Stock Market Gains Continue, Despite Anxiety Over the Pandemic and Chaos in Washington. Here's What Money Experts Say You Should Do

In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, supporters of Donald Trump gather outside the Capitol building in Washington D.C.
Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic and chaos in the U.S. Capitol can't keep the stock market down.

While Americans may be in disbelief over the riots that saw lawmakers running for cover and caused a few members of the Trump administration to resign, the stock market just keeps ticking higher.

A flash poll by POLITICO/Morning Consult found 64% of registered voters said they were "worried" about the events that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

Yet stocks rallied to record highs again on Thursday, with the Nasdaq closing above 13,000 for the first time. On Wednesday, when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped more than 437 points, or 1.4%, a record close.

The market also ended 2020 at an all-time high, despite a pandemic that has seen more than 340,000 Americans die and millions lose their jobs.

"People look at the stock market and they shake their heads and they ask themselves, 'how can the stock market go higher when Main Street is doing so badly?'" said Mitchell Goldberg, president of ClientFirst Strategy Melville, New York.

"For a lot of people, it just reinforces that they are getting left behind and it reflects a growing wealth gap in this country," he said.

Investors are focused on the economic rebound expected in the third quarter, as more stimulus is rolled out and people get vaccinated, he said.

However, the market gains haven't occurred in a straight line. Instead, volatility ruled this past year -- and some market experts believe that rollercoaster may to continue.

In fact, top market strategist Liz Ann Sonders sees similarities between now and the late 1990s and 2000, before the dotcom bubble burst and sent stocks tumbling.

More from Invest in You:
Here's how to make that financial New Year's resolution a reality
Can't afford an estate plan? What you can do without spending a fortune
How to reset your finances and become smarter about money

While the market gains in most of the 2020 pandemic era could be tied to investors looking forward to a recovery, the market is now very momentum driven, she said.

"There is a lot of hype and froth, which is the biggest risk," said Sonders, senior vice president and chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab. Froth refers to prices that are unsustainably high.

"What troubles me is when sentiment gets really frothy and 'negative things' happen, but it doesn't affect sentiment or the market, that sets up a more dangerous environment."

Part of the equation may be the new investors who have entered the market over the past year.

While about 68% percent of the stock market is composed of institutional investors, such as banks, investment advisors and pension funds, the rest is individual investors.

The pandemic has also resulted in more females and young, first-time investors coming into the market, a Barclays Smart Investor survey found this past fall. Part of the reason was an increase in savings, as well as the rise in automated advisors.

Some market researchers say separating emotions from investing is easier with robo-advisors, since investing is handled by sophisticated trading algorithms. Nearly 1 in 7, or 15%, of Americans who have investment accounts use a robo-advisor, according to a March survey by NerdWallet.

"You should not mix your portfolio with politics in terms of market timing. That's always a big danger for self-directed investors," said Dan Egan, director of behavioral finance at Betterment. "A robo advisor — or a target date fund — can go a long way to help people who may be emotionally triggered."

This past year also saw a trend away from investing in index funds to individual stocks. Some turned to day trading and chasing market performance, without a mindset around long-term planning, Sonders said.

"There is no question there is a speculative component here," she said.

Sonders says she doesn't know what catalyst will correct that frothiness. However, in 2000 there wasn't a specific one — the market just started to fall under its own weight, she explained.

"In a perfect world, what happens is what we have seen in the last year," Sonders said.

That may look like the market going through periodic corrective phases of 5% to 10% pullbacks to get sentiment from being out of control, she added.

To weather the storm, here are two key things you should be doing right now.

Think long-term

The market is going to go up and down. Instead of reacting to news, focus on your long-term investing goals, experts advise.

"A successful investor is someone who invests in a portfolio that allows them to remain invested over the very long term," Goldberg said.

"It is about time in the market, not timing the market."

Rebalance if necessary

dowell | Moment | Getty Images

Being successful is more than just staying the course, Sonders said. It's about having an asset allocation plan that is tied to your investing goals — your time horizon and your risk tolerance.

"Don't just wing it," she said. "It's not just opening an account on a digital platform and starting to trade."

It also means doing periodic rebalancing of your portfolio — and perhaps doing it based on market performance instead of some predetermined point in time, like year-end, Sonders said.

Certain assets may grow and others may shrink, sending your allocation out of balance. For instance, your 60% stocks and 40% bonds plan may, in reality, be more of a 70/30 split after the recent run up.

"Rebalance periodically by taking profits where they are being handed to you and add to areas that have underperformed, thereby maintaining your plan over the long term and forcing us to do what we are supposed to do — trim into strength and add into weakness," Sonders said.

SIGN UP: Money 101 is an 8-week learning course to financial freedom, delivered weekly to your inbox.

CHECK OUT: How much money you need to save per paycheck to max out your IRA in 2021 and reach three other big New Year's resolutions via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

Copyright CNBC
Contact Us