Monday, 17 November 2008

Investment Considerations in a Bear Market

Investment Considerations in a Bear Market

Making Smart Decisions When Markets Are Volatile Can Pay Off
By Jeremy Vohwinkle

The idea of investing is to make your money grow, but there are times when the stock market doesn’t want cooperate. Regular market fluctuations are common and expected, but extended periods of decline can strike fear in even seasoned investors. These bear markets can last months or even years. So, what should you do when faced with a bear market?

Examine Your Investment Objective

The first thing anyone should do before making changes to their portfolio is to think about what the purpose of the investment is. Is it money for retirement? College savings? A down payment on a house? Each of these investment goals have to be treated differently, and you need take into account what the money is going to be used for before you can decide if any changes need to be made.

The investment objective is important because it primarily deals with a specific time horizon. If you’re 35 years old and saving for retirement, you know that your money has a few decades left to grow. On the other hand, if you’re 35 and preparing to send your child off to college in 8 years, that is a completely different scenario.

Consider Your Risk Tolerance

Most people make changes to their investments because of losses. When you begin to see your account drop in value, it’s only natural to want to stop this from happening. Unfortunately, this type of behavior is reactionary, and it can often do more harm than good.

If the idea of seeing a loss on your statement has you feeling uneasy and ready to make changes, then chances are you’re taking on more risk than you should be. You should be allocating your investments in a way that minimizes risk, maximizes returns, and allows you to sleep at night regardless of what the market is doing. If you’re losing sleep because of a few bad days in the market, it’s time to reconsider how much risk you’re willing to take.

Don’t Chase the Market

You’ve probably heard the saying “buy low and sell high” many times, and we all know that’s how you make money, but the reality is that most people do just the opposite. The average investor will happily put more and more money into the market, and take on more risk when the market and economy is strong, and pull back or stop investing at all when the markets are heading south.

This is the opposite of what you want to do. If you’re only saving and investing when the markets are doing well, and investing little or selling stocks when the markets are down, you’re buying high and selling low, which is a very ineffective way to make money.

If you have a regular investment plan through your 401(k) or individual retirement accounts, keep those investments flowing through good times and bad. Because you’re investing on a regular and frequent interval, you’re buying stocks when they are up, down, and everywhere in-between. This is called dollar-cost averaging, and it is a great way to take some of the volatility out of your portfolio and maximize your overall returns.

Rebalance Your Portfolio

When the markets experience an extended period of growth or decline, it can throw your portfolio out of its original investment mix, or asset allocation. For example, if you’ve determined that a 70% stock and 30% bond portfolio is suitable for you and the stock market has taken a bit of a dive, you might find that after just six months, your investment mix might be at 60% stocks and 40% bonds, or even a 50% mix.

Ideally, you want to maintain your portfolio so that it remains close to your target investment mix. By rebalancing to your target mix, you’re forced to sell some of the investments that have done well, and buy more of the investments that haven’t done as well. This is allowing you to buy low and sell high instead of the reverse.

Shore Up Your Short-Term Investments

Investing your short-term savings takes a different approach from investing for retirement or other long-term goals. The general idea here is not to generate as much money as possible, but instead it is more focused on safety of principal while making as much money as possible.

When the economy is struggling, it pays to have a well-funded emergency fund. A weak economy can put some uncertainty in the air in terms of job security and obtaining credit. This is where your savings can come in handy. If you have the cash on hand in the event of an emergency, you don’t have to worry about using credit cards or possibly hurt your credit score.

So, when it comes to your savings, whether an emergency fund, money for a down payment on a house or a vehicle, or just the extra spending money you like to keep on hand, you want to make sure it’s safe and working as hard as it can for you. There are a number of places to safely keep your cash, so you’ll want to explore all the different options. It’s also a good idea to make sure your money is FDIC insured so that if times get really tough and your bank goes under, you’ll be protected.

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