Navigation Series : Crisis Investing: Keeping Your Head
When a crisis creates uncertainty, markets often become volatile; especially when the scope of the disaster isn't clear. A crisis is like Janus, the Roman god, with faces that looked forward and back. For some investors, it may represent a threat. For others, it may spell an opportunity. Not every crisis requires a reaction and sticking to a long-term plan is still the best strategy for most people.
Here are some examples of factors that investors sometimes overlook when considering which face of Janus to focus on during a crisis.
Watch the global supply chain
Companies increasingly operate in a global context. The more heavily an industry or company relies on global partners, the more it might be affected by crisis conditions. Think not only about companies that are affected directly by turmoil, but about other companies that rely on them.
For example, China has become in many ways the world's factory floor and many information technology services are now outsourced to India. How would a crisis in either country affect global supply chains or communications infrastructure? Might competitors not affected by the crisis pick up at least some of the slack? How might a particular industry be hit by shortages of parts or raw materials? Is a large multi-national firm so geographically spread out that a crisis in one part of the world may have little impact on its overall operations? Oil is perhaps the most obvious example of how a crisis can affect global supply chains. A perceived threat to supplies can affect prices of other assets.
Consider currency fluctuations
Currency fluctuation is another factor to consider. Crises in one part of the world can affect that region's currency which in turn, can affect companies located elsewhere. The 2010 panic over potential default by several eurozone countries strengthened the dollar and although that may sound like good news, a stronger dollar can hurt U.S. exports.
Currency issues are important because of what's called the "carry trade." This happens when investors use money from a country where interest rates are relatively low. However, if the cheaper currency suddenly increases in value, the "carry trade" can reverse as investors put their capital back into the so-called "funding currency." This can affect assets denominated in other currencies. For example, the yen soared as investors anticipated that money would be repatriated to deal with Japan's earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster. Some investments denominated in other currencies suffered when investors sold them to invest in yen.
Think both long-term and short-term
Nothing lasts forever. When considering whether a crisis represents a challenge or an opportunity, think both short-term and long-term. A crisis with potentially long-term opportunities or harmful consequences may mean you may be able to take more time with a decision. If the window of opportunity is smaller or the potential devastation more short-term, remember that there are alternatives to an "all-or-nothing" investment approach. For example, you could take a small position and see how your investment thesis plays out before committing more. Even if the window of opportunity slams shut, new opportunities often emerge during even the worst of times. Missing one now doesn't mean you won't find others later, but to do so you need to have your "head on a swivel" always looking for the next new opportunity and acting much like Janus.
This information contains forward-looking statements about various economic trends and strategies. You are cautioned that such forward-looking statements are subject to significant business, economic and competitive uncertainties and actual results could be materially different. There are no guarantees associated with any forecast and the opinions stated here are subject to change at any time and are the opinion of the individual strategist. Data is taken from sources generally believed to be reliable but no guarantee is given to its accuracy.