You Don’t Have to Sell Stocks Now

If individual investors keep their cool as coronavirus fears continue to pummel stocks, they “might even get to buy bargains as the big money bails out,” writes columnist Jason Zweig in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

Professional investors tend to move quickly when the market turns to avoid the ire of clients, Zweig explains, which can lead them to “chase the market trend too far and too long.” However, a 2002 study found that those stocks “dumped” by big investors during a downturn tend to outperform the market in the six months that follow.

“Patience,” Zweig writes, “is a luxury that individual investors can afford.”

The article cites a Vanguard survey of 16,000 individual investors that shows how their attitudes differ from those of bigger institutions—a survey the firm has conducted every two months since early 2017. The results reflect that individual investors expect U.S. stocks to return approximately 5% in the coming year, which is half the historical average return. Nearly 60% of survey participants predict one-year returns between 0% and 6%, and under 70% forecast 10-year returns in that range. Professional investors, on the other hand, often expect annual returns of over 7.5%.

The survey also shows that when stocks fall or rise, individual investors don’t significantly lower or raise their return expectations or sell/buy depending on the outlook. “Unlike professionals,” Zweig writes, “they often change their opinions without feeling obligated to act on them.”

Zwieg concludes, “No one knows how far the fear over coronavirus will extend or how much stocks will fall in response. What we can be fairly sure of is that individual investors are likely to be among the last—not the first—to sell.”