What can you do when the markets get volatile?
These insights and suggestions from our Chief Investment Office (CIO) can help you navigate periodic ups and downs
IT’S HARD NOT TO PANIC whenever the stock market takes a nosedive. In fact, at times of extreme volatility, many investors overreact and bail out of the market altogether, or they engage in what’s called the “ostrich effect” and essentially do nothing. While both reactions are understandable — especially during times of heightened volatility — neither one is going to help you make progress toward your long-term goals.
“Volatility can open up new growth opportunities as some investments become more reasonably priced.”
“It’s also worth keeping in mind that volatility can open up new growth opportunities as some investments become more reasonably priced,” notes Marci McGregor, head of CIO Portfolio Strategy, Chief Investment Office, Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. Below, McGregor and the CIO team offer useful guidance on how investors can maintain perspective and stay focused on their long-term goals even when the markets get bumpy.
Q: Whenever there’s extreme market volatility, it tends to get a great deal of media attention. What’s your take on the way that news reporting affects investors’ reactions?
A: At times like these, you hear a lot of people saying, “Put down your paper and turn off the TV.” We think that kind of advice misses the point. What’s happening in the markets is legitimate news, and it needs to be reported. But the media isn’t providing investment advice. It’s not accountable for your progress toward your financial goals. You and your financial advisor are. And you should look at these moments as opportunities to start a discussion with your advisor about what may make sense for you to do now.
Q: What do you tell people who ask you how they can respond when the markets drop?
A: We like to point out that while markets are known for their unpredictability over short periods of time, if you look back over the longer term, the trend for the equity market is still up. Therefore, being patient, taking a measured response to volatility and thinking through any steps before you take them is important.
One thing you can do is make sure that your portfolio is sufficiently diversified. A broad mix of investments can help you weather volatility.
Volatility tends to make investors feel uncertain and fearful about what could happen next, and that often prompts them to make rash decisions that aren’t ultimately in their best interests. The best thing to do when the markets get turbulent is to take a step back and ask yourself what your purpose for investing was in the first place. How can you thoughtfully adjust your investment strategy to stay on track toward achieving your goals?
You also should keep in mind that market downturns — while challenging when they’re happening — almost always open up new opportunities. These could be in areas of the market that were perhaps overlooked or overvalued before the downturn began. Your financial advisor can help you analyze specific risks and identify new opportunities. If there’s a silver lining to volatility, it’s that it can allow you to make adjustments to your portfolio that could be beneficial over a longer period of time. But whatever changes you make, be sure you’re basing them on your needs, not on the market’s ups and downs.
Q: Are there any actions investors could consider to help them gain a greater sense of control over their investments, regardless of what the markets are doing?
A: One thing you can do is make sure that your portfolio is sufficiently diversified. Having a broad mix of investments — stocks, bonds, as well as real assets and non-traditional investment strategies — across sectors and asset classes as appropriate can help you weather volatility.
Another thing that can help is having a well-defined vision of your goals laid down on paper. If you haven’t written down your goals, now is a great time to do it. It’s a document you can bring to your family, friends or a trusted advisor to get their point of view. Talking it over with others can help you get to a calmer, more thoughtful mindset, and it will help you avoid making decisions out of fear or taking actions that could ultimately be counterproductive.