I woke up this morning to more worrisome news about the situation in Ukraine. The reality of the worst outbreak of hostilities in Europe since the end of World War II is frightening.
It is also outrageous; the invasion of a free and independent Ukraine by an authoritarian Russia hearkens back to a much darker time in history. We sincerely hope this ends as quickly as it began, with Ukraine maintaining its autonomy.
Here at home, markets are acting somewhat predictably; oil prices are skyrocketing, stocks are tumbling, and interest rates are volatile. Consumers and investors are understandably concerned about the impact of war and the implications of renewed Russian aggression – not just for Ukraine and Europe, but closer to home as well.
It might seem easy to alter investment portfolios in light of what appears to be the obvious. Reduce risk, sell some risky assets, take cover for a while, and then reverse course when the coast is clear.
Don’t do it.
We’ve written about this time and again over the years. The proximate cause of the crisis is always different. And the immediate reaction of equity markets may be obvious. But any time an investor decides to sell, it must eventually be followed by a decision to buy. As hard as it is to get one side of that right, it’s exponentially harder to do it on the flip side as well. And that can lead to disastrous results.
My colleagues and I have seen numerous situations where clients insist that we make changes – always contrary to our counsel – only to be burned, and sometimes badly.
- I used to work with a now-deceased client who (after numerous lengthy discussions and over my objections) sold everything the day the stock market bottomed in March 2009 after the financial crisis. He still had enough to retire, but it was devastating to his net worth.
- One of my partners works with a client who sold a significant portion of their equities in mid-March 2020. That was shortly after the start of the pandemic, after the market had declined precipitously but before the market bottomed. It took several months to convince them to get back into the market, and by then the market was at a much higher level than where they sold. It cost them a small fortune.
Lots of other examples, but you get the point. Fortunately, these are exceptions; the vast majority of clients take our advice and don’t try to time things.
A big part of our job is to gauge your situation properly. That covers numerous data points, but importantly it includes an assessment of both your need for risk and your tolerance for risk. And if we’ve done that correctly, then the money that is allocated to stocks and other risk-based assets should be limited to funds that you don’t need for several years.
In other words, we’re not worried about days and weeks and months; the risky assets are what we depend on for way, way down the road. It’s admittedly a boring approach to managing money, but it works. And it’s not always what clients want to hear, but it’s good advice.
We launched Strategic Wealth Partners in May 2008, a few months into the financial crisis. It was a crazy time, and in the fourteen years since, we’ve witnessed many other market-jolting incidents. Several of our Advisors have been working with clients for decades longer than that. I can’t say we’ve seen it all, but we’ve seen a lot. The story has the same ending every time; the initial shock/decline/meltdown/collapse eventually gives way to a return to “normal.” Even when there’s a “new normal,” it’s still normal.
There are plenty of things in the world for us to be concerned about these days, but don’t add your portfolio to the list. Stay the course, sit tight, ride out the storm. However you want to say it, if your situation hasn’t changed, your portfolio shouldn’t either.
As always, we stand ready to discuss your specific situation with you at any time. Or, if you just want to talk things through and make sense of what’s happening in the markets, I hope you’ll give us a call.
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