Market insights and analysis

How dynamic, risk-managed investment solutions are performing in the current market environment

1st Quarter | 2024

Quarterly recap



Current market environment performance of dynamic, risk-managed investment solutions.


By Jerry Wagner

This morning I was in the doctor’s office to get some blood drawn. The young lady across from me was there for the same purpose and was seconds away from the needle penetrating her skin.

She was obviously frightened by the prospect. Her body was tensed. Her face was contorted in anticipation.

Then I looked above her head.

When I entered the office, I noticed that the nurse had posted various inspirational signs on the walls. The one hung directly above the fear-stricken patient’s head surprised me.

“Act fearlessly,” it said.

I instantly knew what I was going to write about.

Overcoming investment paralysis

The reports I get from the field—from the broker-dealer reps, the financial advisers, and financial planners of the 600-plus firms we work with nationwide—are all the same. Investors are paralyzed with fear.

After over 50 years of navigating the financial markets, I know the feeling well. When you see the major indexes, be they stock or bond, all falling 20%, 25% … over 30%, it’s difficult to focus on becoming, or staying, invested. Like the patient across the room from me at the doctor’s office, it is hard to not cringe at the thought of what the future might hold.

It’s a natural reaction to a painful experience. With investing, behavioral finance studies tell us that the average investor regardless of market environment starts from a mental place that is more risk averse than open to opportunities. Those studies also tell us that investors are prone to “recency bias”—meaning their thinking processes are more influenced by what they have just experienced than what has happened in the more distant past. More technically, Investopedia defines “recency bias” as “the tendency for people to overweight new information or events without considering the objective probabilities of those events over the long run.”

Reflecting this bias, most investors these days are probably focusing on last year’s market volatility. Many look at the markets and think only of losses. Yet we know that the stock market runs in cycles. For every decline of 20%–30%, a gain averaging 100% or more has historically followed. As the great hockey star Wayne Gretzky noted, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

When suffering from decision paralysis, experts tell us there are at least four steps we can take:

1. Recognize and accept your fear: Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) emphasizes the importance of recognizing and accepting emotions, including fear, as a natural part of the human experience. By acknowledging your fear, you can reduce the power it has over you. Just knowing that it is short-term fear, not long-term logic and research, that is holding you back can open you up to new opportunities.

2. Reframe your thoughts: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) suggests that changing the way you think about a situation can help alter your emotional response. Try to reframe your fearful thoughts into more positive or constructive ones.

If you think about the markets as just sources of more losses, you’ll miss opportunities. Give at least equal weight to the positive advantages of investing, like long-term wealth creation, inflation protection, and the means to achieve your financial goals. In his 1937 book “Think and Grow Rich,” Napoleon Hill emphasized that “every adversity carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”

3. Break tasks into smaller steps: Breaking a task into smaller, manageable steps can make it less overwhelming and help you overcome fear-induced paralysis. This approach is derived from the principles of exposure therapy.

You don’t have to jump back into investing with both feet. You can start with a small investment. Or, you can just tweak your present portfolio and make sure it is well diversified in terms of both asset classes and investment strategies. Maybe add strategies that offer opportunities but also combat your specific fears: For example, you might consider an actively traded bond strategy instead of a passive one—or a tactical strategy that involves bonds, stocks, and gold, rather than a lifeless 60/40 portfolio of stocks and bonds.

4. Work through your fears with your trusted adviser. Over the years, most of us have learned that when we have a problem or are hesitant to do something, it helps to talk it out. While discussing investing matters with family members and other part-time investors can certainly be interesting, real progress in getting back into the markets requires talking through your fears with a market professional. She or he has undoubtedly gone through the experience of bear markets many times but also understands the opportunities presented by the next bull market that’s just around the corner. In other words, market professionals can put your fears into a longer-term perspective and help you move forward.

How does AI think investors should overcome their fear?

With all the talk of ChatGPT-4 and the positive feedback we received from our past articles on the subject, I thought I’d ask the AI guru what it thought average investors should do if they feared getting back into the market. It replied:

Communicate your concerns: Openly discuss your fears and concerns with your financial advisor. They should be able to provide guidance and reassure you about the steps being taken to manage risk in your portfolio.

Review your risk tolerance: Reevaluate your risk tolerance and ensure that your financial advisor has a clear understanding of your preferences. Request that your advisor adjusts your portfolio and the strategies being used to align with your risk tolerance.

Evaluate your investment goals and time horizon: Ensure your financial advisor is fully aware of your investment objectives and time horizon. This information is essential for selecting the most suitable strategies and investments.

Explore the available strategies: Request that your advisor presents a variety of risk management strategies that cater to different levels of risk and investment purposes. Review these options together and choose the ones that best align with your needs and preferences.

Stay informed and engaged: Actively participate in the investment process by regularly reviewing your portfolio and staying informed about market developments. This can help you gain a better understanding of your investments and feel more in control.

Set realistic expectations: Understand that no investment strategy can guarantee positive returns all the time. Work with your financial advisor to set realistic expectations for your investments based on historical performance, risk tolerance, and market conditions.

Maintain open lines of communication: Establish regular communication with your financial advisor to stay updated on your investment performance and any changes in your financial situation or goals. This can help build trust and promote confidence in your investment strategy.

By actively participating in the investment process and working closely with your financial advisor, you can regain confidence in your investments and address any concerns about past losses. Remember that patience and discipline are crucial when navigating financial markets, which are inherently subject to both gains and losses.

Not bad advice from a machine. I especially liked its point about exploring available strategies. At Flexible Plan Investments, we have over 50 low-cost QFC strategies to choose from.

Bottom line: Be brave

Perhaps on a more human note, the references within your own memory banks can provide you with the primary answer of what to do next when it comes to investing. An infant takes his or her first step but falls on the second. Does the baby just sit there? When you were small and fell off that first bike your parents gave you, what did you do? When you were a bit older and you got scared on your first venture into a lake or swimming pool, how did you respond? As an adult, when that first interview didn’t go so well or a sales prospect turned you down, what was the next step?

When I think back over 50 years of investing, I can’t help but recall that with all the peaks and valleys in the markets, the most profitable opportunities came when I was in one of the valleys. Market research confirms that conclusion: The stock market produces superior returns on average over the next year when the previous year was positive. When the first quarter after that down year was positive (like the first quarter of this year was), the next 12-month period was even more profitable.


The young lady in the chair across from me was finished. Her face was now relaxed. She looked like a different person as she sprang from the chair, smiled, and told the nurse, “That wasn’t bad at all. Have a nice day!” And I thought, “Act fearlessly!”

Comments are closed.