Market turmoil: Why instability shouldn't spark widespread panic among Canadian investors

With the loonie falling, markets tumbling and oil prices down, some Canadians may be in panic mode, anxious about the health of their portfolio and wondering what they should do with their investments.

Make sure investments are 'consistent with what you thought you had and consistent with your target'

Despite a volatile market, Canadian investors should avoid making any rash decisions, analysts say. (Brendan McDermid/)

With the loonie falling, markets tumbling and oil prices down, some Canadians may be in panic mode, anxious about the health of their portfolio and wondering what they should do with their investments.

This anxiety was certainly not helped by a recent report by the Royal Bank of Scotland, which recently advised its clients to "sell everything" in a note about the state of the markets.

On Wednesday, the Canadian dollar closed below 70-cents US, markets in Toronto and New York recorded triple digit losses and crude oil prices hovered around $30 US a barrel.

"This is an excellent time —  I know it's also an unfortunate time — to sit down and take stock of what you have and make sure that portfolio you have is consistent with what you thought you had and consistent with your target," said Eric Kirzner, professor of finance at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

"This process helps prevent you from doing something foolish."

For those who have balanced portfolios, yet have suffered some losses in the past couple of weeks that are within tolerable limits, "this is not the time to be doing anything."

As markets bounce back, many younger Canadians may be able to wait out the volatility. But it can be a worrying time for elderly Canadians who have carefully planned their retirement and have very little margin of safety.

"You don't want to tell somebody who is 75 to just wait it out. It may not be the correct thing," Kirzner said. "I think a 75-year-old has to look at their risk exposure and say 'Ok, if there's a further 20 per cent drop in the equity market, what is this going to do to me? Can I survive that?"

Kirzner criticized RBS, saying while he has respect for forecasters who are unambiguous and make serious supportable calls in advance, he has "no respect for people who make calls after the event is over or in the middle of the event."

And for RBS to make such a blanket statement, said Andrew Pyle, associate director of wealth management at ScotiaMcLeod, is to ignore the unique financial considerations of investors.

"We have 25-year-old Canadians, we have 95-year-old Canadians. They are all different in terms of how they should be investing. And to simply say to all of you people to get out of the market is really not a sound statement to make."

The worst thing individuals can do in these or any circumstances is to panic, Pyle said.  Instead, times like these call for perspective, for investors to take a step back, to try as best as they can to remove emotion form their decisions around investments.

Instead they should be examining what's in their portfolio, where they are in life, how much risk they have and how much risk should they have. 

Many investors who have money tied up in energy stocks are undoubtedly worried about the state of the industry amid falling oil prices. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

Low oil prices mean some of the smaller oil companies are in dire straits, Pyle said, and investors should consider whether having money there is fiscally prudent. 

But the larger companies aren't going to simply vanish, he said.

"At some point oil prices will stabilize," Pyle said. "This would probably be one of the worst times to start dumping everything out of your portfolio that's energy"

Lorne Steinberg, president of Lorne Steinberg Wealth Management, said the recent market instability shouldn't sway investors from stocks, considering the paltry returns they will receive from guaranteed investment certificates and government bonds.

"Even now you'll be losing ground by buying government bonds. Ten-year Canada bonds yield less than two per cent. The inflation rate will probably be that in the next 12 months with the low Canadian dollar," he said.

"So what are your alternatives? [You] can sell everything today and put it in my bank. I don't think you get more than half a percent on daily money, five-year GIC not more than two per cent."

The reality, he said, is the only prudent way to successfully invest or operate is to have a diversified portfolio. And investors need to stop looking at their stock portfolio "27 times a day and understand that what they're really doing is owning a collection of businesses."

"If you own strong companies at the right price you should do pretty well over time," he said. "If the company is doing well the stock price will catch up over time. If the company is not doing well then [you] need to re-evaluate if [you] want to hold on to that company."


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