We all stare agape, shocked that the U.S. government has allowed splintered self-interest to rise above its collective duty. No, we’re actually not surprised. Sadly, we’ve come to expect this. The question we have to answer is: Are we going to alter our lives, our financial plans and our portfolio strategies to accommodate D.C. drama?
Unfortunately, there isn't a specific portfolio prescription for political gamesmanship or government gridlock. Heavy handed federal influence in the aughts, especially since 2008, has taught all of us that the government may impose its fractured will at any time, effectively changing the rules of the game. But the strategy to deal with this is little different from dealing with one of the market’s constants: UNCERTAINTY. Consider utilizing the following five strategies in response to today's brand of uncertainty:
1. IF you have created a portfolio that is designed to accomplish your objectives over the long-term through deliberate diversification, you may be wise to respond to the news of a government shutdown by simply IGNORING it. (This is my favorite response.)
2. Crises of every variety can serve as a good reminder to do what we should be doing anyway in our management of investments—like reallocating. This may be a particularly good time to siphon some U.S. exposure, which has been on a seemingly undeserved tear this year, shifting it to the international exposure in your portfolio which has likely lagged.
3. Regardless of the market's direction, increased uncertainty tends to create more volatility in the markets. If your sanity will only be maintained by “doing something” at this time, you may respond to this aggressively by purchasing the VIX through a volatility index that rises when the spread between market peaks and valleys rises. Or, respond conservatively by increasing cash allocations.
4. If this government standoff extends, the economy's recent trend toward optimism may also revert, causing the Fed to balk at its expressed intent to taper its bond-buying. If so, you might get another chance to re-finance your mortgage and slow any strategies you've employed that are designed to hedge against rising interest rates.
5. Recession (or depression) in Europe, protracted Middle-East conflicts, war in Syria, slowed growth in China, student debt bubble, government debt bubble… Take your pick of the crisis du jour that could send our high-flying S&P 500 into the correction (or worse) many feel it deserves. Could a government shut-down be the back-breaking straw for this weary camel? If you rode the market all the way down and then all the way up, it might be a good time to conduct a portfolio analysis with the goal of making capital preservation a higher priority. To stay on the ride isn’t investing—it’s gambling.
Inaction is likely the best action to take in the face of this month’s government drama as long as you have a well-conceived, well-implemented investment strategy. But this flavor of uncertainty could also be a great reminder to do what you should be doing anyway—ensuring that your portfolio is not a collection of hunches but a well-oiled machine constructed of wisdom, knowledge and foresight.