Over the past few weeks I have been having some interesting conversations with clients.
While the conversations usually include discussions about investments, we often spend more time discussing family, health, today’s challenges and tomorrow’s hopes. If it ever wasn’t clear before, it is very clear now that our investments are here to serve a broader purpose — which is to allow us to live as full a life as we can.
As I talk to more clients I will no doubt be learning more from each of them.
Here are my big five takeaways to date:
From a Canadian perspective — COVID-19 truly is unique
In a recent chat with a 99-year-old client who was born in Canada, I asked him if he had ever seen anything like what we are experiencing today. I was surprised when he said “Never in my life.” He did say that things were clearly difficult during the Second World War, but we were never so totally shut down like we are today.
His comment was definitely a jolt to me. This is historic. It is obviously not business as usual. We need to treat it very seriously from a health and investment perspective.
From a non-Canadian perspective — COVID-19 brings back other memories
Another client in his 50s related a story from his childhood, growing up in a war-torn nation. He remembered staying at home, being warned about going outside. He said that he could now better relate to his father’s worries about supporting the family when almost everything was under siege and there was no work to be had.
COVID-19 is clearly bringing memories of war and sacrifice. It is a reminder that life can be hard, unfair and unyielding. The fact that this brings comparisons to terrible times of war is a reminder of how significantly strange times have become.
The Financial Crisis of 2008/2009 has created a tougher investor
During the Financial Crisis, there was fear that big banks would collapse. There was a worry that stocks would drop 90 per cent before it was over. Few if any investors had lived through such a broad and deep investment crash. At the time, there were a meaningful number of clients who had to be convinced not to sell out their portfolios with large losses.
Yet, they ultimately saw how markets eventually recovered and thrived.
Today, most investors lived through 2008 and 2009. Their reactions to COVID-19 related declines have been much calmer. This isn’t to say that everyone feels that way, but a much higher percentage recognize that this pandemic will end, whether in a couple of months or a year. Likely, before it ends, stock markets will make a sizeable comeback.
There remains an overconfidence that people can time the bottom of the market
Some clients have expressed frustration over missing the great investment opportunity of 2009. They have said that they want to take advantage of this new great opportunity. I am with them. They are absolutely correct. The problem is when is exactly the right time to jump in?
The reality is that these markets move extremely fast. As we saw from March 18 to 26, some beaten down stocks jumped 50 per cent or more. However, in order to have achieved all of those returns, you would need to have bought in not just on the right day, but the right hour. To have purchased in that right hour, you would have needed the guts to buy when markets were in free fall. It is possible, but you need to be significantly lucky and have the willingness to go where almost nobody else is going.
On the flip side, many people think that there is another meaningful drop ahead, so they will wait for that one before buying. They may be right, but if they are wrong, then they will have almost entirely missed the ‘once-in-a-decade’ buying opportunity.
If you really want to take advantage of weak markets you have to be willing to buy in at a certain price, accept that it will likely go lower in the short term before it recovers, and keep focused on a year from now. You won’t get it perfect, but you will get it mostly right.
Health, family, friends, investments — in that order
As I mentioned at the top of the article, COVID-19 is a big threat to everyone, but it is clearly a health threat above all else. There are definitely financial fears — and for some these are pressing. Yet, for most of our clients they understand that for now, their goal is to look after themselves and each other. If they do that, everything else will take care of itself.
Several clients have had a consistent message. Their comments sound something like this, ‘We are blessed to be in Canada. We are blessed to still have reasonably good health. We have food. We have shelter. We even have spring. We are thankful to have someone like you to help with our finances, and we are not worried. This too shall pass as long as we have patience and do the right things.’
As big and as bad as this situation has become, I thank my clients for bringing their life wisdom and perspective to this time. I know that they are right and this too shall pass.
Reproduced from the National Post newspaper article 3rd April 2020.