Lost in the shuffle of big financial news regarding the latest inflation report and the Federal Reserve's interest rate decision was the fact that the S&P 500 officially entered a bull market. After 248 days of enduring a bear market, that was music to some peoples’ ears! But how does that change how you should be investing? In many cases, the answer is, “not much.”
While a newly-declared bull market is obviously some positive momentum, it’s important to remember one of my favorite pieces of investing wisdom: It’s not about timing the market; it’s about time in the market. As I noted recently, trying to time the market can result in missing out on a large sum of money in your retirement savings. Successful market timing requires you to be right nearly 100% of the time, and that’s a very tall order.
This bull market is likely to prove my point; people who’ve been on the sidelines waiting for the “right moment” to start investing missed out on the S&P’s bullish gains. Jumping in now is better than waiting several more years, but jumping in six months ago would have been even better. Waiting for the “right moment” can, and in many cases will, have a considerable negative impact on your overall investment performance.
By the same token, when stocks are on the rise, the temptation if you’re already participating in the market is to sell your investments before they start dropping again. However, that’s still attempting to time the market. What if, instead of dropping shortly after you sell, the market experiences a meteoric rise in value?
Historically over time, the market has always gone up, it’s reasonable to act on the assumption that the same will hold true over time in the future. In other words, staying invested regardless of current market performance is, for most investors, the wisest course.
A great, recent example of what I’m driving at happened in 2016. In the midst of political upheaval, people anticipating a potential market correction looked at the gains they’d enjoyed over the previous seven years and became frightened over the idea that those gains might evaporate. They sold out and then quickly regretted doing so as they watched the market experience one of the greatest bull runs in history.
At Asset Preservation Wealth & Tax, we’re telling our clients to hang tight. Because we resisted the temptation to move to more conservative positions during the bear market and accompanying economic uncertainty, we captured significant value as the market climbed. No one can have absolute certainty about the market’s short-term direction, so it’s wise to stay invested and not make significant moves.
I find the key to reacting to market conditions is to think small. Make minor course corrections; don’t try to turn the whole ship around in one fell swoop. Investors who swing wildly between defensive and aggressive positions in reaction to shifting market conditions often end up worse off than those who adjust their positions incrementally.
It’s important to remember, trying to outguess the market is often a fool’s errand. If you’re trying to beat the market, what you’re really trying to do is out-perform the conclusions of the aggregate investor evaluations of that market. How is your information going to be better than theirs?
The bottom line is that whether the market turns bullish or bearish, focus on the long view. The market will always fluctuate, but if you’re 10, 20 or 30 years from retirement, today’s variations will have much less impact on your retirement savings than your long-term investment strategy.
It’s far more important to make sure your portfolio is properly balanced so it can withstand downturns while still taking advantage of upswings. Proper portfolio composition depends on your unique situation. Financial advisors like those at Asset Preservation Wealth & Tax can help you choose the right path for a successful retirement.
Stewart Willis is the founder and president of Asset Preservation Wealth & Tax, a financial planning firm in Phoenix, Arizona. Investment advisory services offered through Foundations Investment Advisors, LLC, an SEC registered investment adviser.
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