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Who knew five months ago that the pandemic would be such a money-making opportunity?

Stocks are flying, the housing market is surging, gold has popped and bitcoin’s on a tear. Did you miss the memo about pivoting from financial self-preservation to aggressive speculation? Feeling left out because you played it safe while others were daring?

You’re fine. Staying safe and solvent is still a smart thing to do as we head toward what will undoubtedly be an eventful fall. In the disruptions still ahead, there will very likely be opportunities for people who stay patient and are fortunate enough to have kept their jobs and income intact.

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One of the big financial stories early on in the pandemic was the feeling of everyone being on the same page. At all income levels, we were at home focusing on staying safe. The economy staggered, but an orderly rollout of government benefits and mortgage payment deferrals prevented the worst for those who lost their jobs.

Gradually in the ensuing months, the world of finance adopted a view that COVID-19 is a short-term nuisance. There’s a sense that those bold enough to see beyond the pandemic are reaping their just rewards.

Feeling self-doubt about missing out?

If you didn’t catch the upswing in stocks, it can feel as if other investors were smarter and braver than you. If you’re trying in vain to get into the housing market, it can feel as if everyone else is more successful than you. If you missed the gold or bitcoin trends, it can seem like another case of more nimble investors getting ahead.

There is pretty much always a financial trend or asset that is making lots of money for a select group of people. It’s odd to have so many assets rising at once and odder still that all of this is occurring during a global pandemic that has been slowed but not beaten.

The uncertainties caused by the pandemic have led to a wave of speculation. Investors are betting that government stimulus and interest rates near zero justify soaring stock prices. There’s pent-up demand for home buying after a locked-down spring, but the intensity of demand suggests people feel it’s a make-or-break time to get into the housing market or move up to a bigger home.

Gold is rising because it’s considered a safe haven against the kind of economic damage that stock market investors are shrugging off, while bitcoin is seen as a more modern version of gold.

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Don’t discount the role emotion is playing here. The pandemic has closed off a lot of our normal outlets and pursuits. People seem hungry for action and financial markets meet the need.

Both extreme optimism and pessimism are built into the thinking that has driven asset prices higher lately – optimism for stocks and housing, pessimism for gold and bitcoin. Everybody can’t be right, though. How can you stay ready to profit from any financial surprises to come? Here are a few points to consider.

Keep cash around

So what if the best rate you can get in a high-rate savings account is 1.8 per cent? Safely parked money is a shield against a pandemic second wave, and it also helps you exploit the next drop in the stock or housing market.

Stocks could be vulnerable

The stock market has come a long way since the March lows and could be due for a pullback, especially if the economy stumbles or the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is problematic. Try adding cash to your investment accounts on a monthly or biweekly basis to take advantage of dollar-cost averaging. That way, you’ll have a little exposure to both high and low markets over time.

Let others be bold in housing

Bidding to the limit of your affordability to buy a house in a pandemic is a high-risk financial manoeuvre. Big price increases in some markets seem to justify this behaviour, but the appetite for home-buying could fade once pent-up spring demand has been met and the mortgage deferrals granted earlier in the pandemic come to an end.

Whether you want to buy stocks or houses, stay patient as you await opportunities ahead. The story of how the pandemic affected financial markets has some suspenseful chapters ahead.

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