After a volatile election, President-elect Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20. Consumers are divided over what this means for their finances — some are eager to bet big on American stocks, while others are considering hiding their cash under a mattress. To help you prepare for the changes ahead, we spoke with a handful of financial experts who shared their thoughts on investing with caution.
‘Dysfunctional Politics Aren’t New’
“We tend to invest based on emotion, and some people are really high on Trump, and some people are scared to death of Trump,” said Allan Roth, founder of Wealth Logic, a financial planning firm in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “When Obama was elected, a lot of people were like, ‘We’re going to print money, U.S. stocks are horrible, put everything in gold, avoid the dollar, avoid the stock market’ — and the absolute opposite happened. I’m a believer in capitalism, and capitalism trumps dysfunctional politics. And dysfunctional politics aren’t new.”
Roth won’t be the only financial expert keeping a grounded outlook. Jude Boudreaux, a financial planner based in New Orleans, said the main question around investing should be your goals and time horizon, not what we expect to happen in the next four years. “The biggest message I have is not to overreact,” he said. “The next 12 months, from a market standpoint, are not going to be the difference between you being able to retire successfully or not.”
“My advice to consumers is boring,” said Michael Falk, CFA and partner with Focus Consulting in Long Grove, Illinois. “Spend less than you earn, keep your focus on your goals, which are likely more than four years away, and never stop learning.” (You can see how your financial decisions are affecting your credit by viewing your free credit report snapshot, with updates every two weeks, on Credit.com.)
Hedge Against Inflation
Many investors are rightly concerned about inflation, said Robert Dowling, a financial planner with Modera Wealth Management in Westwood, New Jersey. Employment is up, and Fed Chair Janet Yellen recently said it “makes sense” for the U.S. central bank to gradually raise interest rates. For these reasons, he said investors may want to give themselves exposure to Treasury Inflation-Protection Securities, or TIPS, which provide a hedge against inflation, as well as commodities. “I would never suggest selling everything and buying these two different asset classes,” he said, but if investors have exposure to these, it could benefit their portfolio when inflation takes hold.
Another option for concerned investors is adding more global exposure, Dowling said. Again, you’ll want to broadly diversify, not concentrating too much on one country or type of investment, and avoid currency risks by choosing a quality mutual fund with help from an expert. “There is a portion of exposure we always like to have to emerging markets — small economies and small countries offer lots of growth (and volatility),” Boudreaux said. Investing no more than 5% “has always helped us.”
When betting on emerging and developed markets — which are all available in inexpensive index funds — “don’t pick stocks just to pick them,” advised William Bernstein, author of The Investor’s Manifesto. “The transaction costs will eat you alive.” Keep your risk tolerance in mind and try not to overestimate it. “If you think you can [tolerate more risk], maybe you want to tamp it down,” he said. “Once every 10 years you get a real financial crisis. You want to have an allocation you can live with when that does happen — and that’s not an if, that’s a when.”
Set Aside Cash
“Because I think the potential impacts are so opaque,” Falk said, referring to the Trump presidency, “I lean toward avoiding leverage and major directional bets, and maintaining some dry powder (cash) or quick access to capital.”
Dowling agreed, suggesting consumers shore up at least two years’ worth of living expenses, which can be stashed in a CD or money market account. For retirees, having the cash to draw from while they work to replenish their lagging portfolio — a popular strategy known as cash-flow management — can be invaluable. For young professionals, it can help to have those savings on hand in case of emergency. “Pay yourself first, fund your Roth IRA and build good spending habits,” Boudreaux advised. “The spending habits you develop in your 20s and 30s will have a much greater impact on your financial future than what the market does in the next two to four years.”