Slowing economic growth globally has led for some rough days on Wall Street lately.
The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index are both down by 6 percent so far this year. It’s sometimes hard to figure out where to park one’s money during an economic downturn.
Still, analysts have a few ideas on how to capitalize on the slump – or at the very least minimize losses or stash away capital until markets begin to recover.
Gold, treasuries and other bonds tend to be so-called haven investments, where investors often park their cash until equities recover. Like clockwork, investors have been dumping money into gold and treasuries since the start of the year.
Gold futures have jumped since the end of last year as money managers flee equities. The rate on 10-year Treasury bonds has declined by almost a fourth as people rush to invest in the low-yield, low-risk investment. Dumping money into both is a trend that’s expected to continue.
“If we have a slow growth economy that persists, and if we continue to have a sloppy equity markets, you’ll see more and more money coming into bonds, particularly treasuries,” says Walter “Bucky” Hellwig, a senior vice president at BB&T Wealth in Birmingham, Alabama. “Fixed income can also be used as a hedge against a slowing economy, but it has to be biased to the high-credit, quality side.”
Equities have tumbled in 2016, sparked by a 7 percent loss on the first trading day of the year in China. The loss on opening day triggered declines in Europe and the U.S.
China, the world’s second-largest economy behind only the U.S., then said its economy grew in 2015 at its slowest rate in 25 years, further spooking the economy, as investors worried that demand for manufactured goods and raw materials from the Asian country would decline or stagnate.
The downturn wasn’t supposed to happen. The Federal Reserve raised its base interest rate by 25 basis points in December to a range from 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent, the first increase in almost a decade. Since then, however, the Fed has said it’s taking a more wait-and-see approach to its plan to raise rates four times this year.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen told Congress this month she wouldn’t rule out a negative interest rate and acknowledged there’s “always some chance” of a recession.
The biggest beneficiary of the slowing growth thus far has been gold, a popular haven investment as futures have jumped 14 percent this year.
“The backdrop of robust global demand and increasing financial and economic uncertainty is supportive of gold,” says Mark O’Byrne, the research director at Dublin-based GoldCore. “Janet Yellen’s comments … regarding not cutting interest rates anytime soon were quite dovish and led to gold’s gains. The fact that she reiterated the Fed expects to raise rates at a gradual pace and yet gold continued to rise … is quite bullish.”
Still, the rapid increase in gold prices has put investments in peril as futures may have risen too far, too fast, O’Byrne says. In fact, analysts say it’s probably not smart to simply dump stocks when prices decline because, as the investment playbook goes, markets tend to turn the moment everybody moves to one side of a trade.
Instead, investors may want to gradually shift to a less equity-centric portfolio.
“In the short term, we would caution against dumping stocks and buying gold as many indices globally have fallen sharply and gold has risen sharply,” O’Byrne says. “However, taking a long view, I think investors who are overweight (in) stocks should use any bounce in the market to lighten up positions and gain an allocation to gold.”
GoldCore researchers usually tell clients to have a 5 percent to 10 percent exposure to gold, but in the current economic environment, they’re recommending a 20 percent allocation.
“This diversification will act as a hedging instrument and protect stock and bond investors from further losses,” O’Byrne says. “Indeed, given the inverse correlation of gold to stocks, it should reduce the overall volatility of a portfolio and enhance returns as was seen in the 2001 to 2011 period.”
Investors also should look to increase their cash positions in times of economic uncertainty, BB&T’s Hellwig says. That doesn’t mean stuffing money under the mattress – instead, depositors should look toward money market funds or similar short-term investment vehicles.
BB&T last year raised cash that was initially destined for investments in equities, but instead the company held the money in a low-risk, short-term account where it has been for months. While the capital didn’t make money, he says, it also didn’t lose.
Putting money in short-term investments during a down cycle keeps cash liquid in the event the market turns higher, or indicators begin pointing upward, Hellwig says. “That way, we have the liquidity to take advantage of lower prices when the market turns.”
Hellwig says he’s waiting for an indicator that the equity markets are oversold, similar to what he saw in August. So far, that hasn’t happened, especially with Yellen spooking money managers with her comments about a recession and negative interest rates.
Because it’s still unknown when, or even if, markets will rebound, investors should take a wait-and-see approach and, at least for now, move money slowly into lower-risk haven investments such as gold, treasuries or fixed-income assets.
This isn’t the first downturn in the market, and certainly won’t be the last, Hellwig says. The key is to take things slow and not rush headlong out of equities.
“You have to live through these things,” he says. “The highest returns historically come from stocks rather than bonds or cash, so it’s all about timing. Nudging your portfolio (toward low-risk investments and out of equities) lowers volatility and enables investors to take advantage of the down market. It also allows them to build those positions if the situation gets more difficult.”
Source: Tony Dreibus
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