Ask An Advisor About: Investing during the COVID-19 Market downturn

Ask An Advisor About: Investing during the COVID-19 Market downturn

We asked the advisors at local firm, VLP Financial Advisors on what investment advice that have or strategies they recommend during the recent market downturn.

Don’t try to Time the Market

Belle Osvath, CFP®, AIF®

Your instincts might prompt you to pull your money out of the market when values fall and then re-enter when markets are recovering, attempting to avoid losses. This strategy is called market timing, and while it may seem like a simple way to protect your assets it can potentially result in long-term negative effects on your portfolio.

The problem lies with the timing of when to get out of the market and when to get back in. Markets fluctuate from day to day, which makes it very difficult to capture positive performance based on timing. How do you know when the market has reached its bottom and is on its way back up? The truth is you don’t. No one does. You can use your best guess based on a variety of market or economic indicators, but at the end of the day, you are still just guessing. 

The most recent period of market volatility due to COVID -19 has presented us with historic market swings. During March we saw quite a few 4% swings of the DOW in a single day (both positive and negative.) You may be able to get lucky and avoid some of the down days, but missing even a few days of positive performance can set your portfolio back and limit the regular compounding effect of positive market performance. The truth is that it’s incredibly difficult to successfully time the market consistently over the long run, and I recommend that my clients avoid any attempt to do so.

Leaving investments alone in a period of bad performance is hard because it goes against what we’re taught, even though it is the right move. I strongly believe that if your financial plans haven’t changed, your investment strategy shouldn’t either. Goals, not market performance, should be driving investment choices. If you’re the kind of person who has to take some action, now could be a smart time to buy if you’re able.

Consider Tax loss harvesting in Taxable Accounts

Dan Lash, CFP®, AIF®

This strategy potentially turns your investment losses into tax breaks. If you invest in taxable accounts you are probably familiar with capital gains taxes. To “harvest“ losses you sell investments at a loss and then use those losses to offset realized investment gains in the same year. The key is to make a lateral move in your account and use the proceeds from the sale to purchase another similar investment or one that is similarly undervalued.

One of the most powerful benefits of tax-loss harvesting stems from the fact that after offsetting other capital gains, the first $3,000 ($1,500 if married filing separately) you accumulate in capital losses offsets ordinary income each year. Any remaining losses can be carried forward to future years. Since tax rates for ordinary income tend to be higher than long-term capital gains rates, your tax savings on the first $3,000 each year is equal to the difference between tax rates for long-term gains and ordinary income, multiplied by $3,000. 

Let’s say that at the beginning of the year you invested $10,000 in an ETF or mutual fund that invests mostly in small U.S. companies and that fund is down 35% year to date. If you were to sell that fund you would recognize a $3,500 loss.  You could then either offset the loss with up to $3,500 in gains or if you have no gains then take a $3,000 loss on your taxes and carryforward a $500 loss to use next year.  You could then use the $6,500 in proceeds to purchase a similar fund or one that has had similar performance year to date. That way you can still potentially capture positive performance when the market rebounds.

I used this strategy for many of taxable client accounts during the recent market downturn and it is pretty impressive how it can substantially offset capital gains distributions and allow my clients to save large amounts on taxes (especially for those who are in the top tax brackets).

Buy Low (If you Can)

Rose Price, CFP®, AIF®

Warren Buffett said “Try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful”. 

With these words in mind, a downturn can be seen as a “buying opportunity.” Though the market price of a particular investment may fall it is not necessarily reflective of the true value of that investment. There is a difference between the intrinsic value and the market value, in the most recent market downturn markets fluctuated swiftly in response to headlines and the overwhelming uncertainty that surrounded this epidemic, this reduced the price of many investments without the business themselves losing profit. 

Some market sectors have been affected more than others during this downturn and some of them show strong recovery potential while other’s future are more uncertain. Depending on your cash-flow you might be able to invest cash or move from bonds to equities.

Many of my clients who contribute to their IRA or 401k accounts bi-weekly wonder if they should continue to contribute – my answer is that this is great time to contribute and, if possible, consider increasing your contribution. When market values fall your monthly deposit will buy more shares than when market values are high and when markets recover you will have more shares that can participate in a market recovery.

Market declines are the perfect opportunity to purchase investments at low prices. It’s impossible to time a purchase at the exact market bottom, but historically market prices have recovered. 

Consider Roth IRA Conversions

Bruce Vaughn, CFP®, AIF®

Making contributions directly into a traditional IRA or 401(k) account provides you a tax deduction in the year of the contribution and your money grows tax deferred while in the account.  Withdrawals from a traditional IRA or 401(k) create taxable income which will generally occur in retirement. 

Making contributions directly into a Roth IRA or 401(k) account does not provide you a tax deduction in the year of the contribution but withdrawals are tax free as long as the money has been invested for 5 or more years.

Having at least some money in Roth accounts is beneficial for a few reasons:

  • Unexpected larger expenses during retirement, paid from Roth accounts won’t push you into a higher tax bracket.
  • Retirees don’t have to take mandatory withdrawals from Roth accounts, unlike traditional IRA investors, who have to beginning at age 72. 
  • Taking Roth distributions may also decrease your Social Security taxes and Medicare premiums, which are tied to taxable income.

Roth conversion involves moving money (or assets) from a traditional, pre-tax retirement account, such as a regular IRA or 401(k), to an after-tax Roth account.  The amount you convert will be taxable income in the year of the conversion.  

Generally, you want to make Roth conversions when your tax rates are lower than normal.  One of the best times is after retirement but before taking Social Security and/or obtaining age 72 when you must begin taking mandatory regular IRA distributions.  Other opportunities could include periods of time when you are unemployed either because you decided to go back to school or were temporarily out of work or in a year when you shut down a business and have large tax losses.  

Another great time is when your investment accounts are temporarily lower because of a pullback in the stock market.  The idea is that you pay taxes on your current smaller investment portfolio and allow the growth, when the markets climb back, to occur in your non-taxable Roth account.  

With a Roth conversion you have the flexibility of moving over as much or as little of your Traditional IRA into your Roth account as you want, allowing you to manage the tax cost of your conversion. Because the amount included in the conversion becomes part of your taxable income, you’ll probably look to convert no more than what will push you to the very top of your current federal tax bracket. I highly recommend consulting a tax professional when making a Roth conversion.

Understand Volatility

Chris Mellone CFP®, CFA

 During periods of scrutiny, technical terms from any industry can find their way to the mainstream media and become topics of conversation. In the first quarter of 2020, one of these terms as a result of this crisis as it relates to financial markets is “volatility”.  According to Google Trends, search interest for the term “volatility” in the US increased 500% from January to March.  Given this heightened interest and usage, there are a handful of key points we stress to clients as long-term investors regarding the term: 

  • Volatility includes movements in both directions: The media often uses volatility in the context of the market moving lower, however, the term does not necessarily mean losses and also includes market movements higher.  Some of the best positive days in the market are often immediately following the worst days. Missing these handful of positive days can have large impacts on annualized returns for investors.  We can often see weeks or even months of severe market volatility, and end up at the same or higher absolute levels over time. 
  • Volatility does not necessarily equal risk: Risk from an investor’s standpoint can be viewed as the chance for the permanent loss or impairment of capital. This can apply to situations of specific credit risk or single stock risk that may experience lasting losses due to a change in the competitive environment or their company circumstances.  A diversified portfolio with strong fundamentals will experience volatility over short periods of uncertainty, but should regain losses over the long-term as markets recover and reward the most valuable businesses. 
  • Volatility does not equal loss unless you sell: Investor behavior becomes more important during periods of uncertainty.  Attempting to predict and time the market is difficult. Selling your investments during periods of drawdowns gives in to your natural emotions and locks in losses.  

Long-term partnership with a financial planner helps you and your family rationally think through periods of higher volatility with your goals and legacy in mind.   

Rebalance Your Account

Sarah Avila, CFP®, CDFA®

Many clients have asked me whether they should be doing something in their 401(k) plans during market downturns.  Rebalancing may be a great strategy during these times.   

The process of rebalancing starts by comparing the investments your portfolio is currently holding to your original target allocation.  If equity markets fall, the allocation of the portfolio may become unbalanced as the value of the stock-based funds drift into representing a lower overall percentage of the total value in the portfolio compared to the original allocation.

Getting your portfolio back in balance when equity markets are down means selling certain investments (such as bond-based investments) that may be doing better relative to stock-based investments at that time, and buying more of the stock-based investments.  This can be advantageous to implement during a market crash because it allows you to “buy low”, which as we all know, makes perfect investing sense.   Once equity markets rebound, you will own more shares of the equity-based funds than you did prior to rebalancing and be able to participate even more in a market recovery.  

You may be wondering about the “right” time to rebalance.  Generally speaking, you should rebalance regularly and not just when equity markets are down.  This will ensure that you do not go for lengthy periods of time overexposing or underexposing yourself to the market.  It is during times of more extreme volatility like we have experienced recently that give us added opportunity to rebalance and buy low.  And as for picking the exact right day to pull the trigger, there is never a way to know when that day is and that is okay.  The strategy can still be advantageous even if you miss the bottom.  Your best bet is simply to use investment discipline and rebalance when the allocation varies from a predetermined threshold.  

Visit VLP Financial Advisors online at:

Have a question for an Advisor?


Registered Representatives offering securities and advisory services through Cetera Advisor Networks LLC, member FINRA/SIPC a Broker/Dealer and Registered Investment Advisor. Cetera is under separate ownership from any other named entity.The opinions contained in this material are those of the author(s), and not a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell investment products.  This information is from sources believed to be reliable, but Cetera Advisor Networks LLC cannot guarantee or represent that it is accurate or complete. 

Converting from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA is a taxable event. A Roth IRA offers tax free withdrawals on taxable contributions. To qualify for the tax-free and penalty-free withdrawal or earnings, a Roth IRA must be in place for at least five tax years, and the distribution must take place after age 59 ½ or due to death, disability, or a first time home purchase (up to a $10,000 lifetime maximum). Depending on state law, Roth IRA distributions may be subject to state taxes. 

Market Volatility: Investors should consider their financial ability to continue to purchase through periods of low price levels. A diversified portfolio does not assure a profit or protect against loss in a declining market.

VLP Financial Advisors

(703) 356-4360
8391 Old Courthouse Rd., Suite 203
Vienna, VA 22182

Share this Post!

Related post