Financial advisors know what you're seeing out there and have one bit of advice before you start ditching stocks and tinkering with your long-term investments: don't panic.
Market volatility isn't pleasant, and the last few weeks haven't been much to look at. China's market has tanked. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is roughly 3,000 points off its 52-week high and dropped about 2,000 points during the first three weeks of 2016 alone. There are concerns over China’s slowdown and growing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Nigel Green, chief executive of U.K.-based financial consulting firm DeVere, believes that volatility in the markets will remain through the first half of 2016 as higher U.S. interest rates, low oil prices and Britain's referendum on leaving the E.U. are just adding to a "cocktail of uncertainty." However, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"Despite this potent combination, there are reasons for investors to be cheerful," Green said. "For example, a lower oil price will not only boost household budgets, which is likely to increase disposable income, but the travel sector, amongst others, will reap the rewards. Another example would be that Japanese and European shares are likely to do well on the back of interest rate hikes in the U.S."
Even China's economic uncertainty isn't necessarily a harbinger of disaster. Joe Correnti, senior vice president of brokerage products at Scottrade, noted that China represents only about $8 out of every $100 in U.S. export sales. A slowdown within the Chinese economy would certainly have an effect, but Correnti said that the effect will be minimal since the Chinese economy is still growing. That said, there might still be significant impact on other global markets if China's rate of growth isn't as brisk as it would like it to be. That volatility tends to level out once those variables become certainties.
"Uncertainty typically causes the greatest market volatility," Correnti said. "Until the outlook for the Chinese economy is further understood, we would expect additional volatility for U.S. and global markets."
Fortunately, financial advisors say their U.S. clients have learned a few lessons from the last economic downturn and are better prepared for the volatility headed their way. Roughly 44% of investors surveyed by the Hartford Fund think their overall financial situation will improve in 2016, with 54% saying they are confident about their investments. Only 14% anticipate that their financial situation will worsen in 2016. In fact, 91% of investors between the ages of 18 and 44 and 89% between the ages of 45 and 59 plan to pay down debt, review and adjust investments, spend less, save more or downsize their lives within the next year.
"Investors’ confidence should be tied directly to tracking against their goals and having a strong understanding of how life can throw financial curve balls," said John Diehl, senior vice president of strategic markets at Hartford Funds.
The folks at the Hartford Funds call that optimism, but it looks a whole lot more like pragmatism in the face of an uncertain financial future. Nearly 40% of those surveyed expect to experience a significant life event in 2016. Nearly 20% of Americans expect to be dealing with an aging parent in 2016. On top of that, 18% of respondents younger than 45 expect a parent or child to move into their home in 2016. However, despite the financial implications of those events, more than half of investors don’t expect them to hurt their finances in 2016.
"Nearly all major life events have financial implications," said Bill McManus, director of strategic markets at Hartford Funds. "It’s easier to plan for and reach those financial goals when we can anticipate events, such as sending a child to college. However, it’s just as important to plan for the unexpected. Advisors have a real opportunity to provide strategic direction when there’s no clear road map for the unknown."
For some investors, it's just a matter of taking a few precautions and avoiding the market's worst peaks and valleys. Scottrade's Correnti suggests reviewing all your investments and investment accounts as if they were one portfolio. Attempt to balance the mix of stocks, bonds and other investments within your portfolio to meet your needs, including your ratio of small-cap, mid-cap and large-cap stocks. Review your mix of international investments and, while reviewing the size of the companies you hold, consider the industries or sectors they operate within and how they might weather the current economic climate.
"Volatility can represent enormous opportunity," DeVere's Green said. "When markets fall, it is a chance for investors to start putting new money to work into the market at lower prices. Whilst it is almost impossible to forecast with accuracy what the stock market will do in the immediate future, it can be pretty predictable over the longer-term."
"A well-diversified portfolio and a good fund manager will help investors capitalize on the opportunities the volatility brings and sidestep potential risks," he adds.