out on top.
If your investment advisor put an Investment Policy Statement in place for you (and a good advisor absolutely should), go back and read that. Or call your advisor; their role is to help you feel confident about your investments, so definitely rely on them for help. Doing so may help you avoid an expensive mistake.
Your Risk Tolerance: Can You Take the Heat?
Becoming highly reactive in a volatile market may also mean you’re invested too aggressively for your risk tolerance.
Be honest with yourself, and be realistic with your expectations. Even if you are financially able to tolerate losses, you may not be emotionally prepared for it. If you don’t need to take so much risk, you may want to scale back.
After over 40 years of managing client investments, I’ve seen too many people come to me with large losses that could have been prevented with some planning and preparation. Unfortunately, some investment advisors simply focus on gains and rarely talk to you about risk. Instead of trying to match market gains, how about just earning enough to achieve your goals? Risk control and your emotional tolerance for risk should always be your most important wealth management principle.
So if you’re finding yourself too stressed during market volatility, maybe it’s time to revisit your risk tolerance and reduce risk in your portfolio.
Diversify and Thrive
You’ve undoubtedly heard about the importance of diversifying your portfolio. It’s easy to forget about it when technology stocks or other sectors have been soaring, but you may get a painful reminder about the wisdom of diversification when the markets get volatile.
The right asset allocation is vital to a good portfolio. That means you’ll have a broad balance of stocks, mutual funds, bonds and cash. So when some of your holdings go down, others should go up, helping to balance out your returns. Yes, that can mean giving up a few points on the upside, but being diversified can help you withstand volatile times without losing sleep.
Your investment advisor or wealth manager should help you determine the proper asset allocation based on your financial goals, risk tolerance, and investment horizon. Once is not enough however. Your advisor should review your portfolio with you every three to six months to ensure your holdings are still in balance, since time and gains can change a balanced portfolio to one that is very out of balance. That can leave you taking more—or less—risk than you should be taking.
Consider More Defense
If you have a lower risk tolerance, or less time until you require money, you may need to invest more defensively. That may mean shifting more of your holdings toward more conservative investments like bonds, treasury bills or cash that have lower, but more dependable, returns.
This is especially important if you’re approaching retirement.
The Silver Lining
There are upsides to volatile markets, too. These periods of uncertainty get our attention and provide an opportunity to reassess our options and make adjustments that may better serve us in the future.
The most important thing to remember is that volatility is a completely normal part of investing. When you see your accounts drop, think back to other times when the market dropped, but later regained losses and continued to climb.
It is smart to do whatever you need to do to feel less stressed about it short term. Revisit your Investment Policy Statement. Call your investment advisor for perspective. Whatever you do, do it with your long-term financial goals in mind, and it will be easier to tolerate the short term rollercoaster ride.
 O’Brien, Sarah. “Here’s What Can Happen If You Flee the Stock Market for Cash.” CNBC, CNBC, 2 Mar. 2020, www.cnbc.com/2020/02/28/heres-what-can-happen-if-you-flee-the-stock-market-for-cash.html.
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