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Six financial actions to take in uncertain times

Six financial actions to take in uncertain times

August 17, 2022

4 min read


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Bhatia, Braunscheidel and Mandell report no relevant financial disclosures.

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During a volatile market environment like we are in today or the steep market pullback at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, many investors, including orthopedists, feel a powerful drive to act in response.

When markets are down sharply, there is a common temptation to sell stocks to reduce risk. While selling stock creates a sense of control that can make people feel better at the moment, it is often the wrong thing to do during a market downturn.

Sanjeev Bhatia
Sanjeev Bhatia
David B. Mandell
David B. Mandell

For orthopedists who are long-term investors, trying to time market tops and bottoms is foolish. The evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that most investors diminish their long-term returns when trying to time the stock market. Investors are more likely to chase the market up and down and be doubly affected by their actions, buying high and selling low. Timing the market, while it is tempting, involves getting two nearly impossible decisions right: when to sell and when to get back into the market.

Adam Braunscheidel
Adam Braunscheidel

Even when following the advice to remain invested during a market downturn, an investor does not have to sit passively on the sidelines and do nothing.

Seek actionable opportunities

In suggesting actions to take when markets fall, many professional advisors focus on what investors can control and do not let investors be distracted by what they cannot control. With this theme in mind, consider the following six actions.

Keep a long-term perspective. One of the important benefits of working with experienced advisors is that they can help you manage your financial situation in a holistic way, which will enable you to stay disciplined and aligned with your long-term investment strategies. This is true both for your existing investments, as well as any new investments you plan to make over time. Rebounds can happen quickly and the cost of missing these is significant. Recognizing this, many advisors will try to help their clients remain invested and do that at a reasonable allocation level.

A long-term focus can also lead to an opportunity to add to stocks prudently and incrementally when their prices become more attractive and their future expected returns are better. With this strategy, one can potentially take advantage of a volatile market environment by adding to investments at prices likely to generate far better long-term returns than what was possible before the market downturn. By maintaining a long-term perspective, investors can participate in market recoveries and keep their portfolios on track for reaching their long-term financial goals.

Six financial steps to take infographic
Source: Sanjeev Bhatia, MD; David B. Mandell, JD, MBA; and Adam Braunscheidel, CFP

Confirm an appropriate “emergency fund.” One of the best strategies to help you sleep at night, even during market volatility, is to ensure the funds you need for spending in the near future are not at the mercy of short-term market movements. Advisors often work with clients to make sure they have an appropriate amount of cash or low-volatility investments set aside to either fund spending needs or use as an emergency fund, keeping this money steady when the near future is unknown.

Revisit financial planning and/or cash flow projections. By reviewing how your resources will support current and future cash flow needs, an advisor can make certain your spending levels are sustainable or make suggestions to curtail expenses for the short-term. Reviewing scenarios for how the future may play out can be helpful in creating the appropriate context for making decisions today.

Use market declines as an opportunity to harvest tax losses. A downturn in prices is not what we hope for when investing. However, one way to “make lemonade out of lemons” is to sell securities that are down from the purchase price. By “harvesting” those realized losses, they can be used to offset taxable realized gains. This tax-saving strategy can be helpful today and possibly in the future since realized capital losses can be carried forward on your tax return. As one harvests losses, the proceeds from those sales are used to purchase investments in a similar category, so the portfolio allocation and opportunity to catch an upswing remain intact.

Consider a Roth IRA conversion. Roth IRA conversions offer the opportunity to transition investments from a traditional tax-deferred IRA account to a Roth IRA, where the investments will benefit from tax-free growth and access going forward. The conversion will be taxable, but a market downturn could be a good time to make this transition with assets that have fallen in price, as their subsequent growth, when the market recovers, will be in the tax-free Roth IRA.

Take breaks from the 24/7 news cycle. Many orthopedists would do well to take time away from the financial media. The omnipresent news feed is focused on attracting attention, benefits advertisers, not investors. It can be overwhelming to the typical news consumer, which can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety. It is important to stay both physically and mentally healthy so you can make the best decisions for your overall benefit.

Market downturns are never enjoyable. For many orthopedists, seeing values plummet can lead to an emotional decision to “do something,” which too often translates into a desire to sell assets. A focus on positive actions can help one avoid the dangers of attempting to time the market. In this article, we outlined six actions to take during a market downturn that can positively impact one’s long-term wealth planning.