Less than a year after hitting a new all-time high, the FTSE 100 index has fallen into ‘bear market’ territory – putting it in the company of other major markets, including Japan’s Nikkei 225, Germany’s Dax and France’s CAC 40 indices. Share prices have fallen by more than 20% from their recent peaks, driven down by concerns over China’s economy, a disintegrating oil price and geopolitical concerns.
While it is easy to understand why many investors are unsettled, it is also worth taking a step back and looking at the whole picture. Although the UK has technically dipped into bear market territory, the UK economy is one of only three ‘advanced’ economies – along with the US and Spain – the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects to grow by more than 2% this year. The IMF has also predicted global economic growth of 3.4% in 2016 and 3.6% in 2017. Meanwhile, the eurozone’s economy continues to take tentative steps towards recovery and the US appears relatively robust.
History shows us that, although they can certainly be risky in the short run, equities remain the best-performing asset class over the long term. While periods of market instability can be hard to tolerate, they can therefore also represent an opportunity. During periods of general market decline, the share prices of high-quality businesses tend to fall alongside those of companies that are experiencing genuine problems, providing astute investors with an opportunity to pick up bargains. Moreover, as we head towards the end of the tax year, the recent market declines represent a real opportunity for investors who want to make the most of their ISA allowance.
Even the most experienced investment professionals cannot ‘time’ the market consistently. It is all but impossible to assess whether prices have peaked or troughed, so do not be flustered into selling investments for the wrong reasons. Instead, during periods of market instability, take the time to assess your own particular situation.
Ask yourself two key questions – ‘Does my investment portfolio reflect my investment goals, personal circumstances and tolerance for risk?’ and ‘Is my portfolio adequately diversified across different asset classes and geographical areas?’ If you cannot answer ‘yes’ to these, it is probably time to review your portfolio. You should ensure you are positioned to achieve your long-term aims, while weathering shorter-term storms.