U.S. stocks ended lower Friday, capping a volatile week of swings both higher and lower, as investors reckoned with the increasing evidence of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic toll. The large-cap focused Dow Jones Industrial Average closed roughly 1.7% lower Friday, leaving it down almost 29% from its peak in mid-February. The broader S&P 500® Index was down about 1.5%, and nearly 27% from its February peak.
The declines came after economic data revealed how the efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic have ravaged the economy. Labor Department data released Friday showed that the U.S. economy lost 701,000 jobs in the first half of March, ending a record 113-month run of job creation. That came after reports that some 10 million people had filed for unemployment in the second half of the month—at a time when the number of reported cases is still growing.
“Stocks are unlikely to experience a sustained rebound until the pace of new COVID-19 cases begins to slow and/or a viable treatment is approved,” says Schwab Chief Investment Strategist Liz Ann Sonders. “Markets likely need some idea of when shutdowns and stay-at-home orders will be lifted—until then, volatility is likely to remain elevated.”
What investors can do
1. Resist the urge to sell based solely on recent market movements. Selling stocks when markets drop can make temporary losses permanent. Staying the course, while difficult emotionally, may be healthier for your portfolio. This doesn’t mean you should hold on blindly, but we suggest taking into account an investment’s future prospects and the role it plays in your portfolio, rather than being guided by short-term market movements.
“If you don’t need the money for a few years, and your investments are consistent with a longer-term financial plan, then your best course of action may be no action,” says Kathy Jones, Chief Fixed Income Strategist for the Schwab Center for Financial Research.
2. Take your personal circumstances into account. For the average investor, the best course of action depends on personal circumstances, Kathy says.