Reflecting on 2020

The end of 2020 is just around the corner, and boy what a year it has been. Who would have thought that 2020 would be the year that a pandemic would bring the world to a semi-standstill? We certainly didn’t anticipate that ‘zoom’ would become a buzzword, facemasks would be the latest obligatory fashion accessory, sanitizer would be a must-pack handbag item, and working from home would be the new norm for most.

2020 is most certainly a year that will be remembered and spoken about for years to come. I have heard so many people comparing 2020 to a terrible rollercoaster ride when it comes to markets and emotions. If we had to break up the year (broadly) into three categories, it actually does resemble the motion of a rollercoaster.

 

Quarter One: The Climb and Collapse

The year started like any other. Shortly into the year, news regarding the outbreak of the Coronavirus in Wuhan started surfacing in the media. At this stage, most shrugged it off, thinking it would be contained and resolved quickly. In hindsight, this was the build-up phase of the rollercoaster, the slightly flat start that quickly elevates – just before the first big dip. In the middle of March, the dip came abruptly, with a deep fall that was filled with fear.

Globally countries went into lockdown, economies were brought to their knees and no one knew how long it would last. Markets sold off aggressively, the oil price collapsed, and South Africa’s sovereign debt was finally downgraded to sub-investment grade (which got a bit lost in all the other bad news at the time).

 

Quarter Two and Three: The Recovery

The next phase of this year saw the quickest recovery from a crash on record. The S&P 500 took a mere 33 days to recover where it took 517 days to recover from the crash of 2008. The rollercoaster completely tilted in the opposite direction – this time a fast and steep ride up. The largest driver of the quick recovery was arguably the enormous stimulus packages that were introduced by governments across the globe.

Investors quickly regretted not deploying more cash when markets were on its knees. Fund managers called March 2020 the “Covid gift”, a brief time where you had the opportunity to buy fantastic companies at bargain prices. Easier said than done. When humans are filled with fear, they tend to make irrational decisions which end up costing them in the form of investment returns over time.

 

Quarter Four: Market Jitters and the Rotation

As the second wave of Covid 19 hit countries and lockdown restrictions were imposed in some places again, investors started to fear another crash. Coupled with this was the uncertainty surrounding the US Elections. This phase of the rollercoaster can be compared to when you enter a dark tunnel and you know that something is about to happen, but you are unsure exactly what.

Uncertainty and the inability to see what lies ahead does warrant some jitters. If we have learnt anything, it is that markets hate uncertainty more than anything. But that was not all that happened in the fourth quarter. A possible vaccination is now on the horizon, and the Democrats celebrated victory over the Republicans in the US. Suddenly, the rollercoaster exited the dark tunnel, it was not upside down anymore and the light at the end of the tunnel was in sight.

November marks the month of the “rotation” where “stay-at-home” stocks were exchanged in favour of “out-in-the-world” stocks. The large technology stocks sold off aggressively and that money is finding its way towards the cheaper out-of-favour stocks – tourism shares and financials etc. increased by double-digit numbers in November alone. Despite what conspirators might claim, investors are slowly realising that the world is not about to end, that we will be able to travel, dine out and return to working with our colleagues in offices again.

The big questions now are – how long will this rotation last, is this the end of Covid 19, could a vaccine be distributed across the globe in a timely fashion, and does President Biden have the ability and power to change the direction of the US? Unfortunately, no one knows, and only time will tell.

What is more important, as we reflect on this past year, is to ask ourselves what we could have done differently. Perhaps you made emotional decisions when it came to your investments, perhaps you worried about things that were completely out of your control, perhaps you realised that you should be more diversified.

Wherever you may find yourself in December, take the time to reflect on 2020. What were your biggest lessons, and what would you have done differently?

Someone once said to me “Don’t bet against humanity”, and those words are so true. As people we are resilient, we are adaptable, and we will get through the difficult times.

Debra Slabber, CFA®

Business Development Manager

Morningstar Investment Management South Africa

Risk Warnings

This commentary does not constitute investment, legal, tax or other advice and is supplied for information purposes only. Past performance is not a guide to future returns. The value of investments may go down as well as up and an investor may not get back the amount invested. Reference to any specific security is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. The information, data, analyses, and opinions presented herein are provided as of the date written and are subject to change without notice. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided, but Morningstar Investment Management South Africa (Pty) Ltd makes no warranty, express or implied regarding such information. The information presented herein will be deemed to be superseded by any subsequent versions of this commentary. Except as otherwise required by law, Morningstar Investment Management South Africa (Pty) Ltd shall not be responsible for any trading decisions, damages or losses resulting from, or related to, the information, data, analyses or opinions or their use.

This document may contain certain forward-looking statements. We use words such as “expects”, “anticipates”, “believes”, “estimates”, “forecasts”, and similar expressions to identify forward-looking statements. Such forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors which may cause the actual results to differ materially and/or substantially from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by those projected in the forward-looking statements for any reason.

 

Morningstar Investment Management South Africa Disclosure

The Morningstar Investment Management group comprises Morningstar Inc.’s registered entities worldwide, including South Africa. Morningstar Investment Management South Africa (Pty) Ltd is an authorised financial services provider (FSP 45679) regulated by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority and is the entity providing the advisory/discretionary management services.

Has 2020 shifted your financial goals?

If this year has taught us anything, it is that we need to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. In financial planning, clients are advised to reassess their financial goals when faced with important life events and/or changes, such as getting married, having a child or with the loss of a loved one. This year, a significant event happened with the outbreak of COVID-19, impacting investors globally. As we approach the end of 2020 and the start of a new year, why not take the time to assess your current financial goals, whether these goals are still relevant, set new goals if needed and make sure you are set-up for success going into 2021.

 

As clients continue to deal with the stressors and worries caused by the pandemic, they may be having trouble making sound financial decisions. Research has shown that we all suffer from behavioural biases, and we can be even more prone to behavioural mistakes during times of uncertainty.

 

Uncovering your real goals

It is likely that 2020 has impacted investors livelihoods and financial circumstances, and thereby also their financial goals.

What are your top financial goals? As investors, we all face this question at some point, and we generally have an answer. But have you ever looked at how stable or consistent your answers are, when you think about them in different contexts or at different times? It may surprise you, but researchers have found that we tend to answer with whatever is top of mind, which may not always be our true, long-term goals.

For example, let’s say a friend recently read an article about vacation trips in Italy. When you ask about long-term goals, the response might be: “I’d like to travel more,” even though the person also cares deeply about leaving a legacy of charitable works. It’s not that the person is insincere or that other goals aren’t deeply held – it’s just that is what’s top of mind and easy to recall.

Tailoring your financial plan around your personal goals can both increase your total returns and motivate you to stay on track1. The success of this technique however depends entirely on having the right goals in place – which research suggests we, as investors, struggle to identify.

To prompt more-thoughtful goal identification, past research suggests that a carefully curated list —a master list — of common objectives can be effective. Master lists have been shown to improve preference identification across a variety of areas. Our research tested the effectiveness of lists for identifying financial goals. We wanted the answer to the question: How can we help investors identify their true financial goals, and not only those that are top of mind?

We found that many people seemed to prioritise goals that were more personalised, detailed, and emotionally grounded after viewing the master list, and the use of a master list also seemed to nudge investors toward more-specific goals.

We found that about half of the people who changed their top goal focused on emotions instead of the outcome. Using a master list drew an important parallel between emotional returns and financial returns. Many people who changed their goals settled on outcomes that revolved around emotional security, such as “to feel secure about my finances now” and “to not be a financial burden to my family as I grow older”. While emotions are often seen as anathema to sound financial decisions, our results suggest that there’s a big emotional component to holistically defining financial goals.

If your goals changed, you’re not alone. At Morningstar, we created a worksheet to guide clients through the process of setting financial goals. Advisors can use this printable exercise to nudge clients toward deeper consideration of what goals are most important to them. This can prompt a meaningful discussion around goal setting and help people avoid top-of-mind, but superficial, goals. We also recommend that you read our research report Mining for goals to find out more about the research behind the worksheet.

Behavioural biases, that often creep in during the goal-setting process, surface when we are facing uncertainty — and when it comes to investment decisions, these biases can hurt more than they help. Investors may benefit from having a resource of their own from which to learn the impact of behavioural mistakes on their finances and how to avoid them. We created a checklist you can send to your clients to help them start to incorporate behavioural techniques into their financial decisions.

This checklist is written for investors, so you can offer clients a resource they can peruse on their own time as well as in your virtual check-ins. This way, you can both work together to help clients thoughtfully navigate their financial decisions and empower them to use behavioural techniques on their own when they may need them the most.

Investors are facing quite a few obstacles when it comes to making thoughtful financial decisions. We can’t erase the emotions and biases that come with these unprecedented times, but effective planning and practicing some behavioural techniques can help investors prevent these factors from getting in the way of their long-term financial goals.

This is where advisors can turn to lessons from behavioural science to help keep investors on track. We’ve created a guide and checklist for advisors to explore how to use these behavioural techniques in their practice.

Understanding your financial goals is central to financial planning but identifying goals that truly matter can be tough. Now, more than ever, we must take the time to avoid behavioural biases, establish strong financial goals, and implement behaviours to help meet these goals.

1 – Blanchett 2015; Locke et al. 1990).

Victoria Reuvers

Managing Director

Morningstar Investment Management South Africa

Risk Warnings
This commentary does not constitute investment, legal, tax or other advice and is supplied for information purposes only. Past performance is not a guide to future returns. The value of investments may go down as well as up and an investor may not get back the amount invested. Reference to any specific security is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. The information, data, analyses, and opinions presented herein are provided as of the date written and are subject to change without notice. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided, but Morningstar Investment Management South Africa (Pty) Ltd makes no warranty, express or implied regarding such information. The information presented herein will be deemed to be superseded by any subsequent versions of this commentary. Except as otherwise required by law, Morningstar Investment Management South Africa (Pty) Ltd shall not be responsible for any trading decisions, damages or losses resulting from, or related to, the information, data, analyses or opinions or their use.
This document may contain certain forward-looking statements. We use words such as “expects”, “anticipates”, “believes”, “estimates”, “forecasts”, and similar expressions to identify forward-looking statements. Such forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors which may cause the actual results to differ materially and/or substantially from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by those projected in the forward-looking statements for any reason.
Morningstar Investment Management South Africa Disclosure
The Morningstar Investment Management group comprises Morningstar Inc.’s registered entities worldwide, including South Africa. Morningstar Investment Management South Africa (Pty) Ltd is an authorised financial services provider (FSP 45679) regulated by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority and is the entity providing the advisory/discretionary management services.
+ t: (0)21 201 4645 + e: MIMSouthAfrica@morningstar.com + 5th Floor, 20 Vineyard Road, Claremont, 7708.