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Volatility 101: An Introduction to Market Volatility

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Volatility 101: An Introduction to Market Volatility

Volatility 101: An Introduction to Market Volatility

Almost all assets see fluctuations in value over time.

But while price swings are a common phenomenon in most asset classes that exist, they are the most famous in the stock market.

These upward and downward movements in price are known as volatility, which is defined as “a measure of the frequency and severity of price movement in a given market”.

Understanding Volatility

Today’s infographic comes to us from Fisher Investments, and it serves as an introduction to the concept of volatility, along with offering a perspective on volatility’s impact on investments.

Why are certain times more volatile than others?

In the short term, volatility is driven by changes in demand, which is largely related to changes in earnings expectations. These expectations can be affected by:

  • Earnings reports
  • New economic data
  • Company leadership changes
  • New innovations
  • Herd mentality
  • Political changes
  • Interest rate changes
  • Market sentiment swings
  • Other events (economic, political, etc.)

Often the media and investors assign certain narratives to price changes, but the reality is that the stock market is very complex, and has many underlying factors that drive movements.

What ultimately matters for volatility is demand: if stocks move up or down on a given day, we can say definitively that demand for stock was more (or less) than stock supply.

Calculating Volatility

Technically speaking, volatility is a statistical measure of the dispersion of returns for a given security or market index over a specific timeframe.

In other words, two stocks may have the same average rate of return over a year, but one may have daily moves of 1%, while the other may jump around by 5% each day. The latter stock has a higher standard deviation of returns, and thus has higher volatility.

Here’s what you need to know about standard deviation, which is a common measure of volatility:

  • Roughly 68% of returns fall within +/-1 standard deviation
  • To calculate standard deviation, differences must be squared. This means negative and positive differences are combined
  • Standard deviation tells you how likely a particular value is, based on past data
  • Standard deviation doesn’t, however, show you the direction of movement

This all gets more interesting as we look at the market as a whole, in which thousands of stocks (each with their own individual volatility) are moving up and down simultaneously.

Market Volatility

Now that you can see how volatility plays out with individual stocks, it makes sense that market volatility is the overall volatility from the vast collection of stocks that make up the market.

In the United States, the most watched stock market index is the S&P 500 – a collection of 500 of the largest companies listed in the country. One measure of the volatility of the S&P 500 is the CBOE Volatility Index, or as it is known by its ticker symbol, the VIX.

Volatility and market sentiment in the overall market are important, because humans tend to experience the pain of loss more acutely than the upside of gains – and this can impact short-term decision making in the markets.

Negative price swings in the wider market can be distressful and unnerving for investors, and high volatility does present some challenges:

  • Uncertainty in the markets can lead to fear, which can lead investors to make decisions they may otherwise not make
  • If certain cashflows are needed at a later date, higher volatility means a greater chance of a shortfall
  • Higher volatility also means a wider distribution of possible final portfolio values

That said, volatility also represents a chance of better returns than expected – and for long-term investors that are patient, volatility can help drive outcomes.

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Investor Education

Why Investors Should Rethink Traditional Income Strategies

Traditional longer-terms bonds are no longer as effective—so which additional income strategies should investors be considering?

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income strategies

Why Investors Should Rethink Traditional Income Strategies

Humans are creatures of habit. We all have daily routines, whether it’s walking the same lunchtime route, watching a familiar TV show, or cooking the same meal over and over again. Once we develop a pattern, it can take a drastic change to convince us to rethink our approach.

One such shake-up to ingrained investment habits is the changing landscape of income investing.

In today’s infographic from New York Life Investments, we explain why traditional long-term bonds may not be as effective as they were in the past, and which additional income strategies investors can consider.

The Status Quo

For years, investors have relied on traditional longer-term bonds as the centerpiece in an income portfolio. These debt instruments usually pay out interest to investors on a predetermined schedule, providing a steady income stream investment. Historically, they have also been subject to less volatility than equities.

The typical bond portfolio is diversified, much like the Bloomberg Barclay’s U.S. Aggregate Index. Here’s how the sectors are broken down in the index:

SectorMarket Value
Treasury39.5%
Government-Related5.8%
Corporate25.0%
Securitized29.7%

Unfortunately, this income strategy has been less effective in recent years. Over the last decade, core bond duration has increased by 1.5 years while yields have decreased by almost 2%. Essentially, interest rate volatility has increased—but investors are less compensated for the risk.

In light of low rates and higher expected market volatility, it’s critical that investors explore other income solutions. Luckily, there are many lesser-known asset classes for investors to consider.

Additional Income Strategies: An Investor’s Choice

When investors decide how to re-allocate, they can keep these objectives in mind:

  1. Preservation of principal (risk level)
  2. Pursuit of capital (growth potential)
  3. Perseverance in markets (long-term objectives)

Which additional income strategies can they explore?

Taxable Municipal Bonds

Issued by state and local governments, the yield of taxable munis has historically been higher than that of other sectors. Taxable munis also have a strong credit rating—over 76% of U.S. municipal bonds outstanding are A+ rated or better.

Insured Municipal Bonds

Investors can get additional downside protection with insured municipal bonds, which are guaranteed to pay interest and principal back by private insurers. They have historically performed similar to munis while capturing less of the “downside”, often providing an attractive risk-adjusted return for income investors.

Short-duration, High-yield Bonds

Bonds with a shorter duration and higher yield can be a lower volatility approach to achieving the same income investing goals.

Yield and Risk in Bonds (July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2019):

Bond TypeYieldStandard Deviation (annualized)Yield per Unit of Risk
U.S. Aggregate Bonds2.492.940.85
High Yield Bonds6.055.601.08
Low-duration, High-yield bonds5.003.901.28

Short duration funds have lower interest rate risk, and can offer attractive yield per unit of risk.

Yield-Centric Equities

Equities can also play a role in an income focused portfolio. Investors should look for established companies that are achieving:

  • Growth in free cash flow
  • Stable or growing dividends
  • Share buybacks or debt reduction

Over the last 40+ years, the annual compound return of stocks with growing dividends have outperformed dividend cutters on the S&P 500 by more than 4%.

Preparing for Your Future

Maximizing the benefit from new income opportunities can take time. For this reason, it’s important to consider potential portfolio changes now, so that these strategies can play out in the lead up to retirement years.

It may be tempting to stick with the status quo—both in daily routines and investment strategies—but those who proactively adjust their approach will be able to maximize their potential.

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Investor Education

How Equities Can Reduce Longevity Risk

With life expectancies increasing, will you outlive your savings? Learn how allocating more of your portfolio to equities may reduce longevity risk.

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Will You Outlive Your Savings?

The desire to live longer — and outrun death — is ingrained in the human spirit. The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, may have even drank mercury in his quest for immortality.

Over time, advice for living longer has become more practical: eat well, get regular exercise, seek medical advice. However, as life expectancies increase, many individuals will struggle to save enough for their lengthy retirement years.

Today’s infographic comes from New York Life Investments, and it uncovers how holding a stronger equity weighting in your portfolio may help you save enough funds for your lifespan.

Longer Life Expectancies

Around the world, more people are living longer.

YearLife Expectancy at Birth, World
196052.6 years
198062.9 years
200067.7 years
201672.1 years

Despite this, many people underestimate how long they’ll live. Why?

  • They compare to older relatives.
    Approximately 25% of variation in lifespan is a product of ancestry, but it’s not the only factor that matters. Gender, lifestyle, exercise, diet, and even socioeconomic status also have a large impact. Even more importantly, breakthroughs in healthcare and technology have contributed to longer life expectancies over the last century.
  • They refer to life expectancy at birth.
    This is the most commonly quoted statistic. However, life expectancies rise as individuals age. This is because they have survived many potential causes of untimely death — including higher mortality risks often associated with childhood.

Longevity Risk

Amid the longer lifespans and inaccurate predictions, a problem is brewing.

Currently, 35% of U.S. households do not participate in any retirement savings plan. Among those who do, the median household only has $1,100 in its retirement account.

Enter longevity risk: many investors are facing the possibility that they will outlive their retirement savings.

So, what’s the solution? One strategy lies in the composition of an investor’s portfolio.

The Case for a Stronger Equity Weighting

One of the most important decisions an investor will make is their asset allocation.

As a guide, many individuals have referred to the “100-age” rule. For example, a 40-year-old would hold 60% in stocks while an 80-year-old would hold 20% in stocks.

As life expectancies rise and time horizons lengthen, a more aggressive portfolio has become increasingly important. Today, professionals suggest a rule closer to 110-age or 120-age.

There are many reasons why investors should consider holding a strong equity weighting.

  1. Equities Have Strong Long-Term Performance

    Equities deliver much higher returns than other asset classes over time. Not only do they outpace inflation by a wide margin, many also pay dividends that boost performance when reinvested.

  2. Small Yearly Withdrawals Limit Risk

    Upon retirement, an investor usually withdraws only a small percentage of their portfolio each year. This limits the downside risk of equities, even in bear markets.

  3. Earning Potential Can Balance Portfolio Risk

    Some healthy seniors are choosing to work in retirement to stay active. This means they have more earning potential, and are better equipped to recoup any losses their portfolio may experience.

  4. Time Horizons Extend Beyond Lifespan

    Many individuals, particularly affluent investors, want to pass on their wealth to their loved ones upon their death. Given the longer time horizon, the portfolio is better equipped to ride out risk and maximize returns through equities.

Higher Risk, Higher Potential Reward

Holding equities can be an exercise in psychological discipline. An investor must be able to ride out the ups and downs in the stock market.

If they can, there’s a good chance they will be rewarded. By allocating more of their portfolio to equities, investors greatly increase the odds of retiring whenever they want — with funds that will last their entire lifetime.

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