Aggressive or Not? It Depends on Where You Are in Your Life

By Mitchell Lamoriello | Research Analyst | 09.17.2018

Investors are growing more optimistic about the investment environment today. We can probably link this sentiment to a nearly decade-old bull market; investors tend to form their outlooks based on the recent past, so rising markets can lead people to let their guards down.

If anything, investors should grow more concerned about mitigating risks as their investments continue to appreciate alongside an expanding economy.

The paradox compounds further: Securing a comfortable financial future is a leading goal across generations, so it would be fair to think that investors would be attuned to an investment mix that’s appropriate for achieving that objective. But that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Baby boomers and investors in the generations that preceded them average 60% allocations to aggressive equities, according to a survey of high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth adults by Phoenix Marketing International. This may be appropriate in limited instances, but it’s probably too high in most cases for investors that should be focused on asset preservation.

The survey’s more perplexing finding was that millennials allocate an average of 41% to stocks and bonds, but keep 47% in cash for opportunities. Millennials are far too young to be so heavily under-allocated to aggressive investments. They are missing out on the power of compounding gains, which loses effectiveness if they decide to harness it later in life. They have many decades to recover from losses before they’ll need to depend on their assets in retirement, and therefore should be a bit more bold now.

So older affluent investors are too aggressive and younger affluent investors are too conservative. Of course, these are generalizations, but they suggest that investors are not accurately projecting their level of preparation for a comfortable financial future.

Here are two key questions to consider in determining whether you’re prepared—both for the next few years and looking decades into the future:

Are You Taking a Long View?

When considering your appetite for investment risk, make sure you’re taking into account the long-term averages for gains, losses and volatility. We’ve seen an extraordinary run of good fortune in financial markets over the last several years, and it’s not representative of what investors should expect year-in and year-out. For example, the average annual return for the S&P 500 Index totaled 11.84% from 2013 through 2017. But the average from 1928 through 2017 was 9.65%.

There’s a strong possibility that future expected returns over the next several years are going to undershoot their recent performance. That’s okay as long as your investment strategy is based on realistic assumptions.

Are You and Your Portfolio Moving in the Same Direction?

Investors should be aggressive when they’re young, and then slowly grow more conservative as they age. A portfolio composed of mostly stocks is suitable for a 20 or 30-year-old, but not for their parents.

Compounding is a phenomenon in which an investor earns gains in one period, which earn gains of their own in the next period, and so on. This is one of the most important tools for building wealth, and it can do a lot of heavy lifting in contributing to a comfortable financial future if started earlier in life.

Older investors should be more concerned with losing accumulated wealth shortly before or when they’re reliant on it for their livelihoods. This means keeping exposure to aggressive investments as low as possible. Stocks and higher-risk segments of the bond market are great for generating wealth, but they also introduce sharp price swings into investment strategies. They should be limited to supporting roles in income-oriented portfolios, as any big drop in value could weigh down its ability to produce income.

These questions challenge you to understand where you belong on longer timelines. When it comes to market cycles, you don’t have to make drastic changes to your investment strategy—assuming it’s appropriate for achieving your goals—just because we’re in the late stages of a bull market. But you should ensure that you have realistic expectations and that your strategy can withstand less-stellar performance than we’ve had in recent years.

If you still have questions or concerns regarding this topic, reach out to our retirement plan team experts—we would be happy to help.

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