Dealing with volatility
By Chris Webb
This article is published on: 11th March 2016
Market volatility has become a common discussion with all of my clients. Whether they are seasoned investors or new to the investment game, volatility is an area that is now at the forefront of their minds when looking to invest their hard earned savings. To a large percentage of people their only understanding or awareness of a volatile market comes through the media, who we all know love to sensationalise every story at every opportunity.
What is a volatile market? By definition a volatile market is where unpredictable and vigorous changes occur in the price within the stock markets. It is necessary for some movement within the market in order to sell commodities, however a volatile market can represent the most risk to investors.
If you’re not in the “daily trading” game, and are investing for the medium to long term then it’s not always wise to listen to all the hype and speculation in the media. It may be a wiser decision to focus on the fundamentals behind why you invested in the first place, and stick to those fundamentals. Two key areas to focus on are your personal emotions and your attitude to risk.
In volatile times emotions play a significant role in investing decisions. Many investors feel the short term variances in the returns of their investments much more than the average return over the medium term of their investments, even though the decision to invest was a medium term one. Rationally, investors know that markets cannot keep going up indefinitely. Irrationally, we are surprised when markets decline.
It is a challenge to look beyond the short-term variances and focus on the long-term averages. The greatest challenge may be in deciding to stay invested during a volatile market. History has shown us that it is important to stay invested in good and bad market environments. During periods of high consumer confidence stock prices peak and during periods of low consumer confidence stock prices can come under pressure. Historically, returns trended in the opposite direction of past consumer confidence data. When confidence is low it has been the time to buy or hold. Of course, no one can predict the bottom or guarantee future returns. But as history has shown, the best decision may be to stay invested even during volatile markets.
During these emotional and challenging times it is easy to be fearful and/or negative so let’s turn to the wise advice of one of the world’s best investors, the late Sir John Templeton:
“Don’t be fearful or negative too often. For 100 years optimists have carried the day in U.S. stocks. Even in the dark ’70s, many professional money managers—and many individual investors too—made money in stocks, especially those of smaller companies…There will, of course, be corrections, perhaps even crashes. But, over time, our studies indicate stocks do go up…and up…and up”
So do you invest or watch from the sidelines? When markets become volatile, a lot of people try to guess when stocks will bottom out. In the meantime, they often park their investments in cash. But just as many investors are slow to recognize a retreating stock market, many also fail to see an upward trend in the market until after they have missed opportunities for gains. Missing out on these opportunities can take a big bite out of your returns.
Whilst dealing with the emotional side of investing it would be worth evaluating your risk tolerance. Many clients attitude to risk will change over time, this may be due to age, personal circumstances or just added awareness to how the markets move. Each and every one of us has their own individual risk tolerance that should not be ignored when considering making any type of investment. Your investments should always be aligned to your level of risk even if that means making drastic / strategic changes to your portfolio as times change.
Determining one’s risk tolerance involves several different things, and there are different ways to look at how you should look at the risk you need to take. First, you need to know how much money you have to invest, what your investment and financial goals are and what time horizon is involved. Then you need to consider the actual risk you are prepared to take. One simple question can help determine your attitude to risk, however a more detailed discussion should take place to really ascertain your tolerance level and to compile a suitable portfolio.
The one question….. If you invested in the stock market and you watched the movement of that stock daily and saw that it was dropping slightly, what would you do, sell out or let your money ride?
If you have a low tolerance for risk, you would want to sell out… if you have a high tolerance, you would let your money ride and see what happens. This is not based on what your financial goals are, it is based on how you feel about your money! Your risk tolerance should always be based on what your financial goals are and how you feel about the possibility of losing your money. It’s all tied in together, it’s emotional.
So a few pointers to help you through the volatility.
Review your portfolio. Is it as diversified as you think it is? Is it still a suitable match with your goals and risk tolerance?
Tune out the noise and gain a longer term perspective. Numerous media sources are dedicated to reporting investment news 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Do you really need to be glued to it? While the media provide a valuable service, they typically offer a very short-term outlook. To put your own investment plan in a longer term perspective, and bolster your confidence, you may want to look at how different types of portfolios have performed over time. Interestingly, while stocks may be more volatile, they’ve still outperformed income oriented investments (such as bonds) over longer time periods.
Believe Your Beliefs and Doubt Your Doubts. There are no real secrets to managing volatility. Most investors already know that the best way to navigate a choppy market is to have a good long-term plan and a well-diversified portfolio but sticking to these fundamental beliefs is sometimes easier said than done. When put to the test, you sometimes begin doubting your beliefs and believing your doubts, which can lead to short-term moves that divert you from your long term goals.
Prior to working with any clients I insist on completing a personal detailed risk tolerance questionnaire. This will tell us exactly what your attitude to risk is and a suitable portfolio can be devised to suit you individually. If you are interested in investing or saving for the future, get in touch to discuss the opportunities available and just as importantly the risks associated. If you already have an investment portfolio and feel that it was never risk rated against your own risk tolerance then let me know, I am happy to discuss further and go through the questionnaire to ensure that what you have already done is suitable for your circumstances.