I’m sure you have heard the mantra “buy low, sell high”. That’s because it is the number one objective of investing. But how do you actually go about this in a fast changing world without constantly having to watch the markets? The answer is more straightforward than you might think:
Let’s keep this really simple – say you have a portfolio that is 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds. (of course your portfolio will be much better diversified than this but we’re going for simple here!) Over the course of a year the stock market soars and the bonds stay about the same. You’ve had a really good year in your stocks. In fact, they’ve done so well that the balance of your portfolio has changed to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. Now, you haven’t changed anything yourself. It’s just that one of your asset classes has increased in value and therefore in weight.
Then the next year, guess what? The stock market continues to do well! Your bonds stay about the same and the stocks have such a great year that the value of your investment goes up significantly. And you go out and celebrate! Your asset allocation is working perfectly!
What you haven’t noticed is that now your portfolio is 80% stocks and only 20% bonds. And what happens the next year? Yes, you guessed it – the stock market crashes, you are over-exposed to it, and all those gains are wiped out…you failed in your attempt to buy low and sell high.
So how can this be averted? Simply, by rebalancing. At the end of the first year you automatically sell some of your stocks (selling high what you bought low) and buy bonds, restoring your asset allocation to 60/40. At the end of year two you do the same.
Then year three comes and the stock market goes down, but the 40% you have in bonds is there to protect you. In fact, it’s quite likely that bonds do well that year. So in that case, at the end of the year, you will sell the some of the bonds (high) and invest back into stocks (low). That’s it!
So, once you have understood your risk profile, and diversified into a blend of assets weighted to match that profile, the last thing to do is make sure you rebalance on a regular basis so the weightings don’t get out of whack.
Rebalancing annually is how you automatically buy low and sell high, without stressing yourself about the direction of the market.