The new year always seems like a great time to overhaul everything in our lives. Why not? It’s a clean slate. A chance for something different. The perfect opportunity to try and correct mistakes from the past year.
It can be enticing to do the same thing for your investment portfolio – turn it over, dump everything out, and try again. This may feel especially tempting during seasons of market volatility. But unless something has changed with your investment time horizon, objectives, or risk tolerance, there’s really no good reason to do it.
The market experienced an unusually long period of low volatility, so even seasoned investors may feel unsettled with recent drops. Keep in mind, though, volatility is a normal part of market cycles. As we head into a new year, it’s helpful to approach your portfolio and resolutions with a similar attitude:
Maintain perspective. Uncertainty is a constant, and downturns happen frequently. Unforeseen circumstances pop up, so sustaining new behaviors isn’t always realistic. Take a breath and keep moving forward.
Stay disciplined and set realistic expectations. Implementing a quick fix that doesn’t make sense for your long-term goals is similar to trying to time the market. It can be extremely challenging and could end up costing you in the long run. For example, on December 24, 2018, the Dow Jones dropped 653 points – its worst-ever performance on Christmas Eve. Just two days later on the 26th, however, the Dow added over 1,080 points – its biggest points gain in history.
Ask for help. Utilizing an advisor may help ensure your investment strategy aligns with your long-term goals, timeline, and risk tolerance. As with other goals in your life, this level of accountability can help prevent you from making emotional investing decisions.
Despite rising interest rates and worries about trade wars between China and the US, the US economy remains strong: growth is healthy, unemployment is low, the number of people working is rising steadily, and wages are up. As long as you maintain a strategy consistent with your needs and preferences, there is no compelling reason to change your investment discipline.
But it doesn’t hurt to check in on your financial goals and current circumstances – call the Shepherd Financial team to schedule your next review.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a widely-watched index of 30 American stocks thought to represent the pulse of the American economy and markets. Investors cannot invest directly in an index.
For nearly two years, our team has conducted a monthly financial wellness webinar for participants in the retirement plans we advise. These webinars focus on different topics meant to engage participants with their overall financial wellness. Some of our most popular presentations have been our Quarterly Market Reviews, The Basics of Investing, and Dealing with Financial Stress. We have one particular webinar so relevant, though, it’s been requested multiple times and in a variety of formats: Women and Investing.
But why? What’s the big deal?
The truth is, women face a totally different financial environment than men. With an ongoing gender disparity in compensation, years worked, risk tolerance for investing, healthcare costs, and overall lifespan, it’s no wonder there is an undercurrent of fear and confusion surrounding finances. Studies have revealed women do not feel confident – or even comfortable – discussing money or investing with friends, partners, or financial professionals.
Nearly 90% of women will end up managing their finances alone at some point in their lives1, whether due to not getting married, divorcing, or having their spouse pass away. This means learning to navigate expenses and medical/long-term care decisions on one income and without a partner with whom to plan.
So the big deal is this: women are falling far behind men when it comes to saving and retiring on their terms.
Our team simply refuses to settle for this reality. We want to empower women to ask – and answer – questions like these:
How should I initiate financial conversations with my spouse?
What’s a good plan for divorced ladies?
How soon is too soon to begin estate planning?
As a single woman, how do I get started when I feel so overwhelmed?
The process is simple, though it may not be easy.
Start by making a plan. Make it a priority to understand where you are (track expenses and create a budget) and where you want to be (create short-, medium-, and long-term goals). Identify areas where you need help (perhaps learning to invest, paying off debt, or determining your retirement income needs). Once you’ve done that, educate yourself – it’s good to engage in your own financial wellness! Make sure you figure out who’s on your team. It’s unreasonable to think you can or should do everything yourself. We have accessible, knowledgeable team members to make it easy on you. Take advantage of our resources and tools available. Finally, keep making the next right decision. Monitor your portfolio, stick to your plan, and look ahead.
Don’t let fear keep you on the sidelines of your own life.
1 National Center for Women and Retirement
There are many similarities between portfolio-building and your annual March Madness bracket-building. For example, if you’re a fan of reading the small print in financial documents, you’ve likely seen something along these lines: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” (And you probably agree with that statement wholeheartedly if you’re prone to picking Cinderella teams like the Fort Wayne Mastodons or the Akron Zips.) But for both portfolios and bracketology, there can be a method to the madness. Consider these three steps:
Assess your risk tolerance
It’s important to remember all of your decisions regarding investing involve some degree of risk. You will need to evaluate these risks and determine if you want to take a more conservative or aggressive approach. An aggressive investor – having a high tolerance for market risk – understands the uncertain nature of markets and is willing to tolerate short-term losses in value to try and achieve better long-term results. Aggressive investors should understand the risk of loss with their approach. A conservative investor – having a lower tolerance for market risk – may favor investments that are more geared toward the stability and preservation of the original investment. Conservative investors should understand they face different kinds of risk with their approach, such as lower returns or not keeping up with inflation.
In bracket-building, understanding your risk tolerance can help you decide if it’s in your best interest to choose teams based on rank, school history, mascot name, or uniform color. The number of brackets you’re building may also affect your risk tolerance – perhaps you can afford to be very aggressive in one bracket while making more conservative selections in another.
Consider your asset allocation
In a portfolio, this is a strategy that helps you balance risk and reward depending on your chosen percentage of stocks, bonds, and cash. If you’re not sure where to start, there are many helpful investor questionnaires and online calculators to lead you through the risk tolerance and asset allocation determination process.
For your bracket, you might decide to allocate 60% of your picks on top-ranked schools, 20% on red uniforms, and 20% on teams with at least four syllables in their names. (Hey, no judgment here. It’s your allocation.)
Choose the right investments and rebalance periodically
Once you have assessed your risk tolerance and asset allocation, it’s time to select the investments to fit the strategy. Remembering not all bonds and stocks are the same, consider both the quality and investment objective of the funds you choose. Ensure the stocks satisfy your desired level of risk by looking at their category, objective, and where they invest geographically. When looking at bond funds, pay attention to maturity, yield, bond type and credit rating, and the general interest-rate environment. If you don’t feel confident in your ability to analyze these funds, ask for help. Diligent financial advisors should have carefully researched and developed models to recommend based on your particular risk tolerance and asset allocation – that’s why we’re here.
And when it comes to your bracket picks, stick to your selection strategy. While it’s thrilling to root for upsets, remember: a number 16 seed has not yet beaten a number 1 seed in the men’s tournament. Additionally, you may have to rebalance your asset allocation over time, because you certainly face the possibility of running out of four-syllable teams.
Following a thoughtful process can take some of the stress out of building your portfolio and March Madness bracket. Due to buzzer beaters, though, you’ll probably always have a little stress during the tournament. Let’s hope you picked the winner!
Asset allocation and diversification do not ensure a profit or guarantee against a loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Here at Shepherd Financial, we don’t like to make guarantees. There is too much uncertainty in life, people, politics, and the economy to promise we can give you peace of mind. (On top of all that, our compliance department simply won’t allow it!)
Rather than adopt a gloomy attitude about the whole situation, though, we try to live by some general rules of thumb when it comes to our investment management strategy. One of the most important is this: diversification matters. You’re undoubtedly familiar with the idiom, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’ Well, that’s diversification. It helps you reduce the volatility of your portfolio over time by spreading your investments around and limiting your exposure to any one type of asset. The goal is to maximize return by investing in non-correlated asset types that would each react differently to the same event.
Of course, you should take both your time horizon and risk tolerance into consideration when thinking about your own investment strategy. And don’t forget that your time horizon will change. A reallocation of assets may make sense for you upon passing certain mile markers in your life.
Now remember: neither asset allocation nor diversification guarantee a profit or protect against a loss. But they may help mitigate the risk and volatility you experience in your portfolio.
If you’re already a diversified investor, you may be wondering about this discrepancy: the market seems to be doing very well lately, but your portfolio doesn’t reflect the same high numbers. There are two reasons: how you are defining the market and the very function of diversification. If you only look at the Dow, S&P, and other domestic stock indices, numbers are up. But many other asset classes have lagged. So while it can feel frustrating to not capture those market highs, your diversified portfolio is actually doing its job. Because of its diversification, it will likely never outperform the highest returning market index.
An underlying thread in how we think at Shepherd is, ‘It’s part art and part science.’ Whether that informs the way we advise plan sponsors regarding the design of their corporate retirement plans or individuals with respect to their investments, we know each situation involves unique factors and considerations. We believe our strength lies in taking deliberate time with our clients to understand those factors. As true in the portfolios we monitor as in the clients we serve, we know diversification matters.