What should you do? Many of you won’t like this, but despite your fears and cynicism, you need to have some of your money in stocks.
As I’ve written many times, you should probably hold less stock than investment advisors suggest—recent research shows investors don’t need huge equity positions, especially as they approach retirement, to help them preserve their money over time. If you’re less than ten years away from retirement, you should keep no more than 40% of your money in equities.
That limits, but doesn’t eliminate, your risk. For example, if you have $100,000 in investable assets and put 30% of it in, say, a total US market index fund and another 10% into a total international market fund, a crash of 50% would drive your total portfolio down 20%. If you had 60% in stocks, as too many financial advisors once recommended, your portfolio would be down 30% altogether, a much bigger gap to fill. People learned this lesson the hard way in 2008 and 2009.
But unlike then, bond yields are shockingly low. Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPs) have had negative yields for months on end. So I wouldn’t put any new money into them, regular Treasuries, high-yield bonds, or investment-grade bonds separately. Instead, I’d put another 30% of my mythical $100,000 portfolio into a mixture of short- and intermediate-term total bond market index funds or ETFs to limit your down side when rates rise again.
Then I’d have 5% each in gold, energy, agricultural commodities, and REIT funds or ETFs for diversification’s sake. The remaining 10% would be in cash.
There you have it—nothing too exciting. And some of these asset classes are, as I said, very highly priced. If you’re looking to invest new money, I’d average in to some of them over the next few months. I also like to add a little to my stock holdings when the market looks oversold and take some profits when it’s looking too frothy.
For the record, I think low trading volume, a VIX below 15, high levels of insider selling, and a market rally that has bred complacency all suggest stocks could correct before moving higher again in the weeks and months before the election.
Finally, here’s my best advice: Too many people think of investing as a black-or-white proposition. Either the market is great, so you should have 100% in stocks or it’s terrible, so you should have nothing invested. (Unfortunately, too many people on both sides of the aisle think about politics that way, too.)
But life isn’t like that. Often we have to make choices among several unpalatable alternatives. How many of you have stuck it out in a job you didn’t like because you couldn’t find a better one? How many bright high school kids don’t get accepted to the college of their choice and have to go to a “safety” school? And yet, sometimes things work out for the better anyway.
So, what was Jack Bogle’s advice for investors in what he called the worst market in the last 60 years? The same thing it’s always been—“stay the course.”
That, by and large, is mine, too. As Woody Allen once said, 80% of life is just showing up—even when, like now, that seems to be the most difficult thing to do.Howard R. Gold is editor at large for MoneyShow.com and a columnist for MarketWatch. Follow him on Twitter @howardrgold and catch his commentary on politics and the economy at www.independentagenda.com.