Robin Bowerman, Head of Retail at Vanguard Investments Australia.
Robin Bowerman, Head of Retail at Vanguard Investments Australia.

Plans provide inertia antidote

INDECISION is the perfect bedfellow of investor inertia.

And at the moment it is completely understandable that investors are feeling uncertain, indecisive.

Economic data combined with the company results reporting season – both here and in the US - are sending mixed messages and sharemarket indexes, as a result, are treading water. Throw a cliff-hanger federal election campaign into the mix and uncertainty dominates much of the investment background.

In recent weeks attending seminars with financial advisers around the country, the practical impact of the lack of market momentum or direction was obvious.

Financial advisers are at the front line in terms of dealing with investors’ concerns, helping them make investment decisions and plan for long-term financial goals.

The consistent theme in talking to advisers in the past month was that investors are on a virtual capital strike – the cash is often available and sitting there but people are baulking at the decision point to commit to growth assets. The capital guarantee of a bank term deposit is a positive anchor point.

In one sense this shows a healthy respect for the risk inherent in sharemarkets and that the lessons of the global financial crisis have not been forgotten quickly. It also shows that investors are valuing capital protection above all else.

While capital certainty is a tangible positive it positions a portfolio at the low end of both the risk and return scale – and is very much an investment decision even if the result of inertia than conscious choice.

In many ways perhaps this is a time to be thinking less about investment decisions and more about how you are tracking to a long-term, strategic financial plan.

No-one can predict (with certainty at least) what market returns will be in the future. But most people have at least a sense of their personal financial goals– whether it be upgrading the house, getting children through school and university or estimating what they need to retire on and fund their lifestyle after full-time work stops.

At times of uncertainty like these a clear financial plan can be a powerful tool in helping people break through the state of indecision and the emotional influence of markets tracking sideways.

For most people a financial plan breaks down into short-term, medium term and long-term requirements and aspirations. You may well decide to take less market risk and trim today’s lifestyle spending so you can save more in order to achieve future savings goals.

Those sorts of conscious tradeoffs are what constitute a real-world financial plan.
They can also help you navigate short-term periods of uncertainty that have been the hallmark of 2010 so far.

The ability to look beyond things like election results, this year’s profit results and focus on what you are trying to achieve as an investor in three, five or 30 years can help you make positive, informed decisions that will keep you on course to achieve the most important things for you.

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Robin Bowerman, Vanguard Investments Australia's Head of Retail, has more than two decades of experience in the finance industry as a writer, commentator and editor.

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