Presidential election years have a tendency to make U.S. financial markets a little more tumultuous than usual. This year has been no exception.
Many investors still feel pangs and jitters in the wake of the Great Recession. Straight off the New Year, the Dow dropped over 1,000 points. Fears about China’s slowdown, about low oil prices, about the Brexit vote and continuing wars in the Middle East have all contributed to some wild fluctuations in the world’s stock and currency markets in 2016.And the volatility hasn’t been eased by a high degree of polarization in the American electorate. Never before in American history have both major parties’ nominees polled so unfavorably this close to Election Day (we’re not taking sides — just noting what opinion polls have shown).
“Humans tend to be guided by our emotions, and the time during an election is when emotions are going to be most tied to election results,” noted FPC Investment Advisory CEO and CNBC contributor Bijan Gilkor. “What we historically see after the fact, though, is a return to normalcy once emotions have time to settle down.”
So, if you’re a senior investor or an investor approaching retirement, should you be worried about your nest egg? Will the outcome of the presidential election affect your net worth? Should you be considering changes to your portfolio?
Probably not. Here’s why.
If you invested for the long-term, you should see long-term returns
Election years aside, the S&P 500 index — considered by most financial planners to be the most conservative, diversified measure of the health of U.S. markets, and the benchmark most investors try to match or beat — grows between 3 to 5 percent a year over a 30-year term.
As you can see from this historical chart, there are few reasons to believe that the S&P 500 would begin a sustained, decades-long slide, regardless of who’s in office come next year.
(Chart of the historic S&P 500 index)
So, even if you’re 65 and beginning to live off your nest egg, given your probable life expectancy (about 20 more years for both men and women, according to the Social Security Administration), you should keep it invested and allow any post-election dip (or gain) time to even out.
Regardless of the winner of the election, Congress holds the nation’s purse strings
The President of the United States doesn’t make laws, nor does he or she pass budgets. Congress does.
Regardless of whether the Republicans retain their majorities in the House and Senate, or the Democrats regain control, neither party is likely to take immediate actions that would drastically affect the markets.
Even if the incoming president did propose sweeping changes, those would likely face a long period of debate and revision in Congress. There’s no guarantee that the new President’s agenda would be passed — especially if his or her party does not also have a legislative majority.
Moreover, the Federal Reserve — the United States’ financial gyroscope, responsible for setting interest rates and maintaining our monetary equilibrium — is a quasi-private, independent institution. The Fed chairs serve at the pleasure of the President, but with the permission of (and oversight from) Congress, and they’re unlikely to take actions that would throw our economy out of balance.
Market volatility can happen at any time, not just election (or post-election) years
“It's important to consider that the markets are not just unpredictable in an election year. There are always going to be moments of uncertainty, because we live in an imperfect world,” Gilkor wrote. “While we can't look into the future, we can look to the past to get a sense of how people have reacted in similar periods of uncertainty.”
The smartest investors are the ones who plan and act strategically. Investors who use reactive, emotive thinking to make their financial decisions are usually the ones who do poorly.
The financial markets have survived some pretty big crises. The Great Depression. The Second World War. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The OPEC embargo. Watergate. 9/11.
And the markets will survive Donald Trump. Or Hillary Clinton. Or . . . whoever.
The fact remains that the United States is the wealthiest nation in the world. And it’s one of the most politically stable countries — even when our electorate is polarized. The dollar is a preferred international reserve currency. Other nations trust us with their gold, for goodness’ sake.
The presidential election is unlikely to wipe out your retirement savings, regardless of who wins. So, if you’re a senior living off your nest egg, or a middle-aged adult who will retire in the next eight years, stay the course. Work with a trusted, reputable financial advisor to manage your portfolio.
Stay calm and keep living on.