Up 1,000, down 1,000, up 1,000, and then down yet another 1,000. The past week shows the confused state of the stock market. And, that doesn’t even count the 4,500 point decline the week before last. This is the age of coronavirus. And, this too shall eventually pass.
As most people with an opinion should state on this subject, I am not a doctor. I don’t intend to share any profound insights on the virus itself. My focus and expertise is on its effect on money and markets.
Having managed portfolios through the financial crisis of 2008, much of the last two weeks has felt reminiscent. To be clear, the proximate cause of the market volatility during those two periods couldn’t be more different. However, the commonality begins and ends with the effect that fear has on investors’ collective decisions. Like all forms of panic, fear of the unknown has created a self-reinforcing negative feedback loop. I’m optimistic that once this particular fever breaks, the current negative feedback loop will too.
Until then, the pace, breadth and severity of the spread of coronavirus remains largely uncertain. The opinions espoused by medical experts, and the many untrained among us, are built on layers of assumptions. These assumptions relate to both the pathology of the virus and the public policy decisions we’ll choose to make to slow its spread.
The sensationalized headlines that feed off the din of opinions in today’s noisy world naturally adds to investor uncertainty. Filtering out the hard science from the pure conjecture is admittedly difficult. Regardless, it’s highly important to apply a clear filter to your flow of information. This is especially the case if you are trying to make important decisions about your money.
The global economy is slowing. We are more interconnected than ever before and our economy’s complex web of supply chains has been severely stressed. Beyond the negative effects of these bottlenecks, we’re just now starting to see some impacts closer to home. Many companies and some schools and organizers of large gatherings of people are choosing to push pause on their plans.
It’s rational to expect that most business leaders are likely to delay executing on their short- and intermediate-term plans. This entire negative feedback loop has clearly caught the attention of our financial markets and public policymakers.
Here’s a simple message for readers of this column. As it was during the recession scare of late 2018, your investment portfolio and your approach to risk management is being stress tested, yet again. My general advice to you is to only move with methodical moderation.
For those who have been excessively conservative, consider taking some baby-steps back into stocks. Use these 1,000 point declines as your friend. And, for those who failed to prudently rebalance during the longest bull market in modern history, consider reducing your risk as this coronavirus fever breaks. Every 1,000 point rebound should be an easy opportunity to do what you’ve not done before.
Jason P. Tank, CFA is both the owner of Front Street Wealth Management, a purely fee-only advisory firm and the founder of the Money Series, a non-profit program committed to providing open-access to financial education, for all.