So far, October 2018 has been a discomforting reminder of what it means to be an investor. Intellectually, we all know that wise investing requires carefully balancing risk and reward over the long term. Despite having lived through the financial crisis of 2008, the Dot-com crash in early 2000 and, for some, the stock market crash of 1987, it’s been easy to forget about the risk side of the equation in recent years. As “the market” and our portfolios have swelled to unimaginable heights, we’ve come to expect long-term, stable, extreme growth, and we fear any loss of those gains.
Last week, the market dipped into potential correction territory. It’s no wonder that we’ve been getting a few calls and emails from clients who are feeling a new level of stress and anxiety. The two main concerns we’re hearing right now are 1) the stock market keeps going up (so it must crash soon!), and 2) my portfolio is performing much worse than “the market.” These questions can make any investor feel like they need to do something. The place to begin is by addressing these very emotional concerns. As Benjamin Graham famously wrote 70 years ago in his book The Intelligent Investor:
“The investor’s chief problem—
and even his worst enemy—is likely to be himself.”
As long as you have an investment strategy in place that is designed to meet your goals and your needs, my short answer about what to do is simple: nothing. Here are some facts to help alleviate investors’ two main concerns, no matter what the market does next week, next month, or next year:
What if the US stock market crashes?
A quick look at some facts about your portfolio and the market itself can help put the fear of a looming crash in clear perspective. First, if you’re a client of ours, the percentage of your portfolio in S&P US stocks is somewhere between 9% and 30%. That means that stocks play a balanced role in your portfolio, which is diversified in other assets like bonds, real estate, and international stocks. This diversification is designed to protect you from a US correction. Your allocation is designed to meet your goals through ups and downs, so sticking with that allocation is going to be your best long-term investment strategy.
Second, no one can time the market. If you try to guess when to get out and back in, the odds are overwhelming that you will guess wrong. For more in this, see my blog post Volatility, escalators, and yo-yos from three years ago in October 2015. (Yes, it is the same old story!)
Why isn’t my portfolio keeping up with the stock market?
No one wants to miss out on big gains. Headlines keep reminding us how great the US stock market is doing. It’s time to address this media-fueled FOMO (fear of missing out!) once and for all.
Since most clients have less than 25% in S&P stocks, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison between balanced portfolios and the US stock market. Also, when it comes to your long-term returns, risk matters, and the S&P 500 is about 180% riskier than our balanced portfolios. Lastly, bond prices, which also make up a portion of a balanced portfolio, have decreased this year, but these losses are temporary paper losses. For more depth on this topic, see my blog post Wall Street has gone wild! Is it finally time to change your investment strategy?
This is the perfect time to take a trip down memory lane. I opened the doors to Klein Financial Advisors in 2003, just five years before the financial crisis. This September marked ten years since the failure of Lehman Brothers, which is considered the triggering event of the financial crisis and the great recession. Consider these numbers for some perspective: On October 11, 2007, the S&P 500 Index closed at 1576.09. On March 9, 2009, the S&P 500 Index bottomed out at 676.53. That means that an investor with $1,000,000 in stocks would have seen the value of her investment drop by more than half, to $430,000.
In the weeks, months, and years that followed the crash, I held a lot of clients’ hands and successfully shepherded them through the financial crisis. Fear was rampant, but I assured them that the market would rise again and their portfolios would recover. However, many other advisors did not. Some advisors allowed their judgment to be affected by fear and inexperience. Many investors fired their advisors and went to the sidelines. After the crisis, many other advisors ‘played it safe’ by saddling their clients with illiquid, low-returning annuities and non-traded REITs—products designed by banks and brokerage firms to “limit volatility” and therefore investment returns. And just last year, after the 2016 election, some advisors counseled clients to hold cash for months. It was a costly mistake.
Experience, education, and judgment matter. Remember that so-called experts in the financial media industry are entertainers. Single-day returns are largely insignificant, and your portfolio is tailored to you and your life goals. So we repeat our mantra: stay disciplined and stay the course. And if you ever feel doubt creeping in, give me a call. I’m a skilled and patient hand-holder, and I’m always here to help.