It’s already been quite a year for investors. Since the start of 2022, the US S&P 500 stock index has plunged by more than 20%, officially taking it into ‘bear market’ territory.
In the UK, the FT-SE 100 index of leading companies can thank the fact that it is composed largely of ‘old economy’ stocks – commodities, energy, financials – for its relatively modest 3% decline
Wherever investors look, however, economic fear is in the driving seat thanks to the combination of post-pandemic global inflation, rising interest rates, extensive lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine.
None of these events were on investors’ radar this time last year – a stark reminder of how quickly economic and geo-political circumstances can change and affect our savings and investments.
As we move into the second half of 2022, the UK is being stalked by the threat of stagflation. The prospect of a full-blown recession is not out of the question.
Against this gloomy backdrop, we’ve asked commentators to share their thoughts on what investors can learn from events in the first part of this year and how they can position themselves for the remainder of the year.
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Brian Byrnes Head of Personal Finance, Moneybox
It’s been a tough first half of the year for investors, but there are some lessons we can take and reasons to be positive.
A key reminder should be the unpredictability of markets. ‘Value’ stocks [companies under-appreciated by the market] weren’t predicted to outperform ‘growth’ stocks [businesses expected to grow at a quicker than average rate], inflation was predicted to be “transitory,” and few predicted the UK market to outperform the US.
As investors, we should learn not to try and predict such movements and certainly not try and invest on the back of such predictions. Instead, we should aim to build our own personal financial plan based on factors within our control.
For example, if, as investors, we can keep a sensible amount in cash savings, use our available tax wrappers [such as individual savings accounts] efficiently, and invest regularly into long-term diversified portfolios, the unpredictable nature of markets has less of an impact on us than it does for those investing for short-term gain.
It’s also important, if possible, to keep our regular investments active as we are getting much more for our money than we were six months ago.
Annabel Brodie-Smith Communications Director, Association of Investment Companies
It’s been a challenging year for investors as prices rise and the terrible war in Ukraine has given inflation another unwanted boost. Many experts are predicting that inflation will remain high while the economy looks close to recession.
In these tough conditions, it’s important investors have a diversified portfolio, take a long-term view and, if in doubt, they should talk to a financial adviser.
Investors don’t need to rely solely on shares, but can also consider other relatively resilient assets such as infrastructure and renewable energy, which can be accessed through listed investment companies.
There are also a number of investment companies which aim to preserve investors’ capital by investing in a range of assets including inflation-linked bonds, gold, and carefully selected equities. These can add some defensive ballast to investors’ portfolios.
Income will be a high priority for some investors in this difficult environment. Some property investment companies deliver income which is contractually linked to inflation through indexing or upward-only rent reviews, providing some comfort to income seekers when inflation is rapidly rising.
Of course, dividends are not guaranteed and property would suffer from a prolonged downturn or if lockdowns returned. In general, investment companies have a strong track record of delivering income in difficult times, because they can hold back some of the income they receive from their portfolios to boost dividends when times are tough.
There are seven investment companies that have increased their dividends each year for fifty years or more, and 19 that have increased their dividends every year for over 20 years, known as the dividend heroes.
Investment companies have important features which can help investors when prices are rising and the economy is suffering. They provide permanent capital and are listed on the stock exchange, allowing investors to buy and sell their shares easily on the stock market. This means managers can take a long-term view of their portfolio and are never forced sellers.
Rob Morgan Chief Investment Analyst, Charles Stanley
Falling markets are one of the biggest challenges faced by investors. But these testing periods are an inevitable part of investing. In the long term, they can also present good opportunities to acquire assets as others despondently sell.
Bear markets blow excess froth and complacency away. Highly priced assets with overly optimistic projections built-in come back down to earth. More resilient, diversified portfolios do, inevitably, take a hit. But they live to fight another day and harness the next bull market.
It is generally wise to stand your ground and resist the urge to trade choppy or volatile markets.
Selling out involves two decisions: selling and then rebuying – and it is fiendishly difficult to time these actions correctly. What’s more, you’ll stop the flow of income from dividends and interest from your investments. Over the long term, dividends are an important source of return.
If the bear market is a wake-up call that your portfolio wasn’t sufficiently diversified, then consider taking measured action to ensure you have a better balance going forward. Blending investments with different characteristics and styles is often more useful than relying on geographical diversification.
For instance, more value-focused or dividend-oriented strategies offer something different to those whose portfolios have become dominated by growth companies.
Portfolio construction is important. But time is your best friend, so don’t underestimate the power of even modest investments early on in life. You don’t have to shoot for the moon. In fact, a more measured and disciplined approach is likely to be more sustainable and reliable over the longer term than chasing the latest fad or fashion.
Don’t stop the investment habit at just the wrong moment. Remember, when markets go down it can be a good time to accumulate.
Dips in the market, particularly in the early years, could even work to your advantage provided you have committed to investing for a lengthy period.
If your chosen investment has become cheaper to accumulate it means your investment buys more shares or units to keep for the long term.
Graham Bishop Chief Investment Officer, Handelsbanken Wealth & Asset Management
Financial markets are in the process of digesting a regime change at central banks, creating some volatility, and it can be very difficult to hold one’s nerve during such turbulence.
However, staying invested throughout a range of market conditions, rather than attempting to ‘time’ markets to perfection by moving in and out, is usually the best course of action.
History has shown that it takes time for markets to calm, but that these periods usually prove to be temporary.
With volatility comes opportunity, and we believe that bond markets are starting to offer some value again. Yields have risen, and we are seeing selective opportunities in a range of areas, from high-yielding Asian debt to short-dated UK government bonds.
With investors understandably preoccupied by fears of economic slowdown, we think they could be undervaluing critical areas of the stock market.
The share prices of small and mid-sized US companies have been harshly penalised: they appear to have been priced for impending severe economic recession, which we do not believe is likely.
Unduly overlooked areas like this can offer the potential for attractive future returns.
Alice Haine Personal Finance Analyst, Bestinvest
The markets may appear a little too topsy-turvey for the appetites of more nervous retail investors, but while some might be tempted to panic, sell their holdings and flee the market altogether – crystallising their losses in the process – the best strategy is to do the exact opposite.
Investing when markets are down makes sense if you adopt a long-term view of at least five years or more.
For those worried by the current volatility, waiting for the bear market to end to scoop up investments at bargain prices is not a wise idea, either, as again there is no crystal ball to tell you when the market has bit the bottom.
That’s why taking a long-term view is the best strategy because time in the markets, rather than timing the markets is the secret to riding out the daily ups and downs. Plus, by staying invested, you avoid missing the ‘good days’ when share prices can increase significantly.
The best approach for the rest of 2022 and beyond is to drip feed in smaller amounts either monthly or quarterly no matter what the price is at the time. That not only makes you disciplined about investing on a regular basis, but also minimises risk by ensuring you invest during the lows, when equity prices are cheaper, as well as the highs.
This strategy takes advantage of pound-cost averaging, which cushions some of the effects of volatility by averaging out the price you pay – making your investment costs lower over the long-term and, hopefully, the likelihood of securing decent returns much higher.
It also removes the emotion that is often tied to investing, meaning you can focus on life’s other priorities rather than panicking over the state of your portfolio.
Matthew Roche Associate Investment Director, Killik & Co
Markets have demonstrated their capacity for turbulence in 2022. Such turmoil is often as a result of emotion-over-reason and sentiment-over-analysis of company fundamentals. Many investors have taken fright and sold up.
Markets always have the capacity to move lower. Alas, no one rings a bell at the bottom. It is therefore vital that investors maintain a cash buffer for emergencies and plan major outlays well in advance.
If investors ringfence cash for these purposes, the money they are investing can genuinely be thought of as ‘life-time’ savings. As such, there should be no reason to be a forced seller in a bear market. Doing so would mean turning ‘paper’ losses into ‘actual’ losses.
We are focusing on a number of long-term growth themes including:
- Climate change incorporating energy renewal, energy and management businesses.
- Demographics & consumer preferences – such as changing consumer habits and innovation in healthcare.
- Infrastructure renewal – physical infrastructure and resource scarcity.
- Technological advancement – cloud, data, AI, digital transformation, ecommerce and electronic payments.
Scott Spencer Investment Manager, Multi-Manager Team, Columbia Threadneedle Investments
An investment theme that will serve retail UK investors well is to know that valuations are important once again.
The recent market bubble reflected the changes to the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic. Even now, it is difficult to discern whether the shift to working-from-home was temporary and will tail off as lockdowns end, or whether it marks a permanent change.
What do we know in the aftermath of this market bubble? Well, that some, but not all, cryptocurrencies are pointless and so have no value outside the enthusiasm that they generate.
Also, that large US technology companies – which are strong businesses that will continue to generate profits and growth for years to come – are better value after their fall.
The bubble saw a detachment of the market from fundamentals. The rise of inflation and increase of interest rates has meant that profits in the future are less valuable.
After the bubble, in a time of inflation and rising interest rates, it is crucial to ensure that investment is based on fundamentals. To be able to calculate valuations, the company must have assets and sales and profits and pay dividends to shareholders.
We remain mindful however, that we will see a weakening economic backdrop translate into a weaker environment for corporate earnings and, as we move into recession, it seems likely defaults will pick up.
So, we are moving cautiously. Equity and bond markets look set to remain volatile, but we will continue to see strong reversals from time to time as markets trend lower.
In the short term, market attention will soon turn to the Q2 earnings season and the focus will be on signs of earnings slowing. So far in this sell off, market prices have moved lower, but earnings expectations remain stubbornly high.
For the moment we remain cautious until we have a little more visibility on the outlook for growth, earnings and rates, something that may require a little patience.
Simon Gergel Fund Manager, Merchants Trust
In times of economic uncertainty and volatile stock markets it is best to focus on the medium to long term and try to avoid making decisions based upon short term news-flow and market noise.
We try to identify soundly-financed companies that we expect to emerge from current uncertainties with a strong, enduring business. We will look to buy these, if short- term volatility has left them trading at a significant discount to their future intrinsic value.
At the moment some of the best value is evident in the house building, retail and consumer sectors. That said, it is important to understand individual business models and risks.
Thomas Gehlen Market Strategist, Kleinwort Hambros
During these times, we rely on three main themes. Firstly, rather than following media-driven sentiment, trust the data. Inflation shows signs of peaking and monetary policy, while tightening, still remains loose by historical standards, so a severe recession is not our base case. Avoid panic and rash decision-making.
Secondly, maximise diversification. Throughout the cheap money era [when central banks globally deployed vast swathes of quantitative easing akin to printing money], it paid off to simply concentrate investment in equity growth trackers.
Given the heightened uncertainty, diversification has come back into focus. This includes traditional safe havens such as gold and government bonds, but also riskier yet less correlated asset classes such as commodities, hedge funds or infrastructure.
Lastly, remain flexible: we currently prefer a neutral stance on risk assets and some cash reserves to enable a rapid response should market conditions worsen or, indeed, turn for the better.
Dan Boardman-Weston CEO & CIO, BRI Wealth Management
The circumstances that have led us to this uncertainty may be novel, but uncertainty itself is not.
During times like this, it’s important to recognise the role emotion can play in investing as well as recognising it is also the first step in taking advantage of it.
Fear, desperation, panic, capitulation, despondency and depression are all emotions that we may feel about the markets over the coming period. Calm, rational thinking is essential, however, and it gives the patient and logical investor opportunities to generate attractive long-term returns.
Markets are likely to remain volatile over the coming months and so it makes sense to try and strike a balance between ‘offence’ and ‘defence’.
By ‘offence’, I mean that if investors are sitting on cash balances, then gradually investing some of that into the market would make sense over the coming months. So, too, does looking at relative value opportunities between and within asset classes.
For example, the FTSE 100 is down barely 1% this year due to its exposure to oil, mining and banks, whereas the FTSE 250 has declined nearly 20%. If that trend persists, then recycling capital from one area to the other could provide long-term opportunities.
Graham Bentley CIO, Avellemy
Unusually, even lower-risk investors have suffered because their ‘safe haven’ investments such as gilts and corporate bonds have suffered double-digit falls this year. Additionally, many investors in this situation are taking regular fixed withdrawals from diminishing pension portfolios and cannot ‘buy the bottom’ with new money.
That said, good companies don’t stop being good just because their prices fall. Equities go up over the long term, and it is better to buy them when they’ve fallen a lot.
Investors and their financial advisers might want to consider discussing a counter-intuitive strategy with their clients, for example, increasing equity exposure to protect their portfolios.
Jason Xavier Head of EMEA Capital Markets, Franklin Templeton
Recent events, such as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, highlight the need for liquidity [a measure of the ease with which an asset or security can be converted into ready cash] in investment portfolios.
In addition to the low costs and transparency benefits of exchange-traded funds (ETFs), investors are increasingly embracing their liquidity, too.
The robustness of the ETF eco-system has allowed investors to navigate these uncertain times as it has during past instances of market stress and will continue to serve investors as the economic backdrop remains challenging.
Adrian Gosden Investment Director UK Equities, GAM Investments
The outlook for investing in complex. Interest rates need to rise to bring inflation under control. Investors fear this may induce a recession.
Given this outlook, investors should concentrate on investing in equities that can deliver a robust and growing dividend. This will ensure you receive an income stream that has a good chance of keeping pace with inflation.
The UK market has a good income stream from dividends at the moment, but also has the advantage of significant corporate activity and share buybacks. This means you have a good chance of benefiting from more than just the dividend in 2022 and into 2023.
Mike Stimpson Partner, Saltus
The overall message to investors is “keep calm”. We are most likely passing through the worst period of market worries. Employment is high and wages are rising. Recent price falls have thrown up great opportunities as an enormous amount of bad news is now ‘in the price’.
We are also passing through the peak of inflation over the next three to four months. The pressure will start easing towards the end of 2022 and this will help markets find their feet. Keep thinking long term and, if you can, keep saving in ISAs and pensions. This is a good time to buy assets after their falls year-to-date.
Market volatility is a fact of life and it isn’t going to change but the good news is that the flipside of volatility is opportunity. A professional asset manager, with a global reach, can scour the world using market volatility to pick up great assets at good prices.
This is exactly what we are doing adding to everything from US small companies to gold.
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