5 rules to guide your investing decisions during the coronavirus pandemic
This article is part of Fortune‘s quarterly investment guide for Q2 2020.
The coronavirus is a test case in more ways than one: not only in viral transmission, but in the spreading of information.
With so many sources of data and opinion these days, on all manner of different media platforms, it means good information mixes with bad—and often we don’t know which is which, because the sheer volume of it all is so overwhelming.
If you’re being overtaken by a tidal wave, for instance, you don’t really have the time or resources to distinguish one droplet of water from another—which is polluted and which is pure.
The same is true of coronavirus information. On the one hand you have someone like Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is as respected a source as there could be on the subject. On the other hand, you have torrents of social media content, where bad information spreads quickly and easily, such as the idea that the coronavirus can be dealt with by doing cocaine or drinking bleach. (It cannot.)
Under normal conditions, you would hope that investors would be able to tell quality information from garbage—especially when it comes to their money, and what they should do with it in perilous times. But when there are multiple amplifiers like fear and panic, setting off all your emotional triggers, it’s hard to sit back and do sober analysis.
There are plenty of dumb things people are advising in a moment like this, any one of which could torpedo your careful retirement plans. With that in mind, Fortune spoke with a few of the smartest people we know about their take on the coronavirus, and how investors should respond.
Stick with your asset allocation
“There’s a reason the whole industry has embraced it,” says Troy Gayeski, co–chief investment officer for hedge fund SkyBridge Capital. “No one knows the future, and there are a whole range of possible outcomes here, each of which will have different effects on stocks and bonds. But selling into weakness, unless you have urgent spending needs, is almost always a losing strategy. Certainly don’t panic, don’t overreact, and trust in your allocation.”
Favor long-term thinking over short-term
“Nobody knows what will happen, but the odds are at some point the world will go back to being normal,” says Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and author of Predictably Irrational. “The biggest possible mistake is to try to predict what will happen short-term. So if you believe the world will get better at some point, you should do nothing, hold, and stop watching the market all the time.”
Think carefully about where to put your money now
“If people are asking where they should put their money in the stock market, I would be thinking in terms of large-cap safety,” says David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Rosenberg Research & Associates. “Areas like utilities, multifamily REITs, consumer staples, and telecom. What you’re trying to capture here are areas of the market that are not that correlated with the economy, and where the dividend is solid. And I think gold is as close to a no-brainer as you get in this investment landscape.”
Watch out for debt. There is now a “meaningful probability of recession,” says Gayeski. And that means you should avoid companies that are up to their eyeballs in debt and in precarious financial shape. “Avoid egregious levels of leverage and the most fragile companies, because you can expect a cascade of defaults,” he says. “Consumer credit has improved, but with corporate credit, we’re looking at record levels of debt and weak underwriting standards.” In danger are areas like energy, travel and leisure, and hotels; more resilient sectors include technology, banking, and health care.
Get beyond the coronavirus
Of course the virus is getting all the headlines, because of the fear involved and because of how it is impacting our daily lives. But the market is gyrating for more than just that reason. “We have had a triple shock in short order: the shock to global supply chains, to consumer demand for services, and now the detonation in the energy sector, courtesy of the plunge in oil prices,” says Rosenberg. “Out of the three, the last one is the most pernicious. What is happening with oil, from an economic standpoint, is even bigger than the coronavirus.”
More from Fortune’s Q2 investment guide:
—Market preview: What to remember as we move past a quarter to forget
—Chasing returns: Why ‘inside the tent’ assets like corporate debt may be poised to outperform
—Q&A: State Street’s Lori Heinel on where she sees beaten-down buying opportunities during coronavirus
—Best stocks to buy now: These 5 names will weather the coronavirus pandemic
—Why a bear market is the best time to ‘convert’ to a Roth IRA
—The health of the economy in 7 charts
—How to adjust your 401(k) during a bear market
Subscribe to Fortune’s Bull Sheet newsletter for no-nonsense finance news and analysis daily.