It seems like the headlines keep announcing all-time highs in the market these days. Though it’s worth celebrating the good days when they happen, not every day is going to be good. And that’s okay.
When it comes to investing, I think the biggest elephant in the room is the word “uncertainty.” No one can say for certain what the markets will do, and there’s no crystal ball that’ll show you the outcome of any situation. So embrace the uncertainty. It’s not going anywhere. Focus instead on what you can control, and how you can keep yourself in check when the unexpected happens. In this article, I’ll discuss 3 things you can do to help maintain perspective through market uncertainty.
Start by evaluating the information you regularly get and how it impacts your day-to-day decisions. Most information today, even those from what we consider to be a “trusted source,” is shared with some kind of intention. Often, that intention is to elicit an emotional response and trigger a fight-or-flight instinct. As hard as you might try to remain objective and unbiased with what you read, this may prove to be a Herculean task.
Think about the spheres of influence within your life. Beyond family, friends, and coworkers, you likely have other information sources such as social media, emails, or news stories. Everyone’s inner circle may be different, but even your friends’ spiciest takes can be less chaotic than headline articles you see lining your feed. So how do you decide what’s worth listening to and what’s worth acting on?
First, you’ll want to approach the information you’re getting with purpose. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself some tough questions like:
Second, try seeking out a new perspective. Maybe this means speaking with a financial advisor or someone else you trust. Avoid those with a perpetual “sky is falling” mindset. Talking with someone who has your best interests in mind can help you reframe what’s happening in the economy and why it should matter to you.
Goal-based planning is the bedrock of Vanguard’s investment philosophy, so when you’re uncertain, remember your overall game plan. What’s your goal? The answer shouldn’t be something quantifiable, such as “Get a 10% return each year.” Sure, there might be years in which you accomplish that, but there will also be years where that won’t happen. That kind of thinking is bound to disappoint, and when your expectations aren’t met, it can be tempting to seek change by tinkering with your portfolio.
The most important way to avoid falling into this trap is to invest with purpose. Are you investing for a specific short- or long-term goal? If so, how’s this portfolio going to support you in attaining that goal? Is it enough? If it is, there’s no need to obsess over rates of return at the end of each year, and there’s no need keep chasing after more.
I understand, though, that maintaining diversification in your portfolio can be a difficult process. For instance, there may be parts of your portfolio that might not grow at different points during the month or even the year. If your stocks are growing at a rate of 11% as your bonds grow by 3%, you might be tempted to leave bonds altogether. Resist the temptation. A portfolio with purpose focuses on asset allocation to provide steady long-term return and dampen the impact of unexpected volatility. It also focuses on asset location to reduce tax burden and help you keep more of your return. Most importantly, a portfolio with purpose is built around you and your needs.
Let’s focus on a color people don’t love seeing in their portfolios: red. Rather than charging in like an angry bull at the sight of red in your portfolio, take a step back and breathe. Maybe you’ve missed out on an investment opportunity or your portfolio’s value dropped as a result of a market swoon. Keep in mind that these losses happen. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead, use these moments as opportunities to look at the big picture.
Between 1980 and 2019, for example, there were 8 bear markets for stocks (declines of 20% or more, lasting at least 2 months) and 13 corrections (declines of at least 10%).* Unless you sell during a downturn, the number of shares you own stays the same. And if you reinvest your funds’ income and capital gains distributions, the shares you own continue to increase over time. In the event of market recovery, having more shares can help revitalize your portfolio more quickly.
It’s often been said that history has a funny way of repeating itself. And there’s a lot of history in the investment world. Financial advisors have events that we can learn from, and you can learn from them too. Then you’ll be ready for what happens the next time around.
Stay the course. That’s Vanguard’s biggest mantra. Three little words you’ve heard from us time and time again, although it’s not something that you might always hear from the media. Earlier, I recommended discerning the intent of the information you receive. So what’s Vanguard’s intent? Why do we insist on staying the course? The answer is not for our own benefit, but for yours.
We’re human, so we’re bound to experience a lapse of focus on our goals or a fixation on losses beyond our control. But if we try to control uncertainty, we might wind up putting ourselves more at risk. Losses happen, and uncertainty is here to stay. But you don’t need to be ruled by it, and you certainly don’t need to be afraid of it. Not when there are people you can rely on, goals to draw resolve from, and life lessons to remember. You have the power to focus on what’s within your control—and it’s more than you might think.
*Source: Vanguard calculations, based on the performance of the MSCI World Index from January 1, 1980, through December 31, 1987, and the MSCI AC World Index thereafter. Both indexes are denominated in U.S. dollars. Our count of corrections excludes those that turned into bear markets. We count corrections that occur after a bear market has recovered from its trough, even if stock prices haven’t yet reached their previous peak.
All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.
Diversification does not ensure a profit or guarantee against a loss.
Advice services are provided by Vanguard Advisers, Inc., a registered investment advisor, or by Vanguard National Trust Company, a federally chartered, limited-purpose trust company.
There is no guarantee that any particular asset allocation or mix of funds will meet your investment objectives or provide you with a given level of income.