Millions of Americans own mutual funds and see them as their best investment options. Consider this question: would you rather own the best funds or have the best investment strategy for managing your funds in 2014 and beyond? With history as my guide, I offer an opinion here, as well as a plan you might want to consider.
Within a 10-year period (2000 to 2009) investors experienced two bear (down) markets where stocks lost 50% or more of their value while bonds did just fine. Both times stocks recovered, and by 2014 were again at all time highs. Bonds were the best investment options and the funds that invest in them were the best funds in both bear markets. Even the best funds in the diversified stock department left their investors little to cheer about in that 10-year period of time. The best investment strategy since early 2009: be heavily invested in diversified stock funds. Who could have known they would be the best investment options available to average every-day people?
The truth is that NO ONE knew this, and in 2014 it would be extremely risky to assume this was still the best investment strategy. The last two major bull (up) markets before this current one (2009 to 2014) were followed by the above bear (down) markets. In each case even the best funds in the diversified stock arena took big losses, and often the best funds in an up stock market are the worst to hold in a down market.
The previous bull market lasted about 5 years, and as of early 2014 this last one was 5 years old. Maybe it’s time to start looking for the best investment strategy for three different reasons. First, the bull market in stocks is 5 years old and stocks are not selling cheap. Second, even the best stock funds will be losers in a bad market. Third, with interest rates rising, bond funds are not relatively safe or dependable anymore. For 30 years (until recently) they were the average investor’s best funds and were among the best investment options out there. Problem: if interest rates continue to rise, bond funds will lose money. That’s the way bond funds work.
Sometimes the best investment strategy is to be aggressive in stocks, if you have the stomach for it. For most of us with long term goals, the risk that goes with that strategy far outweighs the prospects for higher returns. After all, if you take a 50% loss in a bad market, you then need to earn 100% (double your money) just to cover your losses. In the bond funds area, the vast majority of conservative investors still hold on to the belief that they are the best funds and that the best investment strategy is to just hold on and everything will be just fine.
If history tells us anything, it makes two things in the investment world crystal clear. One: you will never find the best investment or the best funds on a consistent basis. And two: the best investment strategy is to never put yourself into a position where you are open to heavy losses that are difficult to overcome. So, it’s time to make a plan and put together the best strategy in case stock funds and/or bond funds stumble in 2014 and beyond.
Virtually all mutual fund families offer a safe investment option called a money market fund. Reallocate your portfolio so that you are invested equally in a money market, stock, and bond fund. Then set it up so that an equal amount of money flows from the money market fund to the two others each month. The monthly amount should be such that in two to three years the money market fund will be down to almost nothing. Example: $90,000 portfolio, starting with $30,000 in each fund and $1000 flowing monthly from money market fund… $500 to stock fund and $500 to bond fund. In about 30 months the money market fund will be about depleted.
Even if you don’t hold the best funds, this could be the best investment strategy for the middle-of-the-road investor who wants to basically be invested about half in stocks and half in bonds ultimately. You will be less exposed to stocks and bonds over the next couple of years; hence your potential for big losses is diminished in the event the markets turn ugly. If stocks and/or bonds fall you will be picking up more and more shares as fund prices fall. This is called dollar cost averaging and is a time-tested investment strategy. If fund prices don’t fall during this time period you’ll earn a respectable return, with peace of mind, because you lowered your level of risk. At that point consider going through the same process again.
Remember that bull markets are always followed by bear markets sooner or later. Bear markets are generally shorter in duration but they can be brutal. Don’t be overly concerned with finding the best funds for 2014 and beyond. Focus on having the best investment strategy. This way you can stay invested without the fear of taking big losses in stocks or bonds if things turn sour.
In the best funds vs. the best investment strategy for 2014 and beyond debate, I suggest you focus on strategy. Unfortunately, most investors ignore investment strategy. That’s why most average investors have not done well for the past dozen or so years.