By Sarah Ruef-Lindquist, JD, CTFA
Over the past weeks, my colleagues and I have been having many conversations with our clients who are investors. Yes, the stock market performance has been recently negative – 2018 could be flat compared to 2017, which was a post-recession ‘banner year’. Many are wondering whether they will lose more value in their portfolios, be flat, or just see a slower rate of growth in the coming months and years as compared to the impressive run-up that began almost 10 years ago and lasted through early 2018. Many got accustomed to double-digit returns, even if income was not what it had been before the 2008/2009 Great Recession.
Even more surprised, however, have been the investors whose portfolios are more modestly allocated in the stock market, and have generally between 60 and 80 percent in the ‘fixed income’ area of mostly bonds and bond funds. What those investors expected is that the majority of their portfolios would be insulated from a market downturn. What they did not expect is that as interest rates rise, the value of their existing bonds and bond funds would go down, at least on paper. When bond rates rise, the value of existing bonds with lower yields goes down.
Of course, holding a bond until maturity, while you collect the income it pays through yield, generally means you will recover your investment, plus the interest paid over time. However, it requires patience to wait for those maturities to occur, and in the meantime, your statement shows a lower value of those bonds, until you are able to redeploy their proceeds into higher yielding, and higher valued, bonds.
What these investors feel is the reduction – at least on paper – of the value of their fixed income assets, as well as the loss in value (or lack of growth) of their smaller allocation of stocks. The combination comes as a bit of a surprise to those who otherwise consider themselves (at least relative to those with higher stock allocations) conservative investors.
What’s an investor to do? The best advice might be “as little as possible, for as long as possible.” In other words, if you don’t need those funds in the short term, wait for those bonds to mature and allow your portfolio to redeploy their proceeds into higher yields and values. Don’t overlook that the bonds are producing some yield in the meantime, while you’re waiting for them to mature. Eventually, the fixed-income portion of the portfolio should recover its value and while it does, pay yields for income while you wait.
As always, consult your financial and tax advisors before making any decisions concerning your investments or financial plans to be sure they fit within your overall, long-term financial and estate planning goals.