What will 2017 hold? Our natural curiosity about the future makes a ready-made market for speculative media articles about events likely to drive financial markets in the coming year.
But the assumption driving much of this seasonal coverage is that the mere turn in the calendar from one year to the next justifies overhauling your investment portfolio, generating significant turnover and unnecessary cost.
Against that background, here are 10 perennial New Year headlines to watch out for in the coming weeks...
1. “New Year, New Portfolio”
This journalistic boilerplate trades off our desire for reinvention as the calendar year turns. The presumption is you should completely change your investment strategy as if you were updating your wardrobe.
2. “Different Times, Different Strategies”
This assumes that the world has changed so dramatically that the rules of diversification and discipline no longer work. If you’re persuaded, look at last year’s forecasts.
3. “Brace for Uncertainty”
Saying the future is uncertain is a bit like saying night follows day. In the past year, there was Brexit and the US presidential election. In the coming year, there are elections in Germany and France. In other words, there is always uncertainty and there is always plenty of scope for speculation.
4. “Interest Rate Fears Mount”
Conjecture about central bank policy is a hardy perennial for financial media looking to fill space. Thee irony is that market expectations about these movements are already incorporated into current prices.
5. “Ten Stocks to Count On”
What if you could whittle your portfolio down to a handful of stocks and get rid of the rest? It might seem like a nice idea. However, it is also a dangerous one as the lack of diversification leaves you open to idiosyncratic influences.
6. “The World has Changed Forever”
Actually, the world is always changing. Economies rise and fall, businesses flourish and perish, some investments do well, while others languish. The rules for dealing with that haven’t changed at all.
7. “The Right Moves to Make Right Now”
This headline assumes there is a perfect time to invest and, equally, a perfect time to cash in. Problem is there’s no evidence you can reliably time the market. And in any case, everyone’s needs are different.
8. “Make Your Portfolio Bulletproof”
The idea that nothing you invest in should be falling in value is certainly an attractive one. The truth is no portfolio is likely to be completely bulletproof. Some parts of the portfolio may outperform, others may lag. Hence the need for diversification.
9. “Invest with the Stars”
No, this isn’t your horoscope for 2017. It’s a headline regularly attached to profiles of the top performing stock pickers of the previous year. But while everyone loves a winner, how many of them repeat?
10.“Take Charge of Your Wealth”
Who doesn’t love do-it-yourself stories? Just buy yourself some trading software and play the currency market from your spare room. Alternatively, you could hire an advisor and get your life back.
The truth about these holiday front covers is they are usually cooked up in an editorial meeting a few weeks out from the holiday season. They’re easy to write. They’re timeless. They’re clickbait. And, best of all, you can recycle them year-to-year.
In any case, what you do with your investments shouldn’t change according to the news, but according to your own needs, goals and risk appetite. Decisions are better made under the guidance of an advisor who understands your circumstances.
That’s a better foundation for a happy new year.
Jim Parker, 'Outside the Flags', Dimensional Australia