Why retirees shouldn’t let stock market volatility scare them

Nov 1st, 2018

Oh, great. On top of everything else retirees or folks eyeing retirement have to be worried about, there’s something we haven’t seen in a long time: market volatility.

After nearly a decade of strong gains—the S&P 500 SPX, -1.40% rose 293% between March 2009 and September’s all-time high—the broad index has tumbled 9% in the last six weeks (as of Tuesday’s close). That means we’re nearly halfway to a bear market, which is defined as a drop of 20% from a market high.

Here’s a question: If you’re down 9% in the past month, but up 293% since 2009, have you really lost money? It depends on your time frame. If you’re only looking at the past few weeks, yes. But isn’t a much bigger data set—a whole decade’s worth of returns—a better, healthier way to view this?

This is one of the dangers of what’s known as “recency bias,” meaning that humans have a tendency to more easily remember the recent past, as opposed to something further in the rear view mirror.

Read more: Why Retirees Shouldn’t Let Stock Market Volatility Scare Them

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