This year has been another banner year for the stock market as the economy rebounds from the pandemic. We’ve also seen the rise, and sometimes fall, of so-called “meme” stocks. And, of course, we’ve seen tremendous volatility in cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin.
It may seem like a lot to process – and it is – but to provide some perspective, I’ll take a step back and share a personal story.
My elder son, Walter, got his first job this summer. He’s 15. It’s not that he hasn’t worked before – he’s done lawn mowing, snow shoveling and other work for folks in our community. And, unfortunately last summer many businesses were still closed while others were not hiring young kids. This summer he worked as a lifeguard at a local pool, which was an ideal first job for him since he’s a competitive swimmer.
When Walter received his first paycheck, I took the opportunity to share some lessons about personal finance. For example, as a young person, there’s probably nothing better you can do than save some of your paycheck and fund a Roth IRA. He would never have to pay taxes on the investment gains as they accumulate over hopefully many decades. (But if he were to cash out of the Roth IRA prior to age 59 ½, he could get hit with a tax bill and a penalty on any gains in the account. Also, a Roth IRA must be funded out of earned income – a parent or other relative can’t gift the money. See Roth IRA Retirement Accounts | Thrivent (thriventfunds.com.)
At Thrivent, we take a long-term view of investing. We’re investors and not short-term traders. We invest in companies we believe in for the longer term. But this is where the current market environment can make it challenging to pass along this approach to investing, whether to a teenager or to the many adults with whom I speak.
“Did you hear about Emily? She made a bunch of money investing in cryptocurrency.” Or, “my friend Jose bought GameStop options and now he’s rich!” In many cases, I suspect that the results have been exaggerated, but there’s no question that when one invests in a highly volatile asset, there is the potential for high returns (and big losses).
The lesson I’d like to teach Walter is not to gamble or expect to strike it rich overnight. The odds of achieving one’s goals are a lot higher over a longer time period, but it’s a natural temptation to want things now.
I’m not saying, however, that one shouldn’t take investment risk. Most folks would benefit from working with their financial advisor to determine the level of risk that is appropriate for them. My caution about making large bets in highly volatile assets isn’t to say that one shouldn’t take investment risk, but rather that if one is going to take a given level of risk, it would be more effective over the long term to take such risk in a diversified portfolio.
Walter has an investment horizon of, I would hope, 70 years or more. He should take quite a bit of investment risk with his little nest egg (assuming he actually listens to me and saves some). At Thrivent, we spend a lot of time, energy and resources and have entire teams of people who manage investment risk.
I won’t go into all the quantitative details of measuring investment risk, but as a long-term investor, I would personally prefer to take my investment risk by buying stock in companies we like that are growing (but carry risks and might not be the winners in their space) or companies that we believe are undervalued or unappreciated. (These “value” stocks have risk as well.)
By not making a big short-term bet, an investor can actually take more long-term risk and have the potential for attractive outcomes. Even if an investor has a “quick win” by flipping a meme stock or other asset, that investor would still need to figure out how best to reinvest those proceeds. How many times do you want to flip a coin or otherwise make a binary bet? I’d much rather bet on a diversified portfolio that has a risk level that is appropriate for me and take those returns over the long term.
So, what is the message I want my son to learn as he works his first job? Don’t try to get rich quickly. That can work, but very rarely. There are no guarantees in investing, but achieving your financial goals in a disciplined manner over time gives you much better odds – even in the type of environment we’ve had this year when a lot of assets seem frothy.
At Thrivent, our team of over 100 investment professionals appreciates the confidence our shareholders have placed in us, and we take that trust very seriously. Our goal is to provide our shareholders with a long-term path to wealth – rather than to try to rack up rapid returns through speculative trades, which often tends to backfire. We believe that a steady, diversified, and carefully executed strategy is the smoothest path to wealth over the long term.