Stay the course: How to handle market volatility

For investors, a market pullback can be a painful thing. No one likes to see the value of their account go down. The good news: If you have a long time to stay invested, and you are invested in a diversified asset mix that reflects your time horizon, financial situation, and risk tolerance, you can ride it out. But ignoring the stock market noise and sticking with your investments isn’t easy. The human brain is hardwired to be wary of uncertainty. While that might have helped in the past, it’s a risky instinct for investors.

If you are a long‐term investor with a solid plan, your best strategy is likely to stay the course.

Here are four strategies that may help you stick with your retirement savings plan during market volatility.

1. Keep saving and investing.

Some investors have a tendency to try to time the market in an attempt to avoid downturns and capture gains—but most are not very successful. History shows that, in aggregate, many investors often buy into markets near peaks and sell near bottoms.

Instead of trying to jump in and out of the market, you can reality-check your investment mix to be sure it still aligns with your goals and risk tolerance. If it does, it makes sense to continue to make contributions to your UC 403(b), 457(b) and/or DC Plan. Making these regular, equal investments over time is known as “systematic investing.”

There could be an advantage with this approach: You could end up with a lower cost per share, on average, than if you had invested larger amounts less frequently. (See how to put the law of averages to work for your investments.)

Keep in mind systematic investing does not ensure a profit or guarantee against a loss in a declining market. But it could help you prepare for tomorrow while sleeping more soundly tonight.

2. Remember that time is on your side.

What's the “secret sauce” in long‐term investing for a long-term goal like retirement? Time. Over the long term, even historic downturns can look like blips. 

  • On average since 1926, stocks have dipped into bear market territory every 6 years with losses averaging almost 40%.*
  • But while market downturns may be unsettling, history shows stocks have recovered and delivered long-term gains.

Even accounting for inflation, your initial investments still have the potential for exponential growth in the long term. For example, you’d need $655 to buy today what you could buy for $100 in 1971, due to today’s higher cost of living. If you had invested that $100 in stocks 50 years ago, by 2020 you would have had $17,466. And if you had invested that same $100 in other basic asset classes in 1971, such as long-term government bonds or short-term securities, your money would have grown to $3,260 or $911, respectively, by 2020—still much higher than the inflation value.

Over time, the market has gone up most of the time—just not in a straight line..

3. Don't become obsessed with checking balances during times of volatility.

Doesn't it feel good when you check your account and see that it's up? Peeking into your account after a drop doesn't. Short circuit your impulse to flee stocks by not checking your investment as often during periods when the market falls.

Until you actually sell your investments, any gains or losses are just on paper. If you do sell, you’ve effectively locked in those losses. Selling investments may also cost money, in the form of trading commissions or redemption fees—but those costs are small potatoes compared with the opportunity cost of being out of the market. So, stick with your plan and stay invested. You'll probably be better off in the long run.

4. Consider rebalancing.

Assuming you're comfortable with your investment plan, check to see whether your asset mix may have veered off course due to the recent market pullback. If so, consider rebalancing to your target mix. Rebalancing into investments that have lost value during a down market means investors may invest at a lower price.

Consider a quick example. Say Sam (a hypothetical investor) rebalances annually. Imagine that this year, the stock portion of Sam's portfolio has declined, while bonds produced smaller losses. Sam's instinct may be to buy more bonds and avoid buying the losers, but buying the losers is precisely what rebalancing means—buying more stocks, either by reallocating investments or putting new money to work.

Like systematic investing, rebalancing can help an investor buy low—when investments are effectively on sale. Over time, that discipline can pay off.

The bottom line

Markets will rise and markets will fall, and with the changes, opportunities will appear. To make the most of a bad market, consider taking advantage of lower-cost investments through a disciplined strategy. Once you're on the other side of the volatility, chances are you'll be really happy that you stuck with your plan.

Have questions? Meet with a UC-dedicated workplace financial consultant to review your investing strategy. You can meet by phone, via video conference, or in person.

*UPDATE: All in-person appointments are currently being conducted by phone or video only.*


Watch the video - Stay the Course