The wise King Solomon—and some would say the ’60s rock band the Byrds—said that to everything there is a season, including “a time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast off.”
Having just transitioned to a new season, one can’t help but wonder what it is now time to do. Human beings, especially stock market analysts and climate scientists, are generally poor forecasters.
The fading light and decaying leaves of autumn—not to mention market crashes of Octobers past—are naturally supportive of an emotional undercurrent in favor of losing and casting off. After all, change is in the air.
But advisors need to take a hard-headed and unsentimental approach to investing, recognizing that many aspects of post-financial crisis economic life have not “felt” right.
For example, the usual ups and downs of markets have been largely absent over the past five years, during which the S&P 500 has doubled—replaced by an almost unidirectional ascent in asset values propelled by unprecedented central bank liquidity.
Many are those who have wrung hands over a policy thought to engender systemic risk. Yet hard money scruples have been a colossal money loser whereas playing along has been exceptionally profitable.
For that reason, advisors need to, if not play along, at least play long—by recognizing that betting against markets that historically go up more often than they go down is playing against the odds.
And yet, the bull market’s old age and the manipulated quality of its rise should strongly reinforce one’s professional duty to concern oneself with the downside.
Historically, one sought in times of peace and one lost in times of war. Yet last month, the U.S. president conceded the need to prosecute “a counter-terrorism campaign” (i.e., war) against the Islamic State. War, with all its unpredictability, reinforces worry about the potential for loss.
Alas, military strategists are no better in their predictions than investment strategists. So, by all means, keep your globally diversified portfolios.
But at this changing season, advisors can do other things in keeping with the feeling tugging at their reluctant-to-invest clients.
Rather than focus exclusively on the asset side of the balance sheet, it seems an auspicious time to direct increased attention at the liability side in order to better prepare oneself for the time to lose.
People sometimes lose their means of livelihood during such times. Clients can prepare with a drill—by cutting their expenditures by 10% now and investing in training for a line of work (perhaps based on a hobby) different from their current profession.
Reconsidering their current structure of expenditures—do they really need such expensive homes, could junior take two years of courses at a community college and then transfer?—may also prove of value when the time to lose arrives.
And when it does, one can depend on the reality that human beings keep in good times and cast off—often desperately—in bad times.
Girding oneself for losses amid plenty will strengthen your clients’ ability to accumulate assets at castaway prices in the coming change of season.