There’s no sugarcoating it; the current state of the markets has many of our clients thinking like the 1981 punk rock classic by The Clash:
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?*
I don’t suspect that the song was meant as a commentary on portfolio management strategies. (In fact, the band has never disclosed any real meaning to the lyrics.) Nonetheless, I do think it provides an appropriate framework for examining today’s investment world.
So, let’s take a look at the cases for “going” and for “staying.”
Should I Go? There Will be Trouble…
Let’s face it, there’s a strong emotional attraction to changing your investment strategy today. Stocks and bonds are both having a bad run. For both asset classes to be down this much at the same time is virtually unheard of.
For the stock market, an intra-year decline like we’re seeing today really isn’t unusual; in fact, it is quite common. A “typical” year will see a 14% decline in stocks at some point. That’s about where things stand now. But knowing that it’s normal doesn’t make it any less troubling when you’re living through it.
As for bonds, there has been a massive shift in the yield curve, with rates increasing dramatically over the past six months. The Federal Reserve is in the early stages of a series of overnight rate increases. Market rates have gone up even more. For example, the rate on a 10-year U.S. Treasury went from about 1.34% at Thanksgiving to 3.12% last Friday. We’ve all heard that bond prices and yields move inversely – that kind of yield increase drives the price of a bond down precipitously.
The lousy markets are likely a direct result of all the inescapable and unsettling economic and geopolitical news around us. Besides rising rates, we’re all worried about inflation, recession, Ukraine, Covid, politics, and so on.
So wanting to run and hide has a certain appeal. But where to? Maybe you should sit in cash? That might sound like a “safe” bet, but it’s a guaranteed loser. The value of your holdings may stay stable, and maybe you’ll eke out a small amount of interest. But don’t forget that your purchasing power is currently eroding at the highest rate in 40 years. With inflation far outpacing short-term earnings, you can’t possibly keep up.
Also don’t forget – if you move to cash, that’s only half the equation. You’ll also need to decide when to reinvest at some later date. Many people have looked smart by getting out, but they either reinvest too soon (i.e., before the markets hit bottom) or not until it’s way too late, long after the market has surpassed its previous highs.
Should I Stay? There Will be Double…
Staying the course means you’re in for a rocky road. Frankly, we should expect that from stocks. Historically, stocks only go up about two out of three years. But they have only had three down years in the last 19, and our recent experience always colors our future expectations. So recently, we’ve come to “expect” to make money on our stocks, making the recent decline unnerving. But setting those emotions aside for a moment, the current downdraft is normal for stocks.
Our clients and friends know that we are adamantly opposed to trying to outwit the twists and turns of the stock market. So we don’t try, and that means we land on “stay” as it relates to stocks.
Bonds are admittedly a tougher call. With rates on the rise, and more increases on the way, it’s hard to stand pat. Here too, however, we say “stay” – but with an important caveat. It makes sense to take a long, hard look at your bond holdings and examine whether they’re still the right strategies to own in this environment. This isn’t the place for a complicated discussion about duration, credit risk, and the yield curve, among other things. So I’ll just note that our advisors look at this stuff all the time and can help you figure out what’s right for your specific situation.
Most importantly, if your circumstances haven’t changed, and if your asset allocation is still appropriate for your needs, sticking with your long-term plan is always a good strategy.
That’s the Theory… What’s the Reality?
What Shouldn’t You Do?
- Don’t think you can accurately predict where the markets are headed. You can’t.
- Don’t make emotional decisions – even if it seems that they’re intellectual.
What Should You Do?
- Follow your plan, not your gut.
- Focus on the long-term and tune out the noise.
- Consider whether your circumstances have changed.
- Look at whether your portfolio needs rebalancing.
- Book tax losses where appropriate.
- Re-examine things that you’ve kept because you don’t want to pay tax on the gain (the gain is likely a lot less now).
- Let time be your friend – your well-crafted plan needs time to play out.
With all due respect to The Clash, I think they’ve got it backwards; while staying may be trouble, our view is that going will be double.
Give us a call if you’d like to discuss your specific situation in more detail.
* My sincere apologies to my contemporaries who likely know this song well. It’s been stuck in my head since I started writing this… and I suspect it’s now in yours too!
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