Buckle up.

After a relatively calm year in 2017, volatility in the stock market has returned in a big way. The most often cited measure of volatility, the Cboe Volatility Index or VIX, has averaged 16.94 so far this year. That compares to a VIX of 11.85 for all of 2017.

This recent return to volatility has made Americans more concerned about protecting their nest eggs, and more willing to forego potential gains in exchange for more safety. Those are two key findings of the 2018 Market Perceptions Study from Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America (Allianz Life).

The study shows American investors have become more comfortable with short-term market gyrations - 35%, compared to 26% in 2015.

Still, 37% admit recent volatility has heightened their anxiety. A similar amount (38%) said that if a significant market decline caused them to lose a lot of money, there is no way they could rebuild their savings in time for retirement.

As a result, more Americans are also willing to forego potential gains for a product that will help safeguard their retirement account balances - 57%, compared to 48% three years earlier. And, when asked about important actions to take 5 to 10 years before the start of retirement, nearly a third (31%) said putting some of money into a financial product that offers a balance of potential growth (up to 10%) and some level of protection (no loss of money if the market goes down 10%).

Expectations of more volatility ahead is a major driver of this desire for financial protection, with more than 4 in 10 (42%) fearing a major market downturn or a major recession ahead (44%). This may be the reason behind growing interest in financial products that offer a balance of growth potential and protection.

The preference for a balanced financial product was even more pronounced among wealthier Americans. More than three-fourths (78%) of respondents with $200,000 plus in investable assets said it is important to them to have some of their savings in a financial product that protects it from market loss. Sixty-eight percent said they are willing to give up some potential gains for a product that protects a portion of their retirement savings (compared to 55% of those with less than $200,000 in investable assets).

Finding the right balance between risk management and potential rewards is one of the most difficult challenges of smart investing. Investing for retirement should be considered a marathon, not a sprint.

It's important to avoid overreacting to short term market swings. But, as you get closer to retirement, you will obviously have less opportunity to recoup losses from short term market downturns. So, it's a good idea to regularly re-evaluate your portfolio and your level of risk exposure. As a rule, as you age you should have less money in stocks and more in bonds, money market funds and other lower-risk investments - keeping some growth potential while protecting your assets.

To protect your retirement savings against stock market volatility, there are a number of traditional, fixed income products that can provide solutions. They include bond funds, ETFs, annuities, CDs and money market funds. Each type of investment poses a certain level of risk, and offers a level of potential reward. Please note that some annuities offer a level of protection through optional, additional cost riders. You can lower your stock market risk by allocating a greater portion of your portfolio into bond funds or ETFs.

Selling stocks and mutual funds with gains will result in capital gains taxes. But you can minimize tax consequences by selling stocks or equity mutual funds and ETFs in your tax-protected retirement accounts first, and reallocating those funds to non-equity funds.

You can also reduce tax liability by selling losing stocks in your taxable portfolio, which will balance off taxable gains. Annuities are financial products issued by insurance companies that may, for an additional cost, offer a level of protection against stock market risk while providing an income stream in retirement. Some products can offer more potential gain if you are willing to take on slightly more risk.

CDs and money market funds offer the highest level of safety, but the lowest return, especially in the current climate of historically low interest rates. Your financial advisor can help you decide what level of risk you are comfortable with, so you can make investment decisions based on knowledge and logic, rather than emotion and overreaction.

By: Kelly LaVigne
 
LaVigne is vice president of Advanced Markets for Allianz Life where he is responsible for the development of advanced programs that assist financial professionals in serving clients with retirement planning, estate planning and tax-related strategies. Prior to joining Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America in 2017, LaVigne was director of advanced markets and director of industry and regulatory strategies for Transamerica Capital Management. Before joining Transamerica, he led advanced markets for AXA Equitable. During his tenure at AXA, Kelly and his team published a book on retirement income planning, which was introduced as a tool for advisors to help develop or improve their retirement income practice. Prior to AXA, Kelly held leadership roles at ING/Aetna Financial Services and Travelers Life and Annuity.

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