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How Financial Advisors Reacted, or Didn’t, to Market Rout

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For the first time in a week stocks are trading higher, poised to the end the day with gains instead of losses, but that won’t undo all the carnage of the week. The broader stock indexes are still heading toward a weekly loss of between 1% and 2%, oil prices remain under $30 a barrel and the KBW Bank Index (BKX) is trading near a three year-low.

Former PIMCO CEO Mohamed El-Erian wrote Friday in his Bloomberg View blog, “The growing list of improbable developments” – which also includes negative interest rates in many European countries – “is indicative of a global system that is signaling a major transition away from an order in which central banks effectively repress financial volatility and toward one of higher and quite unpredictable volatility, in both directions.”

ThinkAdvisor asked a number of financial advisors this week how they were weathering the storm and what changes, if any, they were making or considering to make in clients’ portfolios. They generally recommended doing nothing or using the opportunity to buy more stocks.

“Hang in there. It’s too late to move now,” said Karl Frank, president of A&I Financial Services in Englewood, Colorado. “Your patience will be rewarded over time. These downturns are the exact reason stocks deliver better returns over time.”

Jonathan Swanburg, an advisor with Tri-Star Advisors in Houston, Texas, recommended that investors rebalance their portfolios, selling assets that have appreciated in value like bonds and use the cash to add to positions in assets that have lost value like stocks, then “stay the intended course. Getting emotional in volatile markets tends to lead to bad decisions and poor returns.”

Kristin Sullivan, too, recommended changes only if they were for rebalancing purposes, and she suggested “watch as little financial TV as possible.”

Robert Wander of Wander Financial in New York City suggested investing any cash waiting on the sidelines into stocks even though 2016 follows a down year for stocks, which has historically signaled gains the next year. “I don’t put much faith in that either,” said Wander.

But what about those clients who are near retirement or already there?

Frank said he would “very likely” continue to recommend “holding a large percentage in stocks” because that person is still investing for the rest of his or her life and possibly for the lives of children and grandchildren. “Any financial plan that changes with market conditions is like Frankenstein’s monster, destroying everything in its path. As scary as it seems in times like this, stick to your long-term financial plan to come out safely in the end.” That’s not necessarily true, especially for retirees, according to Larry Stein, president of Disciplined Investment Management, in Deerfield, Illinois. “If your account is dropping steadily, taking money from it creates a downward spiral and if you’re looking to retire within the next 10 to 15 years that could mess up your retirement plans.”

Late last year, Stein reduced the allocation of risk assets like stocks in the clients’ portfolios he manages, shifting 20% of stock allocations to cash, his maximum defensive position.  He also shifted from a major overweight position in large-cap growth stocks to a modest overweight in large-cap value, from overweight short-term bonds to overweight in international bonds and to larger positions in U.S. core bonds, primarily Treasuries.

The shifts were propelled by a “litany” of changes in market indicators that Stein follows including high trailing P/E valuations, declining earnings and revenues for two quarters, shrinking profit margins and market breadth, a rising dollar, and falling interest rates and commodities prices – “all are very intertwined.”

“The expectations were so high,” said Stein about the stock market. “Given all that I was seeing it was unrealistic and so I raised cash.”

Ordinarily Stein would park that cash in high-quality bonds like U.S. Treasuries but instead he “mistakenly didn’t think that Treasury yields would be declining so much,” so he kept those funds in cash-equivalent assets. “I was wrong on that….The market teaches you humility.”

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