The article “Is now the time for a long-term investor to abandon stocks?” was originally published in MoneySense on October 12, 2022. Photo by Jenny Ueberberg on Unsplash.

It’s been a difficult year for stock investors. Should you move into GICs or mortgage funds to invest for the long term?

With the current volatility of today’s market, I have seen my LIRA investment bounce up to almost $90,000 earlier this year, to almost $20,000 less today. That said, it is in a medium- to high-risk portfolio at the moment.

With any luck, I probably still have approximately 18 more years I could potentially be working, however I cannot contribute anything to this LIRA. I am interested in knowing the following:

  1. Should I move it to GIC investments?
  2. I am interested in investing in a mortgage fund, but can I, and how?


How to deal with market volatility as a long-term investor

This year has been a brutal one for investors. Stocks are down, bonds are down, real estate is down—there has been nowhere to hide.

The Toronto Stock Exchange net total return is negative 11% year-to-date. The S&P 500 has been much worse, with a 23% drop. Canadian bonds, as measured by the FTSE Canada Universe Bond Index, have lost 13%.

If your locked-in retirement account (LIRA) has gone from $90,000 to just over $70,000, Sharon, it sounds like you are down about 20% in 2022. I understand how concerning this is for investors. People wonder if they could lose another 20%, and another 20% after that. They might ask themselves, “When will the losses stop?”

This type of thinking is known as “recency bias.” It is a tendency to believe that recent events, like investment losses, are likely to persist in the future. The same bias can cause an investor to take on too much risk when things are going well. Interestingly, the more stocks go down, the more likely they are to go back up.

Long-term investing during bear markets

Since 1950, the S&P 500 has gone down 25% or more on nine occasions—including this year. That 72-year time horizon is probably a good reference for an investor’s lifetime. In other words, an investor who starts investing when they are 18 and lives to 90 might expect to live through nine periods when their stocks go down by more than one-quarter based on market history. That is once every eight years.

During these previous eight historic bear market events, the average decline was 39%. The average 1-year return from the market bottom was 22%. One of those eight periods occurred during February and March 2020, when the pandemic began, so we have not yet seen the subsequent 5- and 10-year returns from the market trough. But for the other seven, the 5- and 10-year returns averaged 13% and 12% annualized, respectively.

Stocks vs GICs

So, you asked, Sharon, if you should move your money into guaranteed investment certificates (GICs)GIC rates are great right now, paying 4.5% to 5%. Those rates could move higher still. After losing money in stocks, if you were to sell and buy a 5-year GIC paying 5%, your annualized return over the next five years would be 5%. Based on historic stock market downturns, the subsequent 5-year stock market returns have been more than double that.

My guess is—because that is all it is—that stocks will provide a better return over the next five years than a GIC. And if you have a globally diversified portfolio, it is more likely your returns will be strong compared to owning a portfolio of a few stocks in a few sectors with more company or sector risk.

Sharon, I can say, with a high degree of likelihood, by the time you need your money in 18 years, when you plan to retire, that stocks will provide a much higher return than GICs.

When it makes sense to hold onto stocks

Day to day, whether stocks will be up or down is basically a coin toss. Year to year, they have been up historically more than two-thirds of the time. An investor with a long time horizon like you should invest based on their risk tolerance to avoid panicking and selling at a low point, ideally holding as much exposure to risk assets as they can handle.

You mention that you cannot contribute to your LIRA account, and that is true. It is locked-in and does not allow new contributions. I can only assume if you are not contributing to a regular registered retirement plan (RRSP) account that you are a defined benefit pension plan member. That would wipe out nearly all of your annual RRSP room. If you have a guaranteed monthly income in retirement from your pension, that is kind of like a GIC or fixed income investment to begin with, so I would be even more inclined to maintain stock market exposure in your LIRA.

Using a LIRA to invest in mortgage funds

You ask about investing in a mortgage fund, Sharon. That is possible within a LIRA. There are publicly traded as well as private mortgage funds that are eligible to purchase in registered accounts. There is no magic to a mortgage fund. The expected returns are generally higher than GICs but so too is the risk. The upside potential is also limited if you are thinking of selling your stocks at a loss today to buy a mortgage fund.

Arguably, stock market returns may be higher over the medium term. If you decide to buy a mortgage fund with your LIRA, Sharon, it should be a small percentage of your account with a well diversified exposure to other types of investments that fit with your risk tolerance.

Jason Heath is a fee-only, advice-only Certified Financial Planner (CFP) at Objective Financial Partners Inc. in Toronto. He does not sell any financial products whatsoever.