Tips to manage through a volatile market

By Bryan Sommer
Apr 5, 2020
Photo credit: Image Source/iStock/Getty Images

“Historically, markets tend to rebound from short-term losses, offering gains from rallies when they recover and move higher. By staying fully invested, you can take advantage of all periods of positive market performance.”

Source: CIBC Time-Tested Strategies for Long-Term Success

There’s no doubt this is a worrisome time for investors and that it’s more important than ever to remain calm so that you can make clear and informed decisions about your portfolio.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of a diversified, balanced approach to investing because there is always something happening in the world to affect markets –downturns due to trade wars, the price of oil, and now, COVID-19  – as well as growth through new breakthroughs and opportunities.

Although current conditions might make you want to buy or sell impulsively, it’s more important than ever to stick to your plan. Otherwise, you could end up selling when the market returns are low and buying when the markets are high.

When you’re younger it’s easier to withstand market ups and downs. But for those who are close to retiring, or have already retired, the downs can be downright scary. Here are my tips to manage your portfolio during turbulent times:

Stay the course

Downturns are normal and usually short-lived. I tell my clients that, as professional advisors, we expect and prepare for market drops. This isn’t the first market drop, and it won’t be the last. Your best strategy is to take a deep breath, keep an even keel, follow your investment plan, and ride it out.


  • Refrain from panic selling.
  • Avoid trying to time the market and instead consider averaging in and out of positions, rather than buy or selling all at once. That is, rather than buying or selling 100% of a stock at one time, consider doing this over three purchases (1/3 at a time) to reduce timing risk.

Hold your equities

The worst time to sell equities is when the market is down significantly. Make sure you own quality stocks with a history of paying dividends, and trust that they will recover.

"If you had invested $10,000 in the S&P 500 index at the start of 1999, it would have grown to nearly $30,000 by the end of 2018, provided you hadn’t touched it.

By comparison, missing out on the 10 best-performing days during that 20-year period would have cut your returns in half."

Source: CNBC

Economic fundamentals rule

Headlines may move the stock market in the short term, but in the long run it is driven by economic fundamentals.

This table compares the one-month return of MSCI World Index, since the start of an epidemic with its six-month return.

On average, clients who stayed invested during a short-term sell-off in the stock market came out as winners in the end.

Diversify your portfolio

Diversifying your portfolio will help ensure you are mitigating exaggerated drops in the market.  Depending on your stage in life, keep an appropriate asset allocation (between stocks, bonds, and cash) and rebalance periodically.

  • Make sure you have cash reserves to get you through any market downturn, in order to give your investments time to recover. 

Don’t overspend 

Delay major expenses unless you have preplanned for them, and pay attention to your budget.

Meet with your advisor

This is a great time to meet with a professional financial planner to review your portfolio, talk about your risk tolerance (now that you understand how volatility feels), and make any adjustments to stay on track with your future objectives.

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Bryan Sommer, CPA, CA, CFP, CIM, is a Portfolio Manager with CIBC Wood Gundy and holds the Chartered Professional Accountant designation.


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