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Sooner or later, every investor will experience a stock market crash—when markets plummet quickly and unexpectedly. Let’s take a look at a few of the best investment choices you can add to your portfolio now to help you weather extreme market conditions.
It’s hard to find steadier investments than U.S. Treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. Investors padding their portfolios with low-risk investments that can provide a bit more yield than cash under a mattress have long turned to U.S. treasury bonds.
With terms of 20 and 30 years, Treasury bonds pay interest every six months until maturity, at which point the government pays you their face value. Rates constantly fluctuate, but recently treasury bonds have yielded in a range between 1.375% and 2.375%.
While Treasury bonds provide stability, there are times when they barely keep up with inflation—and now is one of those times. Other forms of government-backed debt, like I bonds or Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) may be better choices during periods of low interest rates and high inflation.
You can buy Treasury bonds, I bonds and TIPS directly from the U.S. Treasury at their website, TreasuryDirect.gov.
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Corporate Bond Funds
If you’re comfortable with slightly more risk than government bonds, but still want the security of fixed income, corporate bonds may be just the ticket.
Corporate bonds work a lot like Treasury bonds, except instead of lending Uncle Sam money, you’re giving it to private companies. These private companies then turn around and use your investment to fund growth, though they have a slightly spottier, but still generally good, history of paying you back what you’re owed.
Read More: How Do Bond Ratings Work?
Most individual investors will have trouble accessing individual companies’ bonds (not that they should even necessarily want to), but everyone can easily buy shares of mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) holding hundreds of corporate bonds in their normal brokerage accounts.
High-quality corporate bonds have historically provided steady, solid returns. For example, the SPDR Portfolio Corporate Bond ETF (SPBO), which tracks the Bloomberg U.S. Corporate Bond Index, has a three-year trailing return of about 8%, delivering positive returns even during the Covid-19 pandemic. Returns fall quite a bit if you stretch them out to five or 10 years, when they average about half of that.
All of those, however, massively lag the trailing returns of the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY), a fund that tracks the performance of the S&P 500. Over three, five and 10 years, its trailing returns were at least 14%.
Money Market Funds
Money market funds are ultra low-risk mutual funds that invest in securities with short maturity periods, making them among the lowest-risk investments available outside of government bonds.
That stability comes at a cost, though: Money market funds currently offer microscopic returns. Even the best money market funds average around 0.01% returns right now, so you probably won’t want to allocate large percentages of your portfolio to them.
Unless you’re tied to keeping your money in a brokerage account, you may be better served by a high-yield savings account instead.
Gold is the go-to choice of many investors coping with market volatility. Gold’s value typically increases when the overall market struggles. Between 2008 and 2011, for example, gold’s price rose more than 100% as the economy struggled through the Great Recession and moved into recovery.
Just don’t apply the Midas touch to your whole portfolio. As markets return to growth after a crash, investors generally shift back to riskier assets, and gold’s value may struggle.
Over the last century, gold’s price has risen just about 9,000%. Not a bad return—until you compare it to the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s (DJIA) more than 60,000% gain. If you decide to invest in physical gold, you’ll also need to pay for storage and insurance.
Related: How To Invest In Gold
Precious Metal Funds
The headaches that come with investing in physical gold, silver and platinum—like storage and insurance costs—is why many turn to precious metal mutual funds and ETFs.
You’ll need to do your due diligence, however. Some funds track the prices of precious metals while others invest in companies in the mining or refining industries. While the prices of the latter may be highly correlated with precious metal values, there can be wider variance than you might want.
Like physical gold, precious metal funds aren’t necessarily the best bet for large quantities of your money. Though they can provide some stability during times of turmoil, they also may trail the market during bull markets. The five-year trailing return of the iShares Gold Trust Fund was 6.50%, while the trailing return for SPY was 17.51%.
REITS—Real Estate Investment Trusts
If you’re interested in investing in real estate but need a degree of liquidity, check out real estate investment trusts (REITs).
Because they invest in real estate, REIT performance may be less correlated to the stock market, making them a good hedge against crashes. As an added bonus, they generally pay higher dividends than many other investments.
REITs aren’t risk free, though; they’re still vulnerable to the ups and downs of their respective industries. They just experience different volatility than more traditional stock investments, which helps you diversify.
Because of the regular income they offer, dividend stocks are beloved by the risk-averse and retirees. Companies like the dividend aristocrats have decades-long histories of managing the vicissitudes of the stock market with aplomb, all while paying out consistently higher dividends.
While higher dividend payments means you may not have to rely on your investment to increase as much in value to reach your goals, dividend stocks aren’t without their risks. Unlike bond interest payments, dividend payments are not guaranteed, and during hard times companies may reduce or remove dividends entirely.
They’re also still technically stocks, and their values may move with the overall market, meaning they may be just as likely to fall in value during a crash. To minimize the risk of that happening, you can opt for dividend funds instead of individual stocks.
These funds have historically performed well but may lag typical returns of the S&P 500, especially if you don’t reinvest your dividends.
Essential Sector Stocks and Funds
Even during a recession, people need consumer stables and access to health care and utilities. This means stocks and funds in this sector may suffer less when the overall market does.
If you’re looking to diversify your portfolio, but are fine with keeping the risk of equities, you may want to consider ETFs like these in essential sectors:
- Health Care Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLV): This fund tracks the performance of healthcare companies within the S&P 500. Top holdings include Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), UnitedHealth Group (UNH), Pfizer (PFE) and Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO).
- First Trust Nasdaq Food & Beverage ETF (FTXG): FTXG tracks the Nasdaq U.S. Smart Food & Beverage Index, investing in major food and beverage companies, including Bunge (BG), Tyson Foods (TSN), the Hershey Company (HSY) and General Mills (GIS).
- Vanguard Utilities ETF (VPU): VPU tries to duplicate the performance of a utility stock index. Companies within the fund include Duke Energy (DUK), Exelon Corporation (EXC), American Water Works (AWK) and NextEra Energy (NEE). As a bonus, utility stocks also frequently have higher than average dividends.
Total Market Index Funds
It might not seem intuitive but continuing to invest in the stock market during a market crash actually isn’t the worst move. In fact, dollar-cost averaging depends on you keeping up your investments, even when the market gets rough.
By continuing to buy shares when the market is down, you may lower the overall price you pay per share and position yourself for growth when stocks inevitably recover. But remember: This recovery isn’t instant. It may take months or even years.
Check out our list of the best total market index funds to get started with investing in the whole U.S. stock market.