Stock markets have been turbulent since the start of the year and there are signs that a bear market might be coming – this is a sustained period of decline in a market which falls 20% or more from its peak.
Even the best-known companies in the world have not been immune to the slump in share prices – Amazon is down almost 30% this year.
Recently the dark mood in stock markets has spread and the value of bonds, currencies such as the pound and the euro and more recently, cryptocurrencies have been badly affected.
For people with investments, logging on to check the value of their portfolio and seeing losses has become a reality. It’s been especially discouraging for those who began investing in the past few years – and we saw many people take up investing for the first time since the Covid pandemic began. For newer investors this will be the first period of continued decline that they have experienced, and it’s probably not at all what they expected.
There are a range of challenges facing the global economy which are making investors think that companies will struggle to grow in the short-term, including the war in Ukraine, central banks around the world raising interest rates, inflation higher than it’s been for a generation and China’s continued heavy-handed oversight of its tech companies has provided further negative background noise for digital companies
As humans we are hard-wired to continually anticipate and manage threats, and when it comes to money that means concerns over whether an investment portfolio will lose more value – and if so, how much more.
If recent market events are keeping you awake at night, take comfort from these four golden rules of investing.
Golden rule #1: No investment rises continually without interruption.
No-one has their home valued every day but if we did, we would find that the price would fluctuate over time. Most people choose a home to purchase because paying a mortgage is a way to build up capital through gradually owning more of an asset, and with the hope that eventually the property may be worth more.
The same goes for stock markets. Just because you can see the precise valuation of your portfolio in your account every day, doesn’t mean you need to be concerned about day-to-day fluctuations.
Investing gradually over time can be a good way to build wealth, and although it comes with risks of capital loss, just like home ownership there is the potential for a portfolio of shares to be worth more in years to come.
Golden rule #2: Remember the reasons why you invested in the first place.
We naturally feel losses more intensely than gains, so feeling bad right now is understandable. It can help to mentally refocus your energy on your initial goals. How far along are you? Are you any closer to your aims, even a little bit?
If you quit now, will you still have those goals? Because you may have to start again with investing, and if you wait until a future point when markets have recovered then those same investments that you sold out of today might be more expensive.
Golden rule #3: We can’t predict the future
When something unexpected has happened and investment markets are down, remember that just as you couldn’t predict they were going to fall, you also can’t predict when they’re going to go back up again.
So though concern when your portfolio is down is natural, a panicked reaction – perhaps pulling out entirely – might not be the best approach. The ‘lesson from history’ (2) is that the world’s major stock markets have trended upwards over time – and although that doesn‘t mean that past performance will be repeated in the future, potentially markets could rise again over the long-term.
Golden rule #4:
It is thought that stock markets fall more often than they rise
There are studies to suggest that in the last 90 years the benchmark US stock market has closed for the day down at least 5% from the market’s previous maximum point more than 50% of the time.
So whilst on any given day investing can be a painful business, looking at a portfolio that has fallen from its peak, over time it has the potential to be more rewarding – after all, $100 invested in the S&P 500 in 1927 would be worth over $500k, and although there is no guarantee the next 100 years will show the same trend it does suggest history looks kindly on markets over the longer-term.
The lesson from the data is clear: when you invest in the stock market, even if the charts show large increases over time, long-term investors will have spent a lot of time watching their shares fall before they begin rising again.
With investment, your capital is at risk.
This article should not be read as personal financial advice. Individual investors should make their own decisions or seek independent advice.