Your Post-Crash Checklist

This stock market correction may still have further to fall. Here are some portfolio moves you should be making.

Yesterday wasn’t a lot of fun. At 2,013.76, it was the single biggest point decline in the entire history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the eleventh-biggest decline in percentage terms. If you exclude data prior to the 1930s Great Depression, it was the fourth-largest percentage decline in history. There were two days in 1987 and one in 2008 that were worse… and that’s it.

No matter how you slice it, that was ugly. But is the worst is behind us?

Maybe.

Or maybe not.

It’s far too early to say. If the crude oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia escalates, we could see some serious damage in energy, banking and junk bonds. And there is the coronavirus threat that seems to get a little more disruptive with each passing day.

Market corrections end when they end. There’s nothing we can really do about that. But, we still have portfolios to manage and retirements to plan for. So, today, let’s make a correction check list of things we can do to make the best of a bad situation.

#1. Check your allocation

If you’re properly allocated before a market crash hits, you don’t have a lot to worry about. As a very general rule, your exposure to stocks should something in the ballpark of 100 to 120 minus your age. So, if you’re 50 years old, you should have a maximum of 50% to 70% in the market.

Rules of thumb likes these are not hard rules etched into stone. They are guidelines; nothing more and nothing less. Sometimes it makes sense to completely ignore them. But at the very least, they can be helpful as a start. If you have more in the market than your age would suggest is prudent, consider taking some risk off the table. Even after yesterday’s drubbing, we’ve only lost about one year’s worth of market gains. The S&P 500 is sitting at its levels of approximately a year ago. So, it’s far from catastrophic to sell at levels and lock in a loss.

#2. Make you list

While the market may not be in bear territory just yet, there are plenty of stocks that have gotten punished harder than they did in 2008. Yesterday, I loaded up my kids’ college funds with a couple of high-yield pipeline stocks I’ve been following for years. I have no idea if the stocks have bottomed out or if they still have further to fall.

And I don’t care.

The stocks were deep into what I consider buying territory, and I’m happy to reinvest the dividends and let these compound for the next 10 years. Even if the stocks fall further from here, I got a fantastic price.

Make a list of stocks you’ve always wanted to own but were reluctant to touch because of their price. If they are now in your buy zone… what are you waiting for?

#3. Don’t neglect your 401k

If you’re reasonably confident that your job is safe, use this as an opportunity to increase your 401k contributions. You can stuff $19,500 into a 401k this year and $26,000 if you’re 50 or older. And this doesn’t include any employer matching. That’s extra.

You don’t have to invest the funds right away. You can leave them in cash or a money market fund. But you’ll at least get the tax break and you’ll have the funds available for when you’re ready to pull the trigger.

Obviously, if you think your company is in bad shape and may resort to layoffs if the coronavirus scare pushes us into recession, you wouldn’t want to do this. It’s better to hoard cash. But if you’re reasonably confident your job will survive whatever comes next, do everything you can to get to the contribution max.