Surviving Market Turbulence

August 05, 2014

Most stock market investors are looking for the same result: strong and steady gains of their investments. Dealing with a period of sustained falling stock prices is not easy. All too often, investors react to a sharp drop in prices by panic selling or digging in their heels despite deteriorating fundamentals. But more thoughtful investors see a correction or downturn as an opportunity to review the risks in their portfolios and make adjustments where necessary.

When confronted with any adverse market event -- whether it is a one-day blip, a more lengthy market correction (a decline of between 10% to 20%), or a prolonged bear market (a decline of more than 20%) -- take time to review your portfolio. Dealing with volatility can be difficult. Here are some suggestions to help you and your portfolio survive market turbulence.

  • Keep a long-term perspective. The only certainty about the stock market is this: It will always experience ups and downs. That's why it's important to keep emotions in check and stay focused on your financial goals. A buy-and-hold strategy -- making an investment and then holding on to it despite short-term market moves -- can help. The opposite of buy-and-hold investing is market timing -- buying and selling investments based on what you think the market will do next. Market timing, as most investment professionals will tell you, is risky. If your predictions are wrong, you could invest when the market is on its way down or sell when it's on its way up. In other words, you risk locking in a loss or missing the market's best days.
  • Organize and review your financial records. Crisis events highlight the importance of knowing where your assets are and maintaining organized financial records. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, markets closed for several days and many records in the heart of New York City's financial district were destroyed. Yet the nation's financial systems were up and running in a matter of days, and your securities accounts were safe even when the stock exchanges were closed. While you cannot trade investments or access your assets during a market shutdown, securities firms maintain backup facilities and have contingency plans to help them service customers when trading resumes.
  • Talk with a professional. A financial professional can help you separate emotionally driven decisions from those based on your goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance. Researchers in the field of behavioral finance have found that emotions often lead investors to read too much into recent events even though those events may not reflect long-term realities. With the aid of a financial professional, you can sort through these distinctions, and you'll likely find that if your investment strategy made sense before the crisis, it will still make sense afterward.

It's important to remember that periods of falling prices are a natural part of investing in the stock market. While some investors will use a variety of trading tools, including individual stock and stock index options, to hedge their portfolios against a sudden drop in the market, perhaps the best move you can make is reevaluating and limiting your overall risk position.


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