Take a long-term view to ride out market fluctuations

It's been another turbulent week in the financial world.

Wall Street values have been tumbling due to worries about a trade war, and in Australia two major banks have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

As a result, I've received a flurry of emails from people asking whether they should sell their shares before the situation gets worse.

One even asked me if I was going to sell my own bank shares.

It was a great question, and it has prompted me to explain the way I approach investing in the share market.

My investment philosophy is based on the premise that nobody can consistently forecast the direction of markets and that anybody investing in shares should have at least a five-to-seven-year timeframe in mind to allow them to ride out the inevitable ups and downs of the share market.

Therefore, I am very slow to react to bad news, which arrives constantly.

RISK: If banks go broke then shareholders would be the last to be paid.

RISK: If banks go broke then shareholders would be the last to be paid.

For years I have been regularly told that the next great depression is only months away, and I have watched with interest the fortunes of those who try to predict the market.

Remember all those who sold out in late 2016 when Donald Trump was elected president?

Well, $100,000 invested in the All Ordinaries Accumulation Index in November 2016 is now worth $139,000 - that's a 39 per cent return in just three years.

I do have a relatively small amount of bank shares in my superannuation fund and a much larger sum in an index fund.

Given that the index is heavily exposed to bank shares, you could say that I have a big chunk of my money in bank shares now.

However, since I look at share ownership on a long term basis, I'm quite relaxed about having a big chunk of my money in that type of asset.

The reason I choose the index over specific shares is because history tells me I'm not the greatest at picking winners.

Remember, by definition the index cannot go broke, and it is currently providing a yield of better than 4 per cent a year plus 80 per cent franking.

Another matter of concern to readers, with the spotlight on the banks, is the government guarantee of deposits of $250,000 a person per authorised institution, and whether they should spread their funds between banks for safety.

The best thing for most investors to do is ignore all the noise and leave their portfolios alone to grow over time.

It's an academic question.

In my mind it is a much bigger risk to leave too much money in cash or term deposits, where its value is continually being eroded by inflation - and often by income tax.

A much greater risk, if one or more banks were to go broke, is that the shareholders would be the last to be paid.

This means their shares would become worthless. Imagine the effect on the stock market and everybody's superannuation if that happened!

Having been an investor for more than 50 years, I have seen the full range of booms and busts.

I'm also aware of the propensity of the media to focus on bad news.

Therefore, I'm very happy to leave my portfolio alone, and enjoy the franked dividends as they come in.

As Professor Paul Marsh of the London School of Business said to me once, "The best thing for most investors to do is ignore all the noise and leave their portfolios alone to grow over time".

That's the kind of advice investors should listen to.

  • Noel Whittaker is the author of Making Money Made Simple and numerous other books on personal finance. noel@noelwhittaker.com.au