When the market is on a bull run, as it was in the earlier part of the year, or during the first half of 2007, investors tend to neglect risks. However recent events (triggered by US subprime and financial meltdown) demonstrated that investing in stock markets isn’t for the faint of heart. A case in point is that for the past few months, wild swings of daily stock market indexes by few percentage points were common. How does one manage his or her portfolio in such volatility? For some, unloading all their stocks and keep all their CASH safely in the bank may sound the safest option. Others may switch part or entire portfolio to other safer instruments such as gold or commodities, or cash instruments.
Getting It Right From The Start
While timing everything right seems impossible, there are better ways to manage one’s portfolio. Essentially, getting it right at the start is important. One will worry less if one’s portfolio is structured right to start off with, that is, maintain an asset allocation strategy based on one’s personal risk profile at the very first place. With asset allocation, diversify one’s portfolio is the key, in order to reduce over dependence of a specific asset class, that is.
One such method is to consider various instruments that have low correlation to one another. For example, while directly investing in individual stocks has good direct exposure, consider investing in unit trusts or ETFs, where typically the funds will be invested in a basket of stocks instead of one individual stock. In principal, stocks tend to be a lot more volatile than equity unit trusts for the reason that funds tend to be more diversified because they are invested in multiple stocks.
Other low correlation asset classes include bonds, commodities (gold, metals) and real estate properties. Gold is a perfect case in point, where prices have escalated by around 50% from 2007 to-date due to sky rocketing crude oil prices and perception of safe-heaven characteristic.
Adopt Mid to Long Term Horizon
The longer the time horizon is, the more volatility one can tolerate as one has more time to recover from short term volatility. Putting a mid to long term strategy in place will certainly allow an investor to take into consideration factors that will affect one’s portfolio, such as market cycles, political stability and economic swings.
While i agree that investing in general should be taken with a long term perspective, it is not a hard and fast rule as it is also important to stay objective and be alert to potential major changes in business or economic environment from both local and global perspective. For example, while investing in China equity at one point (prior to 2007) may be a great idea tapping into the explosive growth of Chinese companies, an investor should consider unloading some or all of the funds invested to else where when Chinese stocks were trading at lofty and unrealistic valuations. Another example is when subprime issues first surfaced, it is wise to find out from the brokers or agents immediately where their property trust funds were invested. It is wise to liquidate such investments when the stakes are high!
Invest regularly is also a good way to manage periodic market volatility. For many this could be in the form of monthly investment, directly from their monthly income or retirement fund savings. In essence one will continue to invest a particular sum of money regardless of whether the market rises or falls. This method is also commonly termed as Dollar Cost Averaging.
One may choose to invest more regularly during the bull market and less regularly during the bear market. However, again there is really no hard and fast rule, it all depends on each individual’s risk profile and preference.