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The Beginner’s Guide to Investing

'Once in a decade' opportunity: Financial experts' advice for investing in the market downturn


The coronavirus pandemic has thrown global markets into turmoil, causing double-digit daily swings and making it difficult to find a safe store for your money.

The S&P 500 erased a fifth of its value during the first quarter of the year, its worst quarterly decline since the global financial crisis

In the immediate term, the economic downturn has made it more important than ever to have a cash buffer should you hit hard times, such as a stall in employment, over the coming months.

But, beyond that, it has also got people wondering where they can look for returns. 

Currently, investors are divided on the market outlook. For some, the U.S.'s $2.2 trillion stimulus bill signed Friday predicates positive moves ahead. Meanwhile others believe there could be further to fall. 

Financial experts CNBC Make It spoke to varied in view from concerned to cautiously optimistic. Freddy Lim, chief investment officer at digital wealth manager StashAway, said current data points to a short-term market crash, rather than a bear market. While Samuel Rhee, chief investment officer at digital financial advisory Endowus, says much still hinges on the U.S.'s policy response.

However, they were unanimous that now is a good time to capitalize on investment opportunities. 

"Long-term returns are birthed in the depths of such dire circumstances. It is a once in a decade type opportunity," said Rhee.

Investing opportunities

For those already with interests in the market, that means holding your nerve and continuing your contributions. For those on the outside, that means getting started while assets look undervalued. 

During the last major economic downturn, the global financial crisis, those who stayed invested in the S&P 500 recorded double the returns of those who moved to cash for as little as three months, according to data from Syfe and CBOE.

Though the current downturn lacks the economic underliers that caused the GFC, Syfe's CEO Dhruv Arora said the data highlights the merits of staying invested over the long term. 

"No one knows for sure when we will hit the bottom in this current situation, but we believe that staying invested and disciplined pays off," said Arora, advocating a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds and other asset classes.


While stocks have taken a pummeling in recent weeks amid the coronavirus-induced uncertainty, advisors CNBC Make It spoke to agreed they still present a compelling investment option — especially as many are now trading below their true value.

"We believe equities is the only game in town," said Wey Fook Hou, chief investment officer at DBS Bank, highlighting stocks with exposure to strong fundamentals such as U.S. e-commerce, health care and millennial consumption.

Steve Brice, chief investment strategist at Standard Chartered Private Bank, agreed technology and health-care stocks are likely to surge in the wake of the virus and containment efforts, such as increased remote work. But he cautioned that they may yet have further to fall.

"It is always possible that there will be even better entry points in the coming weeks as the crisis unfolds," said Brice. 


Bonds, or fixed-income assets, meanwhile look like an attractive hedge to stock market volatility, advisors said. That's because the return they offer is inversely correlated with interest rates: When interest rates fall — as they have done globally following several central bank cuts — bond yields go up.

"Sharp dislocations in the bond market and the monetary policy response has led to a reset, and the bond market looks like a good defensive asset class to remain invested," said Endowus' Rhee.

Brice agreed, highlighting Asian USD bonds and emerging market USD government bonds as particular picks. 

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Elsewhere, other assets such as real estate and commodities can help provide diversification to your portfolio. 

Gold in particular could be a good pick, said Rhee, as it provides a hedge against the U.S. dollar. However, as a "zero yielding asset class," allocation to the precious metal should be kept small, he said.


In terms of specific geographies, advisors noted that Asia — initially at the forefront of the outbreak — looks poised to recover first.

"We believe a lot of negatives have been priced in," said DBS's Hou. "In particular, we see value in China and Singapore markets, as they trade near/at GFC levels."

Despite that, many agreed the U.S. will continue to be attractive once it gets a handle on stabilizing case numbers.

Get started

While markets are set to remain volatile for some time to come, advisors agreed the best time to start investing is now.

One of the simplest entry routes for new investors may be via a digital wealth manager or passively managed index funds. In doing so, investors should focus on their long-term goals, rather than immediate financial needs.  

"The key is to start small, understand your risk profile, do your due diligence ... and stay diversified," said DBS's head of financial planning and personal investing, Evy Wee.

"We do not know how long the pandemic will last so it will be prudent to spread out your dry powder over a longer period than to invest 100% of your cash at one go," she added.

"Invest with money that you don't need in the short-term and adopt a long-term approach to enjoy the benefits of compounding over time."

Don't miss: How to keep your money safe as markets panic over coronavirus

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