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Market volatility: Why and how to make it work for you

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Freaked out about the markets? You’re not alone.

This year’s market volatility has rattled investors. While nobody loves market volatility, the wealthiest members of society seem to tolerate it better than the average Canadian or American. At least, they don’t seem to cash out of their investments after large market drops, and, according to studies, many investors do.

What separates the wealthy from the average investor? What is it that causes Joe and Josephine Average to be less successful as investors than they could be?

Recent research on young people and financial literacy shows that fin lit is an area where young people need help. Kids aren’t alone. Many adults don’t understand financial markets. In “Kids and money: What kind of financial legacy are we leaving our children?”, you can find some startling information on adults and financial literacy.

Investing (and financial literacy generally) is a major factor separating the poor from the wealthy in Canada and the U.S. While this is obviously not the only factor determining household wealth, it is a large contributor.

The media’s been saturated with stories about the “1 and 99”. Awareness about the 1 per cent and the 99 per cent of society in the U.S., and about why the 1 per cent hold so much more wealth than the 99 per cent is high right now. The Occupy movement has gotten a lot of attention in the media despite criticism that the movement’s message is somewhat muddled.

Some facts about the extremely wealthy in Canada (the richest 1 per cent of Canadians who capture 32 per cent of all income growth, according to StatsCan):

  • They own an enormous proportion of our society’s wealth
  • They are major holders of stock, bonds and real estate
  • They tend to be well-informed when it comes to investing, or they seek out experts to assist them with their financial planning strategies
  • They understand market volatility much better than the average investor does (again, they seek out experts more than the average investor does)

Up down and all around

Market volatility has put terror into more than one heart. Especially that of the novice investor. The danger here is that fear will stop the average investor in his tracks.

But don’t the 1 per cent face market volatility as well?

The volatility during the last five years has been extraordinary. The market has undergone two of its most extreme periods of volatility starting in 2008 and ending in 2009 and then beginning again this year. And, yes, we’re still in the midst of it. We may be closer to the end of the current period of volatility, but that’s difficult to know given the number of variables involved.

In Part Two, I’ll discuss why market volatility is your friend, and how changing the way you look at volatility leads to superior returns.

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