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5 Lessons About Volatility to Learn From the History of Markets

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In 2018, the re-emergence of volatility took many market participants by surprise.

After all, aside from a few smaller, intermittent spikes over the course of the current bull market, volatility has largely been in a long-term downtrend since the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis.

Whether there is more volatility lurking ahead this year or whether the markets continue to calm, it’s worth looking at the last century of market history to put these recent bouts of volatility into context.

Learning From the History of Markets

Today’s infographic comes to us from New York Life Investments and it goes back in time to show us that the volatility experienced in 2018 was neither exceptional or unusual.

Here are five important lessons to learn from it all:

5 Lessons About Volatility to Learn From the History of Markets

This infographic is available as a poster.

With volatility back on the table again, investors are re-learning what it’s like to cope with a sometimes tumultuous market.

Higher volatility can be a source of uncertainty for even the most seasoned investors, but a look at historical data over the last century helps to ease these concerns.

5 Lessons About Volatility

Here are five lessons about volatility that we can learn from the history of markets:

Lesson #1: Volatility isn’t new
Volatility isn’t a new phenomenon – and it’s actually as old as the stock market itself. In fact, if you look at historical swings in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, you’ll see that many of the biggest ones were more than 80 years ago.

Lesson #2: Volatility is actually the status quo
In the last century, volatility has been ever-present in the markets, and between 1935 and 2018 the S&P 500 has seen:

  • 4,563 total days with +/- 1% price movements
  • 1,094 total days with +/- 2% price movements

That works out roughly to a 1% price swing every trading week – and a 2% price swing every month. Yet, over this lengthy time period, and after all of that volatility, the S&P 500 has grown by 25,290%.

Lesson #3: Any short-term volatility disappears with a long-term view
Daily price swings can feel like a roller coaster. But if you take a step back and look at the big picture, this volatility is just a blip on the radar.

For example, if you look at a chart of the S&P 500 from August 1990 to February of 1991, you’ll see that daily volatility was rampant. But zoom out to a 10-year chart, and these daily or weekly swings are barely noticeable.

Lesson #4: Volatility can be easily weathered with a resilient portfolio
Given that volatility has been around forever and that it’s extremely common, that makes it fairly unavoidable. Therefore, to weather periods of volatility, it is imperative to build a resilient portfolio by diversifying between different asset classes.

Certain assets are better at weathering periods of volatility than others. Here are some traits to look for:

(a) Low correlation with the market
These assets can zig when others zag, making them a valuable hedge (Examples: Gold, alternative assets, municipal bonds)

(b) Generates cash flow
When times are uncertain, the market puts extra value on assets that are generating real cash flow (Examples: Stocks that pay dividends, or bonds that pay interest)

(c) Defensive or non-cyclical
During uncertain times, there are still companies with stocks that will thrive. They are usually bigger companies with conservative balance sheets and durable competitive advantages. (Examples: Quality stocks in healthcare, consumer staples, telecoms, REITs, and utilities sectors)

Lesson #5: Volatility reminds us that there is no reward without risk

Investing in stocks comes with risks, but it also comes with the best returns over time:

Asset TypeAnnualized real return, 1925-2014
U.S. Equities6.7%
Government Bonds2.6%
Cash0.5%

If stocks offer the best long run gains – and volatility is an unavoidable aspect of investing in stocks – then we must learn to accept volatility for what it is.

Even better, we must learn to build resilient portfolios that can weather any storm, while minimizing these effects.

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Infographics

What is Defined Outcome Investing?

Defined outcome investing is a customizable solution that investors of all mindsets can use to add a layer of predictability to their results.

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This infographic is available as a poster.

What is Defined Outcome Investing?

Equities can play a critical role in any investment portfolio thanks to their long-term growth potential. At the same time, this asset class can also present a number of challenges for investors.

Uncertainty around the short to mid-term performance of equities can be a major deterrent for some, while others may find it difficult to select the best stocks based on their unique needs. Fortunately, there is a solution that can help investors overcome these challenges. In today’s infographic from New York Life Investments, we introduce defined outcome investing, and examine how it can help individuals take more control over their equity investments.

Understanding How DOI Works

Defined outcome investing (DOI) is a family of strategies that add a layer of predictability to an investor’s results. This is achieved through two unique aspects.

The first is a customizable risk-return profile, which gives investors the option of receiving either upside enhancement or downside protection features.

Risk-Return FeatureHow it Works
Upside enhancementEnhances the returns of the specified index, up to a cap. The investor is not sheltered from negative returns.
Downside protectionProtects investors from negative returns, up to a certain amount. The investor still participates in market upside, up to a cap.

The second aspect is a predetermined time period—defined outcome strategies carry a maturity date, similar to a fixed income security. Upon reaching its maturity date, a defined outcome strategy expires and the proceeds are paid out to the investor. This feature makes it easier for an investor to time their equity exposures around personal liquidity needs.

To understand the potential of DOI, consider a woman who wishes to make a down payment on a property one year from now. She would like to invest and grow her money in the meantime, but is worried about market volatility. Rather than purchase individual securities or ETFs, she could opt for a defined outcome strategy with downside protection over a one year term.

These features would reduce the likelihood of negative returns over the year, while still giving her exposure to the growth potential of equities.

Types of Defined Outcome Strategies

Investors have three distinct types of defined outcome strategies to choose from, depending on their personal objectives.

Growth Strategies

Growth strategies are designed for investors who:

  • Have a positive outlook on markets
  • Seek high levels of capital appreciation
  • Accept the possibility of negative returns

As implied by their name, these strategies produce enhanced market returns. They do not, however, offer any downside protection. The table below demonstrates how a growth strategy with 50% upside enhancement would perform across a number of scenarios. Assume a maximum return cap of 36%.

Market ScenarioS&P 500 Return (via ETF)Growth Strategy Return Defined Outcome Result
Strongly Positive50%36%Investors reach their maximum return cap of 36%.
Positive20%30%Investors gain 10 percentage points over the index.
Modestly Positive8%12%Investors gain 4 percentage points over the index.
Negative-10%-10%Investors match the index's negative return.

Buffered Strategies

Buffered strategies are a more neutral solution designed for investors who:

  • Have a moderate outlook on markets
  • Seek capital appreciation
  • Require a safety buffer to mitigate losses

Buffered strategies allow investors to participate in equity markets while receiving a specified level of insulation from negative returns. The table below demonstrates how a buffered strategy with 20% loss insulation would perform across a number of scenarios. Assume a maximum return cap of 24%.

Market ScenarioS&P 500 Return (via ETF)Buffered Strategy ReturnDefined Outcome Result
Strongly Positive30%24%Investors reach their maximum return cap of 24%.
Positive8%8%Investors match the positive return of the index.
Negative-20%0%Investors are sheltered from losses within their buffer.
Strongly Negative-30%-10%Any losses beyond the buffer are realized by the investor.

Preservation Strategies

Preservation strategies are best suited for risk-averse investors who:

  • Have a negative outlook on markets
  • Want to manage downside risk
  • Have significant financial obligations in the near future

Preservation strategies provide a different type of downside protection where, instead of a buffer, investors define their maximum loss. The table below demonstrates how a preservation strategy with 95% capital preservation (5% maximum loss) would perform across a number of scenarios. Assume a maximum return cap of 20%.

Market Scenario S&P 500 Return (via ETF)Preservation StrategyDefined Outcome Result
Strongly Positive30%20%Investors reach their maximum return cap of 20%.
Positive8%8%Investors match the positive return of the index.
Negative-3%-3%Investors match negative returns within their maximum loss.
Strongly Negative-30%-5%Investors maintain 95% of their capital.

Accessing Defined Outcome Strategies

Defined outcome strategies are accessed through a vehicle known as a unit investment trust (UIT). UIT’s offer similar levels of transparency and accessibility when compared to ETFs or mutual funds, including daily liquidity and transparency of holdings. So how are they able to offer such compelling risk-return features?

The answer lies in their use of equity options, a type of derivative contract. Equity options give the holder, in this case the UIT, the option of buying (or selling) a stock at a predetermined price on a specific date in the future. These contracts are used to engineer the risk-return features previously described, and are the reason why defined outcome strategies carry a maturity date.

Thus, in order to realize the specified upside enhancement or downside protection features, an investor must hold the UIT for its entire term. While there is no penalty for redeeming a UIT early, the investor will not reach their defined outcome objective.

A More Predictable Approach to Investing

Equities are a powerful tool for long-term growth, but it can be difficult to build a properly-aligned portfolio according to one’s risk tolerance. This becomes especially relevant in today’s uncertain economic environment.

With customizable risk-return profiles and a defined maturity date, defined outcome investing is a powerful solution that can support a variety of financial goals through different phases of the market cycle. Whether its maximizing returns or saving for retirement, investors can now take greater control over their financial future.

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Infographics

Financial Wellness: How to Be Resilient During a Crisis

Even prior to COVID-19, only about 28% of U.S. adults were financially healthy. Here’s how you can improve your financial wellness during a crisis.

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financial wellness during crisis

This infographic is available as a poster.

Financial Wellness: How to Be Resilient During a Crisis

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 90% of Americans feel anxious about money. These stress levels are the same across all income groups.

Unfortunately, financially-stressed people are more likely to face physical and mental health challenges. For example, people with high debt stress during the 2008 financial crisis had higher levels of back tension, severe depression, and anxiety.

In today’s infographic from New York Life Investments, we take a look at the current state of financial health, and highlight ways people can improve their financial wellness during a crisis.

A Current Snapshot

Financial health is the degree to which people are able to be resilient and take advantage of opportunities over time. It rests on eight indicators:

  • Spend: Spend less than income and pay bills on time
  • Save: Have sufficient liquid savings and long-term savings
  • Borrow: Have manageable debt and a prime credit score
  • Plan: Have appropriate insurance and plan ahead financially

Based on these factors, individuals fall along a spectrum of financial health. In the U.S., only about 28% of people were considered to be financially healthy in a 2019 study.

Clearly, many Americans were already facing challenging circumstances prior to the pandemic. Here are a couple of the top issues.

More Complexity

Finances have become more complicated over time.

For many years, workers could rely on defined benefit pension plans that paid a set amount in retirement. In recent decades, pensions have primarily shifted to defined contribution plans. These require the employee to make investment decisions and build their own nest egg.

Unfortunately, financial education has not kept pace with the rising need for knowledge. Fewer than half of U.S. states require high school students to take a course in personal finance.

“Money Talk” Taboo

To build financial literacy, individuals would benefit from talking more openly about money. However, 44% of Americans surveyed would rather talk about religion, death, or politics than discuss personal finance with a loved one.

Fears of embarrassment and conflict are major emotional roadblocks that hamper financial progress. What can individuals do to improve their financial wellness, especially during a crisis?

Building Resiliency

People can follow a step-by-step strategy to optimize their financial situation.

  1. Assess their current situation.

    Uncertainty can be a major source of anxiety. To identify the source of stress—and determine if it’s warranted—investors can take stock of their income, expenses, savings, and debts.

    Financial self-awareness is positively associated with greater financial satisfaction, and stronger spending and investing decisions.

  2. Prepare for the worst-case scenario.

    What can individuals do if they lose their job or see a prolonged drop in retirement savings?

    Investors can consider various options, such as taking on freelance work, cutting unnecessary expenses, or increasing retirement plan contributions. Then, they can “stress test” their financial plan to account for these scenarios and begin preparing as best they can.

  3. Break goals into small chunks.

    Specific, achievable, and measurable goals are easier to manage. For example, rather than having a goal to pay down $51,000 in debt, an individual could aim to make monthly payments of $850 over five years.

    By setting smaller goals, investors can take action to make progress. Research has shown that achieving quick wins makes people more likely to achieve their financial goals.

  4. Improve financial knowledge and openness.

    Investors can educate themselves as much as possible—people with high investment knowledge are proven to be more prepared and less anxious.

     Has planned for retirementFeels anxious when thinking about personal financesHas emergency savings
    Low Investment Knowledge62%48%78%
    High Investment Knowledge73%21%90%

    People can also take steps to break financial taboos with loved ones, by starting with simple conversations about experience and building to more concrete discussions about family finances. The ability to talk about money is one of the most important skills for building financial literacy.

  5. Create long-term, purposeful goals.

    Setting the right goals helps investors define their own parameters for success, which in turn keeps them focused and motivated. It’s also important to monitor goal progress regularly, to allow for portfolio or contribution adjustments as needed.

Taking Charge

Financial crises can strike at any point in time, whether it’s due to personal circumstances or an economic downturn.

To improve their situation, people can focus on the controllable elements of financial health: spending, saving, borrowing, and planning. This allows investors to emerge with a stronger, more resilient plan than they had before the crisis.

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