“Sell in May and go away” is a well-known trading saying that warns investors to sell their stock holdings in May to avoid a seasonal decline in equity markets. However, there are too many factors influencing the price of stocks and bonds. Trying to predict what the market is going to do is extremely difficult.
If you are an experienced investor, the term “timing the market” probably sounds familiar. It refers to the idea that investors should buy stocks low and sell them high shortly after. It’s a smart, swift and painless method … or is it?
While timing the market is not a new idea, even professional traders, with all the training, tools and time at their disposal, regularly post losses. Some perform well for a while but it’s very difficult to consistently win over the long term.
Nevertheless, there is no shortage of money managers who claim to know how to beat the odds. You’ll find dozens of stock alert services on the internet, all offering to help you with timing the market. Be warned: the odds are very much stacked against you.
A smarter approach is to spend more time in the market by holding long-term investments rather than trying to time the market.
A perfect example is the recent price movements of Facebook after the privacy scandal involving Cambridge Analytica. The stock price fell from the $185 to $155 in a very short period of time. Many investors panicked and sold. The “Do Nothing” strategy would have been ideal in this case. See the year to date chart below:
Stock traders will argue that selling Facebook and buying it back again when the stock price hit a bottom would have been very profitable. In hind sight, it looks easy but it takes nerves of steel to buy a stock that is in a free fall.
We have all witnessed substantial market upheaval in the past. Many of us have had a window seat to watch how Wall Street responds to uncertainty and turmoil. The financial markets don’t like uncertainty. Why? Because it’s extremely difficult to try to predict the future. Take Tesla for example, lots of uncertainty and turmoil regarding this stock which is illustrated in their one year price chart below.
Odds are more traders lost money then made money trying to trade the ups and downs of Tesla over the past year.
Six tips for portfolio success
- The first thing to do is to set up your portfolio in a way that won’t keep you awake at night. For most people, a portfolio of stocks or index funds with some bonds probably works best. A good starting position is to consider a portfolio with 30 percent bonds (government bonds and corporate bonds, for instance) with the remainder in equities.
- The second thing to do is stop checking your investments frequently. Two to four times a year is all you need.
- Have faith, patience and discipline, markets rise and fall continuously. When they’re down it can be tempting to pull out. Commit to your long-term strategy and stay the course.
- Tune out the hype. If you watch the markets every day and read all the opinions, it will drive you crazy.
- Remember that cash is an asset class. Look for buying opportunities when the markets are down.
- When in doubt, get sound advice. Even if you’ve decided to buy and hold, you still need to know which investment opportunities are proven performers with a likelihood of continued strength. The right advisor will help you to wisely diversify your holdings.