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2015: the five lessons investors should have learnt

By Corporate FE Tips

Updated on Thursday, 14 January, 2016


Last year was one rocky ride for many investors, with most of the issues that plagued markets in 2015 still continuing to do so in the New Year. While we see further market turbulence this week, it may be time to take stock of what investors should have learnt from 2015’s market upheaval.

Issues such as the UK general election, the Greek financial crisis, European quantitative easing, economic slowdown in China, plunging commodity prices and an interest rate rise in the US all made for a pretty turbulent year for the investment markets.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at just what we should have learnt from 2015’s rollercoaster ride:

  • China matters, a lot

2015’s biggest lesson for many was just how important China has become - not just to the global economy, but also the world financial markets.

As we all know, China has been the world’s factory for quite some time now – producing all the cheap goods that we enjoy on a daily basis – but last year was important in underlining that the country has now moved to a position where it is a top consideration for world central bankers and decision-making.

Importantly, decisions made by the People’s Bank of China (the Chinese central bank) can move markets, as evidenced throughout last summer and continuing into this year – firmly highlighting just how important a player the Asian nation is to the health of the world’s financial markets, and thus to your portfolio.

  • Even the safest looking shares can let you down

Volkswagen. Need we say more?

Big blue-chip shares are not infallible, as history has shown us time and again. No big name is too big to lose value or even disappear entirely – remember Lehmen Brothers?

VW’s emission scandal last September was a reminder for many investors of the problems of having any single share as a majority in portfolios.

The German carmaker’s share price plunged some 35 per cent in a couple of days once the scandal hit headlines – and unfortunately, not only did it affect VW, it also had a knock-on effect on other European carmakers and the previously great reputation of German auto firms in the global economy.

  • Cheap shares can still get cheaper

Investors looking to get bargain prices for typically expensive stocks, say due to a share/index suffering a sharp fall - should remember that if you get the timing wrong and buy too early, you could end up losing more money before you see returns - that is if you do at all.

Commodities businesses in the FTSE 100 have had a terrible couple of years now with slowing consumption from China and the sliding oil price. For many investors there would have been many perceived opportune times to buy – but as the price of oil continues to slide, these companies are still seeing the negative effects on their share prices.

  • Watch out for geopolitics

While a lot of importance has been put on interest rates over the past few years, quite rightly, there is a danger that investors sometimes underestimate how important politics is to portfolios.

Issues such as oil price and Middle Eastern foreign policy, Brexit (possible British exit from the EU) and other eurozone issues and a possible Trump presidency all take their effect on market sentiment.

Monetary tightening will be slow and gradual, so a huge jump in interest rates any time soon is unlikely – but it is worth keeping an eye on political issues that may affect your fund.

Having said that – investors should also not base investment decisions around elections. Why? Well take last year’s general election for example.

Many Brits, including pollsters and experts, were convinced the outcome of that election was going to be a hung parliament or a Labour government – but we ended up with the Conservative party in office.

Basing investment calls around elections can wreak havoc on portfolios – and it is worth remembering that no matter which party wins, change is always slow to take hold, thus giving investors time to assess the situation.

  • And lastly, be wary of the experts

While what experts have to say should be considered, it should only be done to a certain level. Economist/analysts/market pundits add value and have access to the people that the average man on the street will not have – but they are not fortune-tellers, and therefore blindly trusting everything any expert has to say will likely lead to investment woe.

At the end of the day, it’s worth remembering the basics of investment:

Don’t try to time the market, look to invest for a long time, and if it’s too good to be true - it probably is.

And whatever you do, don’t panic.