The average bull market lasts just over five years. The current bull market has persisted for almost nine. As stocks continue to rise and major U.S. indices repeatedly hit record highs, it can be easy for financial advisors and clients to become complacent.
However, the recent spike in market volatility has provided an opportunity for investors to experience drawdowns for the first time in over a year. Rather than giving into market inertia, investors should use this aging bull market and rise in volatility as an opportunity to reevaluate goals, allocations, and risk preferences.
An object in motion tends to stay in motion; that is, until acted upon by an outside force. There are five simple steps to take before a correction or bear market catches you off guard and erases a good portion of the gains earned over the last nine years.
1) Take Inventory of your Portfolios
In an extended bull market, it is easy to lose sight of risk management. Investors typically do not complain about upside risk. Many investors have taken on additional risk to keep up with arbitrary market benchmarks or in reaching for yield in a low rate environment. The recent market pullback is only a small taste of ugly that would worsen during a bear market. Take inventory of your client’s portfolios and consider increasing the allocation to risk managed investments that have the flexibility to better navigate a negative equity market. Understanding how investments will behave to the downside is critical.
2) Create or Replenish a Cash Reserve
3) Be Realistic and Reassess your Risk Tolerance
It is important to understand just how much risk you are willing to tolerate. Realistically, risk almost always refers to downside risk. Participating in the upside has tradeoffs, as does protecting on the downside. Becoming informed on what you can realistically expect from your portfolios in various market environments may help you stay the course during more difficult times. An aging bull market presents a good opportunity to ensure your clietn’s portfolios are still aligned with their risk tolerances. We have the tools available that can calculate risk scores and assign a suitable corresponding portfolio.
If you have accumulated concentrated positions in high-performing investments, consider paring back these positions in favor of investments that have not performed as well. Valuations have become stretched in many areas of the market, and investments that have appreciated the most are likely to experience the most dramatic corrections. Think of tech stocks in the late 1990s, real estate in the mid-2000s, or cryptocurrencies today. Asset bubbles are attractive when working, but they eventually burst.
4) Review Fixed Income Allocations
With so much attention paid to how stocks are performing, it can be easy to forget that bonds have been in a bull market for the last 30 years. Given the anticipated rising rate environment, you may need to adjust expectations for fixed income going forward and identify the potential risks within fixed income holdings. Being unprepared for a shift in market conditions may result in capital losses within fixed income holdings.
For example, broad market fixed income benchmarks have become heavily weighted towards government bonds since the 2008 financial crisis. Index-oriented strategies may be exposed to significantly more interest rate risk than you realize. Alternatively, strategies that can actively adjust portfolio duration and overweight credit-sensitive sectors are typically more resilient to rising rates.
5) Rebalance Opportunistically
Investors have aged alongside this bull market and are likely less risk tolerant than they were nearly a decade ago. If you have shifted your client’s portfolios to favor passive investments over the last several years, now may be a good time to reconsider risk managed strategies. While it is much more sensational to declare risk management dead, the performance of risk managers is generally cyclical, and risk managed strategies tend to outperform their passive counterparts in down markets because of their ability to raise cash and overweight defensive sectors relative to the broad market.
Passive strategies, on the other hand, will continue to track the market and participate in the downside of the indexes they track. Consider using the next several months to opportunistically rebalance away from passive investment strategies in favor of more risk managed strategies that have the flexibility to provide downside protection in a negative market.
For advisors, properly managing your client’s expectations and understanding their attitude toward risk (i.e., temporary portfolio losses) is essential to maintaining a level head during periods of market turmoil. Taking the appropriate steps now can help prevent unnecessary portfolio losses that are difficult to recover from.