The stock market lost over 10% of its total value in a single day in March 2020. While many investors sold out of their positions, those who held on and continued investing were rewarded, heavily.
In just 354 days following the crash, the stock market, as represented by the S&P 500, surged back into a bull market and doubled in value. Those who sold at the bottom missed a rare opportunity, which demonstrates the importance of managing emotions in uncertain times. Some believe that you can remove emotion from decision-making, but we’re human. The important part is learning how to manage them while managing your money.
We’re going to address how you can increase your chances of being a successful investor while balancing emotions in uncertain times, and increase your chance of being a successful investor.
The Current State of Investing
With the rise of retail investing apps, we can now trade stocks on our phones, and paired with social media, investing has become more of a social experience. Examples of this are the “meme stock” phenomenon and the rapid proliferation of cryptocurrencies and other blockchain-linked assets.
Cryptocurrencies have captured the interest of many, even beyond the dedicated crypto community. Sharp increases have caused many investors to jump into the hottest new thing without fully evaluating and understanding the investment. We’ve seen cryptocurrencies increase in a short period of time, only to come crashing back down as quickly as they went up.
Managing emotions during a period of growth is just as important as during a crash. Investors may shy away from investing in bull markets due to the belief that prices are too high and are bound to come back down. While it is true that the market can’t continue going up every day forever, trying to time market crashes to buy in at the bottom can be just as harmful to portfolio returns as panic selling, because of the missed growth.
Throw in high inflation and interest rate increases and we have an unfortunate recipe for emotional, reactive investing.
Challenges of Trying to Time the Market
Trying to time the market is like trying to win back-to-back roulette spins. The odds aren’t in your favor and trying to do so will most likely end up costing you money – not just in losses, but in opportunity cost.
Recent research1 over a 15-year timeframe starting in December 2005 shows that the S&P 500 returned and average of 9.88% annually. If you weren’t invested on the 10 best-performing days, the overall returns would drop down to 4.31%.
If you missed the 20 best-performing days the returns drop to just .88%.
And if you missed out on a month of the best-performing days? You would have been in negative return territory.
Investing Should Be Personal, Not Emotional
Managing emotions is challenging. Throw money into the equation, and it becomes even harder. Luckily, there are ways to reduce the emotional skin in the game and invest with confidence. First, it’s important to realize that you have your own goals, and you’re playing your own game when investing. The returns other investors are earning play no role in how your investments are performing.
But aside from the mental side of investing, there are strategies that can be used to reduce overall risk. Reducing risk will help keep emotions in check.
A Prudent, Risk-Focused Long-Term Plan
Understanding your ability to tolerate loss is critical to building an investment strategy. As we saw above, staying invested over the long term drives return. If the market drops and you panic-sell, your paper losses become concrete. Being honest about your tolerance for risk, or working with an advisor that has experience in building a risk profile can help you get to an asset allocation that is comfortable for you, even in extreme conditions.
Diversification is first up when it comes to allocating assets. By owning assets that react differently to the same market or economic situation, you create the potential for assets that are performing well to offset assets that are struggling. For example, when equities are up, bond prices may decline. Your asset allocation should match your goals and where you are in your financial journey.
It should be built for the long-term, to cover at least one market cycle – ten years is a good rule of thumb. As things change, it may make sense to shift and rotate your portfolio into different sectors to align short-term events.
Another way to reduce risk and manage emotions is by dollar-cost averaging (DCA). In this strategy, you invest the same amount of money each month regardless of how the market performs. The goal is to help you make consistent investments and avoid ill-timed decisions because you’re buying in at every price point.
Managing uncertainty and keeping emotions out of investing is easier said than done. It’s hard to remain level-headed and logical if you see your investments drop by 20%+ in a given period of time. But being aware of your financial situation, understanding the purpose behind your investments, and knowing that it’s impossible to completely avoid risk in the stock market will help you manage emotions and stay aligned with your overall investment strategy.
1Putnam Investments, “Staying Invested Even When Markets Are Volatile Can Serve Investors Well.”
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The information contained herein is intended to be used for educational purposes only and is not exhaustive. Diversification and/or any strategy that may be discussed does not guarantee against investment losses but are intended to help manage risk and return. If applicable, historical discussions and/or opinions are not predictive of future events. The content is presented in good faith and has been drawn from sources believed to be reliable. The content is not intended to be legal, tax or financial advice. Please consult a legal, tax or financial professional for information specific to your individual situation.
This content not reviewed by FINRA
We are not paid or compensated in any way to promote services or products. Our blogs are intended to be helpful for for readers to make the best decisions for them.
Kelly Luethje, CFP®, is Founder of Willow Planning Group, LLC. She provides financial education and guidance to help you live life on your terms. Kelly can usually be found on a mountain or by a lake working virtually with clients across the country.