The Pandemic: What we learned (again)
“With women controlling more and more assets, this growing financial power represents anything but a niche market,” – Charles Schwab Asset Management
Women interested in money management, long-term investing and building a retirement portfolio should see 2020’s pandemic stock market ups and downs as a great lesson. As one analyst put it recently in the Wall Street Journal, “it felt like something different, but it wasn’t.”
He meant that when Covid-19 infections swept the world, shutting down the global economy, killing the travel industry, closing restaurants, and most everything else, it felt like something new, something awful. Panic set in, investors felt the fear and stocks sold off in March 2020 by 34 percent. That’s a bear market.
But 2020 taught us that what feels new is mostly not. Here are the lessons we relearned.
Lesson No. 1
Seasoned investors stay the course. Those who sold off stock investments in the 2020 panic were then faced with a tough decision – when to buy back in? Many did not! Several friends told me that they were bailing out of stocks. They were scared by what might happen next. As one said, “I want to be able to sleep at night.” Fear was in the air as we hunkered down, buttoned up and began hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
But what happened? This bear market sell-off was short-lived. Like other market selloffs. It ended, sooner than later as the federal government cranked up the money printing press and began rescuing the economy.
While “all bear markets are inherently different, the common thread is that they always end,” said Peter Lazaroff in a WSJ report. “Investors must be willing to lose money on occasion – sometimes a lot of money – to earn the average long-term return that attracts most people to stocks in the first place…. if you can be a buyer in times of fear, your chances of earning above average returns improve,” he said.
Starting in late March 2020, the S&P 500 began a recovery that has continued into 2021. By the end of the year, stocks were up 16.26 percent over 2019. That’s well above the annual average return of around 7 percent.
Hanging in there was among several lessons learned again by investors in 2020. In fact, buying when others are selling is almost guaranteed to reward the long-term investor.
Lesson No. 2
An emergency fund is a great idea. A survey of investment managers by the Wall Street Journal ranked putting cash into an emergency fund as a top priority money tip. An emergency fund means that the blow of an unexpected layoff can be modified. Emergency money will save you from expensive credit card debt until unemployment checks kick in and you can figure out what to do next. At least six months of cash. Everyone tells us this.
Lesson No. 3
You need at will and health care directives. At sixtyandsingle.com we have preached this forever. Since covid-19 began taking lives, it is even more clear that people need a will no matter what age they might be. A will spells out how you want your assets distributed. It makes sure your beneficiary designations are up to date on a 401(k)-retirement savings plan. A will can tell your heirs how you want your belongings distributed. This is a long-term but urgent item on your to-do list. Make a will!
Stay flexible with retirement planning.
According to Maddy Dychtwald, co-founder of Age Wave in San Francisco, an estimated 81 million Americans will see their retirement timing affected by the pandemic. In other words, they won’t retire when they originally planned. People are putting off retirement for an average of about three years, an Age Wave survey says. Working longer into your 60s is not a bad thing…more time to recover, save and invest, more time to put off taking Social Security and more time to enjoy the job. Many women I know are working because they love the action and see no reason to stop.
Markets go up and they go down. Surveys show that women can be more easily scared out of stock markets and are generally more conservative investors. They hate seeing the value of their investments decline when markets sell off. They tend to put more of their savings in low-earning money market funds at a time when they should be in equities. “A diversified portfolio that you can stick with regardless of the market environment should be the cornerstone of everyone’s investment strategy,” Jeff Mills, chief investment officer of Bryn Mawr Trust, told the WSJ.
The year 2020 taught us AGAIN that nothing stays bad forever. We learned that what might feel new and scary is really a variation on what we’ve seen before. Disciplined investors hang in there for the long haul by riding out the declines and benefitting from recoveries. The world does NOT end.
I meet women all the time who face job and money transitions and who want to do them right. It’s about building confidence and taking charge of the future. This is your money. No one cares more than you do!
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