TORONTO -- As global concerns about the spread of COVID-19 ripple through global markets, financial experts urge Canadians not to react emotionally about the virus’ impact on their investments.

“The market is made up of many things, but fear and greed are definitely two of them,” financial planner Robyn Thompson told CTV’s Your Morning.

“We see a lot of clients who are genuinely concerned about their finances and emotions are running quite high. One of the things that we need to remember as willing participants of the capital markets is that this is part of the cycle.”

Canada's main stock index plunged more than 1,000 points at the start of trading on March 12 as fears about the economic consequences of the novel coronavirus spread. A day earlier, the Dow Jones crossed into bear market territory for the first time in over a decade, falling more than 20 per cent since its last peak in early February.

The market reaction has left many consumers feeling uneasy about their portfolios, leading some to pull out of their investments.

But experts warn that this kind of knee-jerk reaction could cause more damage to your portfolio in the long run.

“You need to make sure you are making fundamentally sound decisions and not [selling investments] off of the panic that’s swarming around you,” Thompson explained.

“If there’s no significant reason other than short term volatility in the market…hold your positions. You don’t want to be moving in and out of positions trying to time the market. You want to make sure that you continue to hold fundamentally strong investments.”

Despite the markets seeing their highest level of negative volatility in decades, Paul Shelestowsky, senior wealth adviser at Meridian, says the dramatic swing makes a good case for a well-diversified portfolio.

Shelestowksy says among his clients, most with well-diversified investments were only down one per cent at the start of the week.

“It’s looking at what the markets mean to you,” Shelestowsky told by phone. “If you have an S&P 500 traded investment, then you are really feeling the brunt of this.”

But this isn’t the first time the markets have reacted poorly to a global pandemic and, as Shelestowsky notes, once the number of net new cases stabilizes the markets usually rebound.

“If you still have the same risk tolerance that you did six months ago, and you’re using the rightfunds, this should be nothing more than a blip. It might be a painful blip, but in the grand scheme of things, it will return to normal,” he explained.


Both Thompson and Shelestowksy agree that if you are five or more years away from retirement you have ample time to recover any losses.

“If you’re five or 10 years away from retirement, hopefully you’re putting money in monthly and you’re going to make out like a bandit when the market rebounds,” said Shelestowsky.

Thompson notes that if you are retired and pulling income off of your portfolio, you are at most risk.

She recommends that if you are in this position, look at your financial plans and see if you can dig into your emergency funds to help curb some of your expenses.

“Can you live off of the distributions and dividends being generated off the portfolio and avoid selling down the assets so you’re not crystalizing those losses?” she asked.

For the average investor, experts recommend speaking to your financial adviser if you feel like you need some reassurance.

“Look at how much are you down compared to how much the markets are down,” said Shelestowsky.

“You need to have that perspective.”