Handling Market Volatility

Conventional wisdom says that what goes up, must come down. But even if you view market volatility as a normal occurrence, it can be tough to handle when it’s your money at stake. Though there’s no foolproof way to handle the ups and downs of the stock market, the following common sense tips can help.

Don’t put your eggs all in one basket

Diversifying your investment portfolio is one of the key tools for trying to manage market volatility. Because asset classes often perform differently under different market conditions, spreading your assets across a variety of investments such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives has the potential to help reduce your overall risk. Ideally, a decline in one type of asset will be balanced out by a gain in another, though diversification can’t eliminate the possibility of market loss.

One way to diversify your portfolio is through asset allocation. Asset allocation involves identifying the asset classes that are appropriate for you and allocating a certain percentage of your investment dollars to each class (e.g., 70 percent to stocks, 20 percent to bonds, 10 percent to cash alternatives). A worksheet or an interactive tool may suggest a model or sample allocation based on your investment objectives, risk tolerance level, and investment time horizon, but that shouldn’t be a substitute for expert advice.

Focus on the forest, not on the trees

As the market goes up and down, it’s easy to become too focused on day-to-day returns. Instead, keep your eyes on your long-term investing goals and your overall portfolio. Although only you can decide how much investment risk you can handle, if you still have years to invest, don’t overestimate the effect of short-term price fluctuations on your portfolio.

Look before you leap

When the market goes down and investment losses pile up, you may be tempted to pull out of the stock market altogether and look for less volatile investments. The small returns that typically accompany low-risk investments may seem attractive when more risky investments are posting negative returns.

But before you leap into a different investment strategy, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. How you choose to invest your money should be consistent with your goals and time horizon.

For instance, putting a larger percentage of your investment dollars into vehicles that offer safety of principal and liquidity (the opportunity to easily access your funds) may be the right strategy for you if your investment goals are short-term and you’ll need the money soon, or if you’re growing close to reaching a long-term goal such as retirement. But if you still have years to invest, keep in mind that stocks have historically outperformed stable value investments over time, although past performance is no guarantee of future results. If you move most or all of your investment dollars into conservative investments, you’ve not only locked in any losses you might have, but you’ve also sacrificed the potential for higher returns.

Look for the silver lining

A down market, like every cloud, has a silver lining. The silver lining of a down market is the opportunity you have to buy shares of stock at lower prices.

One of the ways you can do this is by using dollar cost averaging. With dollar cost averaging, you don’t try to “time the market” by buying shares at the moment when the price is lowest. In fact, you don’t worry about price at all. Instead, you invest a specific amount of money at regular intervals over time. When the price is higher, your investment dollars buy fewer shares of an investment, but when the price is lower, the same dollar amount will buy you more shares. A workplace savings plan, such as a 401(k) plan in which the same amount is deducted from each paycheck and invested through the plan, is one of the most well-known examples of dollar cost averaging in action.

For example, let’s say that you decided to invest $300 each month. As the illustration shows, your regular monthly investment of $300 bought more shares when the price was low and fewer shares when the price was high:

Although dollar cost averaging can’t guarantee you a profit or avoid a loss, a regular fixed dollar investment may result in a lower average price per share over time, assuming you continue to invest through all types of markets.

(This hypothetical example is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent the performance of any particular investment. Actual results will vary.)

Making dollar cost averaging work for you

  • Get started as soon as possible. The longer you have to ride out the ups and downs of the market, the more opportunity you have to build a sizeable investment account over time.
  • Stick with it. Dollar cost averaging is a long-term investment strategy. Make sure that you have the financial resources and the discipline to invest continuously through all types of markets, regardless of price fluctuations.
  • Take advantage of automatic deductions. Having your investment contributions deducted and invested automatically makes the process easy and convenient.

Don’t stick your head in the sand

While focusing too much on short-term gains or losses is unwise, so is ignoring your investments. You should check up on your portfolio at least once a year, more frequently if the market is particularly volatile or when there have been significant changes in your life. You may need to rebalance your portfolio to bring it back in line with your investment goals and risk tolerance. Don’t hesitate to get expert help if you need it to decide which investment options are right for you.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch

As the market recovers from a down cycle, elation quickly sets in. If the upswing lasts long enough, it’s easy to believe that investing in the stock market is a sure thing. But, of course, it never is. As many investors have learned the hard way, becoming overly optimistic about investing during the good times can be as detrimental as worrying too much during the bad times. The right approach during all kinds of markets is to be realistic. Have a plan, stick with it, and strike a comfortable balance between risk and return.

Advertisements

What I’m Watching This Week – 3 November 2014

The Markets

A robust U.S. GDP reading coupled with the prospect of greater economic stimulus in Japan and additional positive corporate earnings reports helped drive both the Dow industrials and the S&P 500 to new record highs. The small caps of the Russell 2000 saw their third straight week of solid gains, which gave the index a positive year-to-date return once again.

Gold tumbled nearly $60 an ounce, hurt in part by the promise of additional monetary stimulus by the Bank of Japan. And the benchmark 10-year Treasury retreated as investors regained an appetite for equities risk.

Market/Index 2013 Close Prior Week As of 10/31 Weekly Change YTD Change
DJIA 16576.66 16805.41 17390.52 3.48% 4.91%
Nasdaq 4176.59 4483.72 4630.74 3.28% 10.87%
S&P 500 1848.36 1964.58 2018.05 2.72% 9.18%
Russell 2000 1163.64 1118.82 1173.51 4.89% .85%
Global Dow 2484.10 2470.50 2527.85 2.32% 1.76%
Fed. Funds .25% .25% .25% 0% 0%
10-year Treasuries 3.04% 2.29% 2.35% 6 bps -69 bps

Chart reflects price changes, not total return. Because it does not include dividends or splits, it should not be used to benchmark performance of specific investments.

Last Week’s Headlines

  • The U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of 3.5% during the third quarter, according to the initial estimate by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That was slightly less than Q2’s 4.6%, but still much stronger than during 2014’s first quarter.
  • As expected, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy committee finally called a halt to new bond purchases, which have helped support the economy for the last six years by making credit easier to get. The statement said that despite improvements in the labor market and general economy, the committee sees inflation being held in check by lower energy prices. Therefore, it still anticipates the Fed funds interest rate will remain at its current level for “a considerable time.” However, that timetable could be accelerated by unanticipated upticks in inflation and/or employment (or pushed back if either declines).
  • As Fed bond purchases came to an end, the Bank of Japan went in the opposite direction, unexpectedly announcing it will expand its securities purchases. The move is designed to try to reduce the potential for deflation (Japan’s 1% annual inflation rate is far below the central bank’s 2% target). The added buying could make Japanese exports cheaper and help the country’s economy recover from the effects of a sales tax increase in the spring.
  • Durable goods orders fell 1.3% in September, according to the Commerce Department. However, much of that was due to a 3.7% decline in the typically volatile transportation sector; excluding transportation, new orders were down 0.2%.
  • Home prices rose in August, but the annual growth rate was the slowest in almost two years. The 0.2% increase in the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Index represented a 5.6% annual increase from the previous August, down from July’s 6.7%.
  • Despite a 0.2% increase in personal income in the United States during September, personal consumption fell by an equal amount, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The drop in personal consumption was the first monthly decline since January.

Eye on the Week Ahead

With quantitative easing officially at an end, what’s left of the Q3 corporate earnings season could receive more attention. And as the Fed watches the labor market closely to determine the timing of rate increases, investors will do the same with Friday’s jobs report. The results of Tuesday’s midterm elections also could influence the mood of the markets.

Data sources: Economic: Based on data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (unemployment, inflation); U.S. Department of Commerce (GDP, corporate profits, retail sales, housing); S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Index (home prices); Institute for Supply Management (manufacturing/services). Performance: Based on data reported in WSJ Market Data Center (indexes); U.S. Treasury (Treasury yields); U.S. Energy Information Administration/Bloomberg.com Market Data (oil spot price, WTI Cushing, OK); www.goldprice.org (spot gold/silver); Oanda/FX Street (currency exchange rates). All information is based on sources deemed reliable, but no warranty or guarantee is made as to its accuracy or completeness. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed herein constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any securities, and should not be relied on as financial advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is a price-weighted index composed of 30 widely traded blue-chip U.S. common stocks. The S&P 500 is a market-cap weighted index composed of the common stocks of 500 leading companies in leading industries of the U.S. economy. The NASDAQ Composite Index is a market-value weighted index of all common stocks listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. The Russell 2000 is a market-cap weighted index composed of 2,000 U.S. small-cap common stocks. The Global Dow is an equally weighted index of 150 widely traded blue-chip common stocks worldwide. Market indices listed are unmanaged and are not available for direct investment.

Monthly Market Review – October 2014

The Markets

October lived up to its reputation for volatility as triple-digit intraday swings in the Dow became almost commonplace. Despite being spooked for much of the month–at one point the S&P 500 was down almost 8% from its most recent high–both the S&P and the Dow industrials rallied strongly to end the month at fresh all-time records. Generally encouraging corporate earnings from U.S. companies, a strong Q3 GDP, and increased central bank support overseas helped equities markets overcome fears about the end of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing and global concerns about slowing growth and the threat of Ebola.

Increased U.S. energy resources and reduced global demand meant that oil prices continued to drop, ending the month at roughly $80 a barrel. The dollar maintained its September gains against a basket of six foreign currencies; since oil is traded in dollars, a stronger dollar also helped keep oil prices in check. Meanwhile, after a bounce at mid-month, the price of gold plummeted to roughly $1,170 an ounce. Not surprisingly, the volatility in equities caused the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury to fall briefly to its lowest level since June 2013 as investors sought the relative safety of Treasury securities.

Market/Index 2013 Close Prior Month As of 10/31 Month Change YTD Change
DJIA 16576.66 17042.90 17390.52 2.04% 4.91%
Nasdaq 4176.59 4493.39 4630.74 3.06% 10.87%
S&P 500 1848.36 1972.29 2018.05 2.32% 9.18%
Russell 2000 1163.64 1101.68 1173.51 6.52% .85%
Global Dow 2484.10 2534.47 2527.85 -.26% 1.76%
Fed. Funds .25% .25% .25% 0 bps 0 bps
10-year Treasuries 3.04% 2.52% 2.35% -17 bps -69 bps

Chart reflects price changes, not total return. Because it does not include dividends or splits, it should not be used to benchmark performance of specific investments.

The Month in Review

  • The U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of 3.5% during the third quarter, according to the initial estimate by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That was slightly less than Q2’s 4.6%, but still much stronger than during 2014’s first quarter.
  • The 248,000 new jobs created in September helped cut the U.S. unemployment rate from 6.1% to 5.9%; it’s the first time since July 2008 that joblessness has been below 6%. Also, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said hiring during the prior two months was stronger than previously thought. However, at least some of the decline in the unemployment rate resulted from 97,000 people, such as retiring baby boomers, dropping out of the labor force. That brought the percentage of people in the workforce to 62.7%–the lowest participation rate since 1978.
  • As expected, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy committee halted new bond purchases, which have helped support the economy for the last six years by making credit easier to get. The statement said that despite improvements in the labor market and the overall economy, the committee sees inflation being held in check by lower energy prices. Therefore, it still anticipates the Fed funds interest rate will remain at its current level for “a considerable time.” However, that timetable could be accelerated by unanticipated upticks in inflation and/or employment (or pushed back if either declines).
  • As Fed bond purchases came to an end, the Bank of Japan went in the opposite direction, announcing it will expand its securities purchases. The move is designed to prevent potential deflation (Japan’s 1% annual inflation rate is far below the central bank’s 2% target). The added buying could help make Japanese exports cheaper.
  • Eurozone manufacturing output saw its largest monthly decline since late 2008 in August, according to the European Union’s statistical agency. The 4.3% decline in German industrial production was especially unsettling, and September’s 0.3% annual inflation rate in the eurozone–the lowest level in five years–raised concerns about the possibility of deflation. To help combat that weakness, the European Central Bank will expand its bond purchases to include asset-backed securities and certain bank bonds, but declined to lower its key interest rate, at least for the time being.
  • China’s growth rate, while still robust compared to the rest of the world, slowed to 7.3% during the third quarter, according to the National Bureau of Statistics–below the 7.5% official target for annual growth. Real estate prices and sales continued to be a soft spot. To try to jump-start lending, China’s central bank plans to inject roughly $33 billion into its banking system.
  • Data on the U.S. housing market was generally encouraging. September’s 2.4% increase in existing-home sales represented the fastest growth of 2014, according to the National Association of Realtors®. New home sales also were up 0.2%, which put them 17% higher than in September 2013, and the Commerce Department said both housing starts and building permits were up for the month. However, home prices were a different story. The 0.2% increase in the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Index in August represented the slowest annual growth rate in almost two years.
  • U.S. inflation continued to be well-contained. Consumer prices rose 0.1% in September, which left the Consumer Price Index up 1.7% for the last 12 months. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said increases in food and housing outweighed a 0.7% drop in energy costs. Meanwhile, wholesale prices fell 0.1% in September, largely because of declines in both food and energy costs, though wholesale prices overall are 1.6% higher than in September 2013.
  • Retail sales in the United States slipped 0.3% in September, though the Commerce Department said they were 4.3% ahead of a year earlier. The biggest declines were seen in building and garden supplies, clothing, and nonstore retailers, all of which were down more than 1% during the month.
  • U.S. durable goods orders fell 1.3% in September, according to the Commerce Department. However, much of that was due to a 3.7% decline in the typically volatile transportation sector; excluding transportation, new orders were down 0.2%.

Eye on the Month Ahead

With the Fed’s quantitative easing officially at an end and monetary policy meetings on hold until December, equities markets may begin to focus on what’s left of earnings season as well as the jobs and inflation data that will affect future Fed actions. The results of Tuesday’s midterm elections also could influence the mood of the markets.