Impending doom!

By Josh July 31, 2018

If you’ve seen almost any headlines lately (and for the last 8 years, amirite?) the next big stock market pullback is just around the corner. Liz from Chief Mom Officer shared a headline recently that Morgan Stanley was predicting the biggest stock-market selloff in months! (insert scary music) Nobody should be afraid of a pullback that is the biggest when measured in Days/Weeks/Months…

With all of the gloom and doom in the news media, the links inevitably get shared across social media. These dark thoughts creep into our mind, and fear begins to set in. For those who are more risk averse, these feelings of impending doom may cause them to scale back their stocks and put more investable assets into bonds or cash-equivalents like a money market account.

I’m here to tell you, that’s the exact WRONG thing to do, just like trying to time the market.

First off, if you are reading my blog (thank you, thank you!), you are most likely in the wealth accumulation phase of your life. Due to your age and remaining years in the workforce, you should be heavily tilted towards stocks, rather than in “safe” assets like bonds and cash. Most of us can agree that cash is actually not a safe asset, since it is guaranteed to lose value due to inflation. Then what about bonds?

My problem with bonds is that the young investor investing in bonds is locking in a lower rate of return for the perception of additional safety from turbulent stock prices. When stocks run up double-digit percentages, bonds are earning a few percentage points. That’s 70% under-performance, if we’re talking 10% vs. 3%. And we all know that stocks go up over the long term, so why the fear of short-term losses with a portfolio heavily invested in stocks? Young investors should be giddy about lower prices, as long as they’re still putting money to work through workplace retirement plans, IRAs, HSAs and brokerages via dollar cost averaging. Who doesn’t love to buy their favorite things on sale?

So beware of the click-bait headlines, the talking heads shouting on TV, and the viral news stories. A successful portfolio has a well thought-out plan for the inevitable scenarios when stock prices do fall. A successful investor will stick with the plan, or make minor adjustments to their strategy given a changing marketplace. Chasing safety is just as bad as chasing performance, and in fact can do long-term damage to your portfolio advancement by causing you to lose years of compounded market gains during the accumulation phase of your investing career.

If you’re an older investor, it may make sense to have an allocation in bonds and cash-equivalents, but I hope you aren’t using the old “100 minus your age” allocation. That rule of thumb may have been appropriate in decades-past, but bonds used to return a solid 5% on average, and CDs used to return 8-12% in the late 1980s. Now, with rising interest rates, which means bond prices are falling, you’re lucky if you have a positive return on bonds at all. I hope you will consider adjusting the “rule” to 120 minus your age, or similar.

Fabled PF guru JL Collins has been early-retired for quite a few years now, and his portfolio remains at 75% VTSAX (stock index fund) and 25% VBTLX (bond index fund). If you look at the results of the Trinity Study, the 75/25 allocation yields one of the top overall returns, and yet provides a modicum of safety during downturns to smooth the ride.

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