Stock market bears emerge from hibernation

Worried investors should focus on the long-term



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OTTAWA – It may be the dead of winter, but the stock market bears are coming out of hibernation.

North American stock markets are off to their worst start in recent memory, rattling the confidence of investors.

But investment managers say that doesn’t mean it is time to sell everything and stuff it all under a mattress.

Marc Cevey, chief executive of HSBC Global Asset Management (Canada) Ltd., says the recent downturn in the market is not a repeat of the 2008-09 financial crisis.

“We see the conditions as being very different this time around and because of that and because we don’t view it as a financial crisis of a systemic nature, we actually think it represents a better opportunity” he said.

Cevey says investors should examine their portfolios to see if they still have the asset mix they want. If the equity portion of their portfolio has fallen, it may be time to rebalance and move money from bonds into stocks.

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He conceded that it may be a scary time for investors, but if you have a long-term focus and you don’t believe the world is falling apart, “at some point this creates some value.”

“You’ve just got to look at dividend yields,” he said. “Dividend yields virtually in every market around the world are in excess of three per cent, which is far in excess of what you’re going to get from fixed income or cash.”

A bear market is generally seen as a broad market index that has lost more than 20 per cent of its value.

U.S. markets haven’t hit those levels yet, but the S&P/TSX composite index has and with the sustained weakness in the commodity sector, it is continuing to head lower.

The damage has spilled over from the energy sector into other areas of the market, including the country’s bank stocks, a core holding for many portfolios.

Royal Bank and Scotiabank have both lost roughly one-fifth of their value compared with their 52-week highs set last year.

But the pain has not been universal and there are some areas of refuge.

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ScotiaMcLeod portfolio manager Stan Wong suggested you could increase your cash or fixed income investments or look to so-called defensive stocks.

“Historically, the more defensive sectors — whether it be consumer staples, utilities, telecom or health care stocks — tend to hold a little bit better in tough times,” he said.

However, he said many of these stocks can be expensive.

Wong also suggested using stop-loss orders to limit losses as well considering inverse exchange traded funds like the Horizons Betapro S&P/TSX 60 Inverse ETF, which is designed to move in the opposite direction of the S&P/TSX 60 Index.

“If you feel bearish about the market and you don’t want to sell some of your really strong long-term names for tax reasons or fundamental reasons, why not hedge the portfolio?” he said.

But if the stock market drop has resulted in sleepless nights, you may need to reassess your financial plan and how much risk you are comfortable taking.

It is easy to say you are willing to take risk in search of higher returns during a bull market. But once the trend turns and you are confronted with the reality of what taking risk in the stock market means and are faced with losses, you may have a different answer.

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