In the current market, where U.S. stocks are down more than 7% and bonds have dropped nearly 9% so far this year, investors may be feeling the pressure to take more risks in order to get more reward. But they should be risking less, writes Jason Zweig in The Wall Street Journal. When the market is this punishing, it’s more difficult to rebound after a serious stumble, and investors simply can’t rely on a volatile market to either reward risks or pull them back onto their feet after falling down.
U.S. stock exposure has gone up 27%, according to a March survey from BofA Global Research—even though many of those surveyed said their cash holdings have climbed up. And 42% of fund managers say their investment horizon is 3 months or shorter—up from 26% in February. Individual investors aren’t shying away from risk either; alternative investments are currently very popular despite inflexibility and higher fees. A common method for investing in alternatives is through unlisted, closed-end funds where investors can only sell at pre-set times. This approach that can reap big gains while also generating hefty fees for managers: expenses are often more than 1.5% per year. By the end of 2021, $93.7 billion was managed in these types of funds, according to Fuse Research Network that is cited in the article.
But these kinds of approaches are not long for this world, says Antti Ilmanen, a strategist at AQR Capital Management who recently published the book Investing Amid Low Expected Returns. With assets at record highs, future returns will obviously be lower. Even if the market continues to go up, those highly-valued holdings now will generate lower returns in the future.
Zweig offers a few pieces of advice for braving the current market for a better future. Put more into savings and spend less, particularly on fees, he writes. Avoid going after assets that aren’t liquid, especially since many have become expensive compared to publicly traded stocks, like private equity. And look beyond the U.S.; foreign stocks are much cheaper than U.S. stocks. But most of all, Zweig writes, don’t try to catch up by taking more risks. Those holdings that that may have looked safe during a bull market could actually turn out to be a bad risk that won’t recover as quickly as in the past. The article quotes Ilmanen in conclusion: “If you take less risk now, not more, you will be able to swing at the fat pitches when they come.”