NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The turbulence of the world’s major markets through the last few days — including the Dow's worst three-day point drop in history — likely has caused at least one or two panic attacks among retirement investors.
“I am currently spending a large part of my day reassuring and working with retirees or soon-to-be retirees on their investment portfolios,” said Eric Schaefer, a certified financial planner with Evermay Wealth Management in Virginia. “For the past few years the global equity markets have been abnormally calm.”
The shattering of that calm — which included the Dow diving almost 1,100 points in the first six minutes of trading this week and all three major U.S. averages falling into correction territory — may make some want to break from their retirement strategy and lock up what they have left.
Don’t do it, say the experts.
“The number one thing someone in retirement shouldn’t do is sell,” said Layton Cox, director of retirement plan consulting for Pathways Financial Partners in Tucson, Ariz. “Soon-to-be retirees should continue to save at their current rates. If the market drops further, soon-to-be-retirees should actually try to save more money.”
Cox said history shows that if one continues to save during a market crash, it does not take long to make their money back. He added if someone has more than ten years until retirement, they should do nothing different during the current correction. If a person has between ten and two years until retirement, they should make sure they have a diversified portfolio of global stocks and bonds — with a target-date or risk-based fund being good in that regard.
“Be sure to limit the amount of risk you are taking as you near retirement,” Cox said. “If you have less than two years until retirement, limit the amount of risk in your portfolio as much as possible. Continue to save and invest, but do so prudently into a diversified portfolio.”
Acting prudently while the market fluctuates violently can be difficult, but Lena Haas, senior vice president of retirement, investing and savings at E*TRADE, said amid current market volatility, it is critically important for investors to remain calm and stay the course.
“Investors who make emotional decisions or try to time the market inevitability end up buying high and selling low,” Haas said.
She said investors instead should use this as an opportunity to check in on their holdings to ensure they have a well-balanced, well-diversified portfolio that aligns with their risk tolerance and time horizon.
“By remaining focused on long-term goals, investors may be able to ride out the short-term volatility, or even a correction, and come out O.K.,” Haas added.
Robert Johnson, president and CEO of The American College of Financial Services, said common wisdom has been to have a greater allocation of assets in bonds and a lesser allocation in stocks as one approaches retirement. However, given the historically low levels of interest rates, Johnson said he believes currently there is actually more risk in the bond market than in the stock market.
“Interest rates can go nowhere but up from current levels,” Johnson said. “Thus, investors in long-term government bonds are subject to significant price risk, even if they bear no credit risk.”
He added contrary to conventional wisdom, investors often become too conservative as they approach retirement and run the risk of outliving their retirement assets. Johnson said one way to mitigate that risk is to purchase a longevity annuity — a contract that pays a fixed amount annually once the investor reaches a certain age, such as 80 or 85. Another strategy, he added, is to invest in a diversified portfolio of high-yielding dividend stocks — stocks that could be considered pseudo bonds, with upside potential with respect to both stock price and a growing dividend.
Regardless of how nervous the current market climate makes investors feel about their retirement investments, Schaefer said any volatility can be managed by having a structured plan and asset allocation in place.
“As different areas of the portfolio ebb and flow, disciplined rebalancing will add value over time,” Schaefer said. “Having a buffer of high quality, short-duration bonds or cash allows retirees to weather short term volatility without affecting their ability to fund the lifestyle they worked so hard to achieve. A formal financial plan provides the guidance in determining an appropriate amount of risk, size of safety net and reassurance over time.