Looking back two years, U.S. stocks have risen more than 30 percent. There have been occasional dips along the way, though the rise has been pretty much non-stop. The first week of February 2018 jolted investors back to reality, as stocks fell more than 10 percent in a short period of time. The numbers themselves sounded scary. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1,800 points in a few days; it was easy to forget the drop was from record heights of 26,000. Since then, markets have recovered more than half of that unnerving slide.
Successful Investors Keep Seatbelts Fastened
It’s a challenge to remain calm during a substantial market decline for some investors. Once again, we have witnessed how important it is to block out “The sky is falling!” media warnings. Emotional reactions are likely to be detrimental for investors. The fact is volatility is a normal part of investing. It is always there. It’s interesting to note that we most often see the term “volatility” used when markets fall, and yet markets are “volatile” on the upswing, too, as we have seen for a good stretch of time.
Investors are well-advised to “stay in their seats with seatbelts fastened” when things get bumpy. Intra-year market declines are common, according to academic research by Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA). Looking back to 1979, DFA found that about half the years experienced declines at some point of more than 10 percent. Despite those significant drops, calendar year returns finished positive 32 of 37 years.
The DFA study also determined that trying to avoid short-term losses through market timing is apt to hinder long-term performance. A substantial piece of long-term stock returns comes from just a handful of up days. An investor attempting to time the market is all too likely to be on the sidelines on strongly positive days. Through the period of 1990 to 2017, missing out on only the five best days cut returns by a full one-third.
As the markets jump and jolt, try to remain seated and relaxed. Better yet, get up and do something you enjoy. Go for a walk or out to a movie, and let the markets do what they will from day to day knowing that you have a long-term plan.