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portfolio strategy

Nothing focuses investors on their portfolios like falling stock markets.

Strong markets breed complacency – why fiddle with what’s working? Falling stocks mean losses on paper and that makes people question their investments. Well-built portfolios anticipate setbacks every so often, so there may be no need to make changes. Still, people worry.

What follows is a list of websites to help you manage your portfolio through uncertain times. Markets are often at their choppiest in the fall and this year there’s a particular concern about the possibility of a recession. Things could get interesting.

If you want well-reasoned, non-biased guidelines on investment returns for the long term

Investors holding stocks should focus primarily on long-term results, which means five to 10 years or more. It’s natural to base your expectations for long-term returns on what’s happened previously in the markets, but not particularly helpful. More than ever, markets are behaving in ways that don’t mirror the past.

To properly assess your returns and set reasonable expectations for the future, you need forecasting based on financial fundamentals. You’ll find this in the Project Assumption Guidelines produced by the FP Canada standards council for use by financial planners in working with clients.

If you want to skip the explanatory details, head to Page 13 for long-term assumptions for inflation, stocks and bonds then to Page 14 for estimates of long-term returns for conservative, balanced and aggressive portfolios. Warning: These numbers are modest. The balanced portfolio is expected to produce average annual returns of 3.7 per cent after fees.

If you hear a lot of talk about inverted yield curves and want to know exactly what’s going on

The global economy, Canada included, has lost momentum and there’s growing concern about a recession. These fears are being played out in the bond market through what’s known as an inverted yield curve. That means short-term interest rates are higher than long rates, which is the opposite of normal.

Bond yields help determine what returns you’ll get on bonds, bond funds and guaranteed investment certificates, and they also influence fixed-rate mortgages. Keep track of bond yields using the Bank of Canada’s Selected Bond Yields page. Check out the one-year charts to see how dramatically bond yields have fallen.

If you hear a lot of talk about recession and want to know exactly what’s happening in the economy

Monthly reports from Statistics Canada on economic output, unemployment and inflation offer a snapshot of what’s going on. For longer-term numbers and trends, try the Trading Economics website.

It offers a directory of all recently released major economic numbers, plus charts that in some cases go back to the 1960s. Here’s where you find the context that explains today’s numbers.

If you need back-to-basics information on investing

The details on how markets, stocks, bonds, funds and more work don’t seem important when you’re making money in a bull market. But shaky markets have a way of quickly exposing the things you don’t understand about investing.

If this happens to you, try GetSmarterAboutMoney.ca. It’s a plain-English guide to investing and personal finance that really does simplify. A lot of investing material on the internet originates from companies trying to sell products. This website is free of this conflict because it’s funded by the Ontario Securities Commission.

If you wake up to hear global markets are crashing and want to know what to expect for the day ahead

One of the unnerving things about a stock-market plunge is the way it gets covered everywhere, not just in the financial media. You may wake up in the morning to hear about big losses overnight in Asian and European markets. Find out the details by checking in with Globe Investor’s Premarket and Before the Bell reports, which set up the day ahead. For overnight market-by-market data, try MarketWatch.

If you’re looking for stocks and funds to buy on the downswing

Fine, stocks are falling. But are they bargains or just coming off an expensive peak? One way to find out is to look at the charts. Globe Investor’s stock charts offer views from one day to 20 years, and you can track volumes and closing prices over multiple points in time for each view. You can also compare different stocks and apply technical indicators such as moving averages.

Gather up stocks of interest using Globe Investor’s Watchlist feature. You can check in on them any time to help spot opportunities to buy and sell.

If you’re questioning your investment adviser

Losing money in a down market does not mean you got bad advice – the important details are your long-term gains and whether you’re on track to meet your financial goals. Still, people do tend to get more critical of their advisers when markets are down.

To find out how your adviser stacks up, try the 18-point adviser evaluation checklist we created for Globe subscribers. The point is to highlight services that advisers ideally provide in addition to managing your investments. To find out how the advice fees you’re paying compare to investors comparable to you, take a look at our investment fee disclosure tool.

If you’re interested in ETFs as an investing vehicle

People who manage investments for a living sometimes badmouth exchange-traded funds by saying you’ll feel the full force of a market drop if you own them, while managers can cushion the fall in various ways. This is true of the ETFs that track stock- and bond-market indexes – after all, you’re essentially buying the market with these funds.

But with their low fees, index-tracking ETFs often deliver returns exceeding what you get from the portfolio managers that run mutual funds and individual stock and bond portfolios. ETFs also offer an easy way to diversify, they provide transparency in what they hold, they’re easy to buy through online brokers and you can get away with as few as one for your entire portfolio if you buy a balanced ETF.

As the stock markets crashed in 2008-09, the ETF industry reported a net inflow of money from investors while mutual funds had an outflow. If ETFs start making sense to you in these uncertain times, The Globe’s ETF Buyer’s Guide can help you get started.

To make sure you’re getting the best return on conservative investments

Falling stocks mean an opportunity to buy low, which is one of the foundations of successful investing. But people often react to the stress of a market pullback by getting more conservative in their investing.

We’re living in an era of low interest rates, so you’ll have to work to find comparatively decent returns on GICs and savings accounts. There aren’t a lot of familiar names in the GIC rate chart offered on the Canadian High Interest Savings Bank Accounts website, but each issuer offers higher rates than those posted by the big banks. They also offer deposit insurance through either Canada Deposit Insurance Corp. or provincial credit union deposit insurance plans.

If you’re wondering whether to pay off debt instead of investing

Use the Pay Down Debt or Invest calculator on GetSmarterAboutMoney.ca to see if your money is better deployed in repayment of debt instead of investments, even with stocks on sale. It’s a no-brainer to pay down high-cost debt like credit cards first.

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