While it may seem counterintuitive to invest during a bear market — a prolonged market decline typically of 20% or more — in fact there are opportunities during downturns, if you know where to look and what strategies to use.
Market conditions during a bear market are unusual, and securities may behave in different ways. By knowing which bear market investing strategies might make sense, it’s possible to mitigate losses and possibly realize some gains.
Also, for investors with a long-term wealth-building goal, it’s important to remember that bear markets are often relatively short. So rather than panic, it can help to look for potential investment opportunities that may be beneficial.
How to Invest in a Bear Market: 8 Options
Some investors may be tempted to sell assets during a bear market, content to keep their money in cash while the markets seem to slide. However, there are some bear market investing strategies investors may want to consider.
1. Invest Defensively
The first of these bear market strategies involves buying assets that may increase in price when the overall financial markets decline. Many factors influence which investments perform well during a bear stock market.
Investors may shift their portfolios to defensive stocks, to bigger and more mature companies, and companies in sectors with constant demand such as utilities and food. These may be good assets to hold during bear markets because these stocks tend to hold steady, even in a downturn.
Defensive investments may provide consistent income through dividend payouts (more on that below) while experiencing less volatile share price action during market downturns. Buying assets like these at the beginning of a downturn can be beneficial.
Recommended: The Pros and Cons of a Defensive Investment Strategy
2. Consider Dollar-Cost Averaging
Using a dollar-cost averaging strategy isn’t limited to bear markets; it’s a time-honored practice among many buy-and-hold investors.
Dollar-cost averaging is when you buy a set dollar amount of an investment at regular intervals (e.g. weekly, monthly, quarterly), regardless of whether the markets are up or down. That way, when prices are lower you buy more; when prices are higher you buy less. Otherwise, you might be tempted to buy less when prices drop, and buy more when prices are increasing, based on your emotions.
For example, if you invest $100 in Stock A at $20 per share, you get 5 shares. The following month, say, the price has dropped to $10 per share, but you stay the course and invest $100 in Stock A — and you get 10 shares. Now you own 15 shares of stock A at an average price of $13.33.
💡 Quick Tip: Look for an online brokerage with low trading commissions as well as no account minimum. Higher fees can cut into investment returns over time.
3. Use Short Strategies
One of the more sophisticated bear market trading strategies is placing bets that will rise in value when other investments lose value. This might involve, for example, purchasing put options contracts on stocks that may decline in value. A put option allows investors to benefit from falling share prices.
Shorting stocks to speculate on falling stock prices is another strategy investors can employ. When investors short a stock, they sell borrowed shares and hopefully repurchase them at a lower price. The investor profits when the price they pay to buy back the shares is lower than the price at which they sold the borrowed shares.
Alternatively, investors might consider inverse exchange-traded funds (ETF) as the overall market declines. An inverse ETF tracks a market index and, through complex trading strategies, looks to produce the opposite result of the index. For example, if the S&P 500 index declines, an inverse ETF that tracks the index will hopefully increase in value.
However, using put options, inverse ETFs, and other short strategies involves many nuances that may be complicated for some investors. They are very risky trading strategies that could compound losses if the bets do not work out. Interested investors ought to conduct additional research before considering this strategy.
4. Hold for the Long Haul
During a bear market, it’s not always necessary to do anything special. Investors with a long time horizon sometimes choose to hold on and stay the course, even when a portfolio declines in value. Taking a long-term perspective may pay off well over many years, as the market as a whole tends to trend upward over time.
For example, the bear market that began in December 2007 was over by March 2009, lasting about a year and a half. But the bull market that followed lasted almost eleven years; the S&P 500 index recouped its losses from the bear market by March 2013, and from March 2009 through February 2020, the S&P 500 increased just over 400%
💡 Quick Tip: Newbie investors may be tempted to buy into the market based on recent news headlines or other types of hype. That’s rarely a good idea. Making good choices shouldn’t stem from strong emotions, but a solid investment strategy.
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5. Diversify Your Holdings
It also helps if investors have a well-diversified portfolio during any market. Diversifying typically ensures that all of an investor’s eggs are not in one basket, which can help mitigate the risk of loss, since you’re not overexposed in one sector or asset class.
One easy way to accomplish portfolio diversification might be to buy structured securities like ETFs or index funds.
6. Focus on Dividend Stocks
One way to invest during a bear market is to focus on stocks that provide income, i.e. dividend-paying stocks. Typically, these companies are bigger, more established, and growth oriented. And, clearly, they have the ability to give investors a regular payout.
A dividend is a portion of a company’s earnings that is paid to its shareholders, as approved by the board of directors. Companies usually pay dividends quarterly, but they may also be distributed annually or monthly.
Most dividends are paid in cash, on a per-share basis. For example, if the company pays a dividend of 50 cents per share, an investor with 100 shares of stock would receive $50.
Many investors who rely on dividend-paying stocks do so as part of an income investing strategy — which also serves investors during a downturn.
7. Look Toward Growth
While value stocks are generally considered undervalued relative to their actual worth, growth stocks are shares of companies that have the potential for higher earnings, often rising faster than the rest of the market. In addition, growth stocks have shown historic resilience in market downturns.
These companies tend to reinvest their earnings back into their business to continue their company’s growth spurt. Growth investors are betting that a company that’s growing fast now, will continue to grow quickly in the future.
To spot growth stocks, investors look for companies that are not only expanding rapidly but may be leaders in their industry. For example, a company may have developed a new technology that gives it a competitive edge over similar companies.
Recommended: Value vs. Growth Stocks
8. Consider Laying Low
If none of the above bear market strategies appeals to you, there is always the option of “playing dead,” as the saying goes. This derives from the advice given to those in the wilderness who might face a live bear: to not panic or do anything rash or risky.
In the same way, some investors believe the best way to handle a bear market is to stay calm, moving a portion of your portfolio into more secure and stable investments like Treasury bills, bonds, and money market funds.
What Causes a Bear Market and How Long Do They Last?
The causes of bear markets can vary. Sometimes a weak economy is the main cause — e.g. low employment, low productivity, disappointing corporate earnings. But a bear market might also be the result of a sudden shock, like the brief bear market that hit during the early days of the pandemic.
Other events that can spark a bear market might include geopolitical crises, a paradigm shift (e.g. the growth of the digital workforce), or government actions that impact taxes, interest rates, and so forth.
Bear Markets Run Short
As noted above, bull markets generally last far longer on average than bear markets — about 1,752 days for the average bull market versus 363 days for the average bear.
This is another factor to bear in mind if you’re thinking about investing in a bear market. Developing smart bear market investing strategies has to take into account the shorter time frames as well as the unusual market conditions.
Bear Market Investing vs Bull Market Investing
For those investing for the long term, the only real difference between a bear market and a bull market will be a temporary dip in the value of their portfolio. The main goal will be to stay the course. As mentioned, long-term investors often make regular, recurring purchases of financial assets.
During bull markets, a common investment strategy is to buy and hold. This tends to work because bull markets are characterized by most asset classes rising in unison.
However, investors may have to be a little more active with their portfolios during bear markets. Some investors choose to increase the amount of money they put into their investments during market downturns. Their overall strategy remains the same, but buying more assets at lower prices lets them acquire a larger number of assets overall.
For those with a higher risk tolerance looking to make short-term gains (often referred to as speculators), a mix of strategies might be employed. Speculators may look to short the market using puts or inverse ETFs, or research assets likely to increase in value due to current bear market trends.
Invest With SoFi
When the financial markets are in turmoil and your portfolio seems to be in the red, you may be tempted to panic. You may want to sell off your assets to mitigate further losses, content to pocket the cash. However, this sort of strategy may be short-sighted for most investors as it locks in your losses.
Also, you may be setting yourself up to miss a potential rally by getting out of the markets. After all, bear markets are often relatively short-lived and are followed by bull markets.
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