Stock Market Jitters? Try Some Patience and Perspective

(Associated Press) To state the obvious, the stock market is a little scary these days.

A viral outbreak has spread to nearly 60 countries and shows little sign of abating. That in turn has stirred worries about the economy on a global scale.

Now, the stock market has surrendered nearly five months worth of gains in an alarmingly short amount of time. Investors can find it difficult to stay the course when uncertainty rules, but experts say that is precisely when they should do so.

“Ultimately no one knows what will happen, and that’s why it is important to avoid rash reactions when markets get shaky,” said Corbin Blackwell, a financial planner with online investment firm Betterment.

Investments should be made as part of a long-term plan. And those plans won’t be entirely upended by short-term ups and downs.

What about the 11.5% drop in the S&P 500 this week? It sounds big, but it represents just a fraction of the gains of the past decade, during which time investors benefited from the longest bull market of all time. The index is still up 337% since March 9, 2009, the start of the bull run.

If you are still uneasy, check in with your financial planner or investment firm. They can let you know if your plan is on track.

Now might be a good time to rebalance your portfolio, to make sure you are holding the right mix of assets for your goals. After all these years of big market gains, some people may have more weight in stocks than they need. Some people may want to take advantage of a dip to buy stocks.

J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist with TD Ameritrade, says investors sometimes make the mistake of being either all in or all out when it comes to their approach to investing in the stock market.

“For those who use the dip as a buying opportunity, buy a small amount. If we do (fall) further, it gives you another buying opportunity at a better price.”

If you are considering retirement in the next few years and are getting nervous about market volatility, Blackwell said decreasing exposure to stocks might help you sleep better at night.

Any money you need in the next few years shouldn’t be invested in stocks. So, make some minor adjustments based on your needs but avoid the urge to sell off all the stock holdings in your retirement account because you may need something to last you 20 years or more.

And panicking can cost you: There are fees, taxes and lost potential gains. Think of the people who sold off at the market’s bottom during the Great Recession and missed out on some of the greatest gains of all time in the recovery that followed.

“Market volatility is scary and nerve-wracking to watch,” said Andrew Meadows, a senior vice president at Ubiquity Retirement + Savings, a retirement plan provider based in San Francisco. But he reminds people that much of the action investors are seeing in the market right now is short term.

If you simply must do something, build up emergency savings.

Americans are woefully unprepared for financial disruptions such as a major expense, illness or job loss. Having a little extra stashed away could help if you face job loss, illness or even time away from work for a quarantine. But more likely, it will keep you financial protected for any challenge that is thrown your way.