Broker Check
Amidst Geopolitical Instability, An Opportunity To Find Comfort In The Past

Amidst Geopolitical Instability, An Opportunity To Find Comfort In The Past

March 01, 2022

Concerns about Russia's invasion of Ukraine have weighed heavily on Wall Street in recent days, including last week's broad declines that saw the S&P 500 close in correction territory, which is defined as more than 10% below its most recent high. At the same time, the Federal Reserve is broadcasting its intention to raise interest rates, which has caused the bond market to enter its own version of a bear market. Meaning stocks and bonds are moving down together albeit not at the same rate. Year to date the S&P 500 is down -8.3% and the Bloomberg Aggregate Bond Index is down -4.11%.

This has left many investors asking: "what's different now?" While we know current events are not easy to watch, it is important to recognize that the market's response is normal and is part of any normal "market cycle." In this environment, it can be helpful to put today's market volatility into perspective

Market pullbacks and corrections are common and to be expected

What's happening currently is nothing new in terms of volatility and pullbacks throughout history. According to data from Morningstar, pullbacks occur fairly often. As you'll see below, about 45% of trading days result in negative returns and more than 42% of the weeks during the year have finished in the red:

Trading PeriodFrequency of Negative Returns
Annually13 days

The volatility we've seen so far in 2022 is well inside these parameters, while we appreciate that current geopolitical instability has added to recent spikes.

Also, while market corrections are common, they are not nearly as common as predictions of market corrections. According to Forbes, since 1928, a correction of at least 10% has happened in the S&P 500 about once every 19 months. Of the 27 corrections since World War II, the index has experienced an average decline of 13.7%

Below is a list of the peaks and troughs (the lowest point) of the six corrections in the S&P500 since the end of the Great Recession in 2009. This includes the Covid-19 crack-up in February and March 2020, which would be more accurately described as a market crash, given the 33.9% peak-to-trough decline in the S&P 500.

PeakThroughDeclineDays Peak to Trough
April 23, 2010July 2, 2010-16%70 days
April 29, 2011Oct. 3, 2011-19.40%157 days
Nov. 3, 2015Feb. 11, 2016-13.30%100 days
Jan. 26, 2018Feb. 8, 2018-10%13 days
Sept. 20, 2018Dec. 24, 2018-19.80%95 days
Feb. 19, 2020March 23, 2020-34%33 days

It is important to limit your downside risk

Regardless of an investor's appetite for risk, it is important to limit your downside risk to help ensure that you are not taking on more risk than you are comfortable assuming or more than your financial plan allows for. Employing strategies to help limit your downside risk should be a fundamental component of your investment strategy.

A key tactic to mitigate downside risk is diversification. This extends beyond simply having an appropriate mix of stock and bond investments. Such an approach is incredibly important and serves as a core building block for virtually all portfolios.

True diversification includes adding asset classes like real estate and other alternatives that don't correlate as strongly to traditional stocks and bonds. In addition, diversification includes investing internationally to take advantage of opportunities in both foreign developed markets and emerging markets.

The point of investment diversification is to not have all your investment eggs in one basket, as the saying goes. Different asset classes and geographic regions behave differently under different market and economic conditions. A properly diversified portfolio can help investors capture market upsides while limiting the impact of disruptions and down markets in accordance with their risk tolerance.

Take advantage of market swings to maximize investment opportunities

If you invest, you need to come to terms with the fact that the market will move both up and down somewhat regularly, and perhaps even more during periods of geopolitical instability. Instead of fearing these downward swings, use them to your advantage. One such strategy is systematic monthly investments or dollar cost averaging that happens automatically. That way that you will continue to invest as the markets decline thereby buying at lower prices whereas our human fear instinct will cause you to not invest or worse disinvest right when it would be most advantageous to invest.

Another key tactic to employ is portfolio rebalancing. Set a target asset allocation for each asset class in your portfolio. This includes the sub-asset classes of stocks and bonds like domestic and international stocks and bonds as well. Beyond this, the allocation includes alternative asset classes such as real estate and others.

When developing an asset allocation strategy, you should set ranges for allowable variances in the allocation to a given asset class. This might be + or – 5% of the target allocation, for example. If the allocation to that asset class varies outside of that range for any amount of time we rebalance. This may involve selling part of the asset class if the variation is to the high side, or directing assets from another part of the portfolio to an asset class whose allocation has moved past the lower end of the target range.

A downturn in the market often results in equity-based asset classes dipping below the rebalancing threshold of their target allocation. Redirecting money to these asset classes when the markets are lower and therefore prices are lower, can result in the classic buy- low situation.

Active portfolio monitoring is critical

Knowing when to take actions, such as rebalancing, is the result of active portfolio monitoring, and you should monitor allocations on a regular basis and rebalance at regular intervals.

Beyond this, stay on top of where you've invested. The characteristics of both individual securities and managed investments can change over time. Change is a constant in the financial markets so we don't hesitate to "pull the trigger" on an investment when the situation warrants it.

Proper diversification along with active portfolio monitoring are some of the most important tactics you can employ. We take this a step further by tailoring these functions to your unique financial situation.

A good financial professional can help make your journey easier. Our goal is to understand our clients' needs and then try to create plans to address those needs. While we cannot control financial markets, geopolitical instability, inflation, or interest rates, we keep a watchful eye on them. We can discuss your specific situation during a complimentary financial consultation, please call to schedule an appointment. As always, we appreciate the opportunity to assist you and your financial matters.

Westfield Financial Planning ("WFP") is an independent Registered Investment Adviser ("RIA") with the Securities Exchange Commission ("SEC"). WFP is a privately owned, independent asset management and wealth advisory firm. Any reference to advisory services refers to WFP. SEC registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. Information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. The data presented herein has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however WFP does not guarantee its accuracy or completeness. Investments involve risk and, unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a WFP and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Past performance is not indicative of future results.