How to survive in Choppy waters


This year the markets have been very volatile, with August being a very positive month.


After a strong start to the year there has been some reversal of sentiment towards South Africa with the rand weakening and the JSE shares selling off.

At the last  Allan Gray Investment Summit, Andrew Lapping, Chief investment officer at Allan Gray shared his principles for how he handles volatility:

His take is that he loves volatility. Because when there is panick in the market and political and economic risks the share prices go down. But the underlying company is still exactly the same. That is when they will buy more of the company but at a lower price.

But what should you do as an individual?

While market volatility often presents good opportunities for value investors like Allan Gray to buy shares for less than they are worth, it can be difficult to remain calm. What can you do as an individual to make sure you are well positioned to cope with volatility – which should be an expected part of investing?

Consider these three simple points:

  1.  Don’t attempt to time the market

When markets are rising potential investors are keen to invest, but when prices fall people get nervous. People often ask: “When is the best time to invest?” or “Should I sell?” Given how difficult it is to pick the bottom, or time the market, the best strategy is simply to invest consistently over time. Starting sooner rather than later is also good.

  1.  Reign in your emotions

When market prices fall sharply, your initial instinct may be to sell and limit your losses. However, you were happy to own these businesses at a higher price, why would you suddenly want to sell at a lower price? If anything, as prices fall you should be taking advantage of the opportunities and investing additional funds. This is why it is important that your fund manager constantly seeks out undervalued assets to invest in.

Adopt a long-term view and have a strategy in place that is tailored to your financial goals and risk tolerance. Know yourself. If you know you find it very difficult to deal with volatility it may be wise to choose a unit trust with a lower risk profile; this may help you stay the course.

  1. Make sure your portfolio has balance

As a general rule, it makes sense to have a portfolio where there are no large specific risks, but rather a balance of risks and potential rewards. So unless you are extremely well compensated by the potential reward, you should be cautious about concentrating your portfolio in a particular company, industry or asset class. Similarly, it generally does not make sense to invest a large part of your assets in any one country.

As a South African, rather than taking a large amount of South Africa-specific risk, it is probably a good idea to look for undervalued assets globally. Investing offshore should form part of your overall investment strategy. Rather than attempting to time the rand, or panicking when it suddenly weakens, follow a consistent approach of investing offshore with a manager whose philosophy and process makes sense to you.

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