The bull market is in its 10th year, and with age, market fluctuations have become wider and more frequent, as have predictions of the bull market’s demise. Market volatility – particularly pullbacks like we experienced in late 2018 – can be unnerving, prompting investors to make untimely decisions, becoming too aggressive when markets are high and too cautious when they’ve fallen.
Time is on your side
Historically, bull markets have lasted more than five times longer than bear markets, with an average return of well over 200%1, supporting the case for letting your investments grow over time. While the current expansion is one of the longest on record, we believe it’s still viable.
Remember, conditions are cyclical, and a bear market will emerge eventually. But instead of attempting to “time” the market, we think staying invested and periodically adjusting your portfolio based on your long-term goals can put you in a better position to stay on track over time.
Use hindsight to your advantage
Market fluctuations are inevitable. But instead of trying to avoid pullbacks, take advantage of them. Many of the best days in the stock market often follow the worst periods, so once they’ve occurred, look for opportunities to rebalance and buy into the dips.
Over the past 40 years, missing just the 30 best days in the market reduced the average annual return by roughly half.2 So while attempting to call the peaks seems like an attractive way to avoid the declines, unless you manage to pick the exact bottom of a downturn to reinvest, you’re likely to miss out on important, sizable gains. For example, the 19% stock market decline in late 2018 was followed by the strongest first-quarter return in 20 years.
While stocks have endured six pullbacks of 10% or more in the past decade, the average return over the following 12 months was 23%. More broadly, since 1948, the average returns in the year before and the year after historical bear markets were 24.1% and 46.5%, respectively – gains that easily would have been missed in an attempt to time the market.
Don’t follow the crowd
When it comes to investing, there isn’t necessarily safety in numbers. A recent study by Dalbar shows average investor returns have underperformed a buy-and-hold benchmark over the past 30 years. Why? Emotional reactions often lead to attempts to time the market – chasing gains and selling after declines have already occurred.
While the day-to-day news and swings in the market may be distracting, it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture upon which your long-term financial strategy is built. You can’t control market moves, but you are in complete control of your reactions to them. Constructing a portfolio that is aligned to your situation, and then making sound investment decisions and adjustments along the way, can put you on a steadier path toward achieving your financial goals.