Retirement Planning

COVID-19: How it has affected the markets and your investment?

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As you know, stock markets around the world have experienced unprecedented volatility, primarily because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In these crazy times, we thought it might be helpful to offer some information and insights in an effort to address the implications it has on your investments.

Over the past couple of weeks, the value of most investments has fallen considerably. There are lots of opinions out there on why this is happening but it’s not something anyone could control or predict accurately. When it comes to investing, it’s really important to make sure our decisions are logical more than emotional so rather than trying to figure out what’s driving other people’s decisions, it’s much simpler to focus on asking what makes the best sense for you. From our perspective, there are 3 general courses of action to consider:

Strategy 1 – If the kitchen is too hot, get out!

It’s not easy to watch your investments drop in value. For some people their instinct will be to run to safety but be careful before you move forward with this course of action for the following reasons:

      1. A lot of the damage is done already. If you trust the logic that successful investing is all about “BUY LOW, SELL HIGH” then selling low after a big drop of 20%, 30%, or more doesn’t make logical sense.
      2. You could miss out when the market starts to go back up. If you move all of your money into a ‘safer’ place, you will miss the opportunity to recover in a low-interest environment. In the past, we have seen lots of people miss the opportunity with no chance to participate in the recovery.
      3. Successful market timing is really difficult. We’ve always said the decision to sell at the top is extremely difficult to time. The decision to buy back in at the bottom is also extremely difficult to time. The ability to time both the sell decision and the buy decision properly is near impossible. You may instinctively want to move to safety for a period of time but the next challenge is to decide when to get back in.

Remember that you only make or lose money at the point where you sell your investments. If the market drop is causing you stress and stopping you from sleeping at night then it might make sense to cut your losses and either shift to something less aggressive or get out of the markets altogether. However, before you make the decision to sell, you might want to consider the next strategy.

Strategy 2 – Could this be the buying opportunity of a lifetime?

Although this strategy is not for the faint of heart, some will look at the downturn in the markets as an opportunity to buy. We want to be clear that we’re not trying to downplay the significance of the COVID-19 virus or minimize the experience that people are currently dealing with but, when you look back at other major downturns in the stock markets (in 2008 for example) you can see how events like these could create opportunity from an investment perspective.

For those of you who’ve been in one of our information sessions, you’ll have heard us say that times like these are when investments go on sale. If big-screen TVs go on sale 20% to 50% off, people line up for hours to get a chance at getting those deals. Maybe investments are offering those same deals today?

In hindsight, many of us would agree that buying more investments in 2008 after the world financial crisis caused markets to go down 20% to 50% would have been a great thing. Similarly, buying more investments back in 2001 after the tech bust would have paid off down the road. While our industry likes to remind us that “past performance is never an indicator of future performance”, years from now, we suspect many of us will look back and see that this recent downturn in 2020 was the best investment opportunity in our lifetime.

If you have a Group RRSP or Pension Plan through work, the good news is contributions continue to happen every month. This is known as Dollar Cost Averaging and, over time, it tends to create higher investment returns than if you were to make just one contribution per year. This is because making multiple investment purchases over the year helps you buy more when the markets are low. Right now, with every new contribution you make, you’re essentially getting a far better bang for your buck than you were in January simply because lower investment values mean you can buy more investment units with each contribution.

For me, the truth is I have been buying into the markets through ETFs all the way down as markets have been falling.

Related article: My portfolio of ETFs

Here are a few market statistics to think about:

      • Markets typically rebound within 12 months after big drops
      • Markets have gone down 20 of the past 80 years. In 18 of those 20 years, the markets rebounded with positive returns in the following calendar year
      • The average return that followed a negative year was 14.6% We know it can be tough to invest more (or more aggressively) when the markets are falling so, if you’re not so panicked that you need to sell but still nervous of investing more, there’s one more strategy to consider

Strategy 3 – Stay the course

Most of the financial industry will preach the buy and hold strategy. There are many reasons why but most people will believe that markets will eventually recover. The key word here is ‘eventually’. Often the reason that people are fearful is that we just don’t know how long the recovery will take. While it’s easy to let doom and gloom take over our decision-making process, it’s important to take a logical rather than an emotional approach to decision making. So let’s look at some additional realities of the stock market:

      • Markets go up more often than they go down. Over the past 90 years, markets have gone up 74% of the time and down 26% of the time.
      • Markets have lost more than 20% only 4.5% of the time.
      • Markets rarely experience back to back negative years. It’s only happened twice in the past 75 years The bottom line is that markets go up and down. As much as we hope markets will stay positive all the time, the risk of a correction is always there.

Every correction or bear market is a test of patience.  It’s not easy but a necessary reality of the markets.  For those of you who might need some help, this is where financial advisors can provide support. Others are questioning whether financial advisors still provide value for the higher fees they charge and as a result are considering Robo Advisors. For the do-it-yourself investor, discount broker platforms like Questrade give you the freedom to buy, sell and trade based on your personal beliefs.

Times are tough so try to keep a level head and not let your emotions get the best of you when it comes to managing your investments. Stay safe and good luck.

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