The first 20 years of this century have been a wild ride financially. We had the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, the great recession in 2008-2009 and now the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Just a few months ago, our economy was roaring, the markets were at all-time highs and unemployment was at a 50-year low. With the onset of the pandemic, the markets have sold off by as much as 30% and unemployment has increased by over 20 million Americans since the beginning of February.
The markets have regained some of that lost ground, anticipating that we will start to flatten the pandemic curve and start to see a decline in the number of new cases. Further, the market is anticipating that we may have a vaccine or vaccines available within a year. However, we are cautioned that vaccines typically take much longer to develop.
If we have a strong resurgence in new cases along with numerous hotspots flaring up again this fall and/or the prospect of a vaccine is later rather than sooner, the markets could go into a freefall again. The one thing we are fairly certain of is that the longer it takes us to get back to work, the more damage there will be to our economy.
I have written several times in the past about risk. When we are young and have 30 or 40 years before we anticipate accessing our retirement funds, our timeline is long and we can afford to take more risk in our investments. As we grow older and our timeline shortens, we should reduce the amount of risk in our investment portfolio. The old rule of thumb is subtract your age from 100 and that is the percentage of equity or stock exposure you should have in your portfolio. Given the volatility we’ve had in the markets over the past 20 years, that may be a bit too risky for even younger investors.
The market will remain volatile for the time being. For younger and middle-age investors who have already taken a hit to their portfolio, you have time on your side to hang onto your current portfolio and ride it out. For older investors that have taken a hit, you may want to make some adjustments.
Examples of investments that have weathered this storm better than equities are U.S. treasuries, bonds and gold. For most of us, I’m talking about mutual funds and/or exchange traded funds that base their value on U.S. treasuries, bonds or gold.
We will emerge from this pandemic and when we do, it is very probable that the markets will regain lost ground. In fact, with the economy as strong as it was and with markets as hot as they were, there may be a very attractive investment opportunity in the future. However, in the long-term, the 800-pound gorilla for this country is the level of debt that we are incurring. When we emerge from this crisis, we will be approaching a $30 trillion deficit in this country. Given that our debt equates to over $200,000 per taxpayer, it will be difficult to pay back. National debt doesn’t matter until there’s a loss of confidence in the country’s ability to manage it. So long as interest rates are low, debt is manageable. Someday, interest rates will come off these historic lows and debt will become much more problematic. If we don’t manage our debt better, we may kill the dollar someday.
Larry Martin is an investment adviser representative at Mader & Shannon Wealth Management, Inc., 4717 Grand Ave., Ste. 800, Kansas City, MO, 64112.