Like a volcano, markets go through phases: They do very little and then suddenly they spit fiery lava. With new problems being introduced each day—be it Greek debt or the survival of the Euro, political bickering or Middle East uprisings—the markets are constantly trying to figure out what stuff is worth.
Volatility was up in 2011, and this brought out all of the "forecasters" in droves predicting which way the markets would blow. Most have been wrong. Bill Gross, who runs the largest bond fund in the world, bet against U.S. treasuries, which were a top performer in 2011. Famed investor Meredith Whitney predicted the demise of municipal bonds. Following her advice would have been devastating, as munis rallied after her “insights.” Hedge funds that focused on picking stocks were down 7 percent in 2011, despite the fact that the Dow gained 5 percent.
One of our members asked why we recommended Vanguard’s exchange-traded fund VGK, an index made up of the largest 482 stocks in 16 European countries, when "everyone knows" that Europe is in trouble. VGK was down nearly 18% last year, while the S&P was flat.
First, think of the thousands of investors all around the world who deeply understand the economic circumstances of every country in Europe. Is your opinion on VGK’s price better than theirs? Second, VGK belongs in a globally diversified portfolio because we care about the long term. Europe will recover. In 10 years, VGK's price today will likely look cheap because those 482 companies will be more valuable. When CNBC says “Europe,” remember these are real global businesses making real money and employing millions of workers.
A year ago, when TIPS were selling at a high price, one of our members declined to include them in his recommended portfolio because in his opinion they were overvalued. TIPS were up over 12 percent last year.
Trying to time and guess the market's direction is futile for most mortals and investment professionals. It's during times like these that you can really appreciate the calming logic of a simple and disciplined asset allocation investment methodology. Since we never know how one particular asset class will perform, we own them all at a very low cost, in proportion to our risk tolerance. Then we rebalance them as the markets shift.
Sounds easy to "buy low and sell high," doesn't it? Would you buy more European assets now if you were under-allocated? We certainly hope so. Is your asset allocation right? This market provides you with a litmus test. If you have been feeling panic lately, then perhaps your stomach lining isn't strong enough for the amount of equities in your portfolio. It may be time to consider whether you should increase your exposure to bonds and TIPS.
Markets like these test you. Stay the course and take a gut check. Keep rebalancing and make the market's volatility your friend. If your allocation is right, you'll be able to keep your mind off the stock market, keep CNBC off, and focus on the rest of your life.
Mitch Tuchman is CEO and founder of MarketRiders, an online investment advisory and management service helping Americans invest for retirement. MarketRiders gives investors greater peace of mind knowing that they are leveraging the best thinking of Nobel Laureates and the investing methods used by the world's most elite institutions and wealthiest families. MarketRiders is on the investor's side, helping reduce investment costs and risks, and increasing retirement savings.