For the first time since 1990, the taxable bond market, as measured by the Lehman Brothers Aggregate Bond Index, appeared nearly certain to outperform the U.S. stock market, as measured by the S&P 500?. The former was up nearly 10% year to date through November, while the S&P 500 was down by approximately the same amount. Disappointing corporate earnings and uncertainty concerning a president-elect toppled the stock market late in the period.
First, investors are encouraged to take a long-term view of their portfolios. If you can afford to leave your money invested through the inevitable up and down cycles of the financial markets, you will greatly reduce your vulnerability to any single decline. We know from experience, for example, that stock prices have gone up over longer periods of time, have significantly outperformed other types of investments and have stayed ahead of inflation.
Second, you can further manage your investing risk through diversification. A stock mutual fund, for instance, is already diversified, because it invests in many different companies. You can increase your diversification further by investing in a number of different stock funds, or in such other investment categories as bonds. If you have a short investment time horizon, you might want to consider moving some of your investment into a money market fund, which seeks income and a stable share price by investing in high-quality, short-term investments. Of course, it’s important to remember that an investment in a money market fund is not insured or guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or any other government agency. Although money market funds seek to preserve the value of your investment at $1.00 per share, it is possible to lose money by investing in these types of funds.
Finally, no matter what your time horizon or portfolio diversity, it makes good sense to follow a regular investment plan, investing a certain amount of money in a fund at the same time each month or quarter and periodically reviewing your overall portfolio. By doing so, you won’t get caught up in the excitement of a rapidly rising market, nor will you buy all your shares at market highs. While this strategy – known as dollar cost averaging – won’t assure a profit or protect you from a loss in a declining market, it should help you lower the average cost of your purchases. Of course, you should consider your financial ability to continue your purchases through periods of low price levels before undertaking such a strategy