Some investors are right to worry
Jonathan Chevreau The National Post Wednesday, April 05, 2000

We've seen this horror movie before, haven't we? For those who view the stock market as the equivalent of flying to retirement, this week's action is the turbulence that comes with the flight.

Jim Rogers, chairman of Vancouver-based Rogers Financial Advisors Ltd., has long used the flying analogy with his clients. The only way to get from Vancouver to Toronto the same day is to fly, and equity investing is similarly the most assured way to get to Retirement City in reasonable comfort.

To be sure, if you're flying Air Equity this week, the air pocket looked vicious. The fact so many investors were searching for their barf bags around lunchtime yesterday was fodder for the media and financial Web sites. At one point the rocket chips on the Nasdaq exchange had fallen by almost 20% before reversing most of that loss. If your entire net worth was or is concentrated in tech stocks, that queasy feeling in your stomach may have been justified. There's no sugar-coating the fact that if you borrowed money to invest in nothing but dot-coms you may indeed -- and may yet -- have a problem.

But for most ordinary balanced investors who possess the requisite long-term investment horizon, the market blip is unlikely to be a serious drag on wealth.

After so many months in which greed had the upper hand, it was to be expected that fear would have its day. Today's newspapers will be filled with scary words like "crash" and "plummet." Your best course of action may be to do little more than save those papers: When things return to normal and markets resume their ascent, today's coverage may be both instructive and amusing.

In the meantime, try and cultivate a spirit of detachment, as does popular Web site contributor "Bylo Selhi," who continually strives to live up to his anonymous handle: "I'm doing absolutely nothing but watching with detached indifference as everyone panics. I was comfortable with my asset allocation last year, last week and yesterday. I see no reason to change it today."

Those who have most of their assets in the capable hands of professional managers -- and that includes mutual funds --should not be overly concerned. If you're a high-net-worth investor using "discretionary management" ( in which the pros are also picking your funds and proportions of the major asset classes) there is nothing you need to do. You are, of course, entitled to phone your relationship manager for a little reassurance.

To return to the aircraft analogy, if you're in Managed Money (mutual funds, pooled funds, wrap accounts, Segregated Management, etc.) you've essentially handed the investment driving over to a professional pilot. You wouldn't dream of opening a plane door in flight and bailing out, so why are these markets any different? You're paying the pilot to fly. Your job is to read, sleep, eat or watch the inflight movie.

Jim Rogers counsels investors to behave like Rip van Winkle: "Go to sleep IF (1) you/your advisor have an investment policy statement for you that is current; (2) your existing investment portfolio is reflective of that policy statement; (3) your investment horizon is five years or longer. If any one of these is not the case, repeat steps (1) and (2), in that order."

Wayne Lang, a financial advisor with Toronto-based The Equion Group was cautious with clients in the period leading up to Y2K. But this week, his advice to clients is "Do not panic! People only lose money when they sell at market lows. Experience has shown us that we will have a recovery in due course. A well-balanced portfolio, as we all should have, is buffered against the extremes of this week's market."

Not everyone has an investment counsellor or excellent advisor of course. If you're a do-it-yourselfer, trading nothing but tech stocks through a discount broker, you have a little more to worry about.

If you pick your own mutual funds, those who have exposure to stocks, bonds and other asset class, or own funds with a mixture of growth and value investment styles have little to worry about.

If you're 100% in aggressive growth funds, or leveraged, then you may be rightly concerned. It's a little late to discover the virtues of diversifying by asset class, geography and investment style. Bailing now means crystallizing what would otherwise be mere paper losses.

Perhaps best to fasten your seatbelt. Once the plane lands safely, you may wish to reassess the virtues of finding an excellent investment advisor and/or Managed Money.

Certainly there were pockets of relative stability this week: gold or banking stocks, for example. Value managers may have had their day in the sun yesterday too. For example, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. was nicely up yesterday. Investors were rotating among stocks but not leaving equities en masse.

"This is the best kind of correction that we can have, because money is not leaving the market; it is just reverting to the conservative stocks," said Louis Navellier, a fund manager. Investors are seeking safe haven in value stocks, especially financial stocks. "In the meantime," he says, "there is a sale on the growth stocks."

Patrick McKeough, editor of The Successful Investor newsletter, says a two-tier market in Internet stocks is developing, just as there are now two tiers in the broad market.

"The Microsofts, IBMs, HPs etc. will recover and go on to new peaks, but the Internet mania that launched a thousand stock promotions may be over. So it's too late to sell high-quality stuff, but a good time to sell junk -- all the more so if you hold it on margin."

At the same time, the two tiers in the broad market may get closer together as investors get back in unflashy, low-P/E stocks including the banks and things like Canadian Tire, Mr. McKeough says.

By the time you read this, the turbulence should be all but over. If you felt queasy for a few hours, you may have discovered your risk tolerance and asset allocation are different than what you may have thought. Consider yourself warned.

 

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