Wealth Health: Investors take a big risk when they try not to take any risks
Wayne Gretzky — the greatest hockey player of all time — famously said that “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”
Less famously, Gretzky confessed that he was “not a big risk-taker ... . I stay away from things I don’t know anything about.”
Most people, however, stay away from what scares them, and two new surveys released recently say that what frightens investors is the stock market, a fear created in the financial crisis five years ago that they have not gotten over. As a result, those investors have not been taking their shots, and they have missed out, not only on the rally of the last few years, but on the opportunity to be better positioned for what happens next.
BlackRock investment group recently released its first Global Investor Pulse Survey, which showed that while steady gains have pushed some stock markets worldwide to all-time highs, “most people are not comfortable taking on more risks to achieve better returns.” The survey polled more than 17,500 investors (including some 4,000 Americans) across a range of income levels.
In the United States, according to the survey, 48 percent of investible assets were being held in cash, with just 18 percent in stocks and 7 percent in bonds.
That’s ultra-conservative even by the standards of common rules of thumb.
Meanwhile, the Investment Company Institute’s annual survey of U.S. households found that even people in households that own mutual funds are less willing to take investment risk than they were prior to the financial crisis.
If investors ever wanted or needed proof that Wall Street climbs a wall of worry, they have gotten it in the last five years; they have seen it reinforced over the last six months, as everything from highly discussed Federal Reserve policy changes to international troubles in places like Syria to a government shutdown and more made the headlines feel like there could be a market implosion at any minute.
And yet, if you shut off your news feed six months ago and have lived in a vacuum since, you would be turning it on now mostly happy with how your portfolio has grown, blissfully unaware of all of the day-to-day miseries you missed.
That’s not encouragement to “Don’t worry, be happy.” Instead, it’s an urging to properly understand risk.
Investment pros like to say that risk generates return. Thus, a “risk-less portfolio” could also be described as a “return-less portfolio.”
The bigger problem is that investors are looking for portfolios that are devoid of risk, as if such a thing actually exists.
Put your money in the mattress and you have completely avoided stock market risk, the chance that your principal will be lost, but you have embraced purchasing-power risk, the potential for your money to fail to keep pace with inflation over time.