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When the COVID-19 epidemic took hold globally, markets took a nosedive and the tumult has left many people wondering how long the turbulence will last and what to do with their current holdings.

Now is the time to keep calm when it comes to your investments.

The unusually high market turbulence, combined with anxiety over the virus, has led to widespread fear. "Clearly, this is unprecedented," says Dean Moore, RBC Wealth Management's head of wealth planning for the British Isles. Past pandemics, such as the Spanish Flu in 1918, didn't have this effect on the markets. "There's a lot of panic, and there are a lot of people with time on their hands." This leaves time to ruminate or worry about what's happening. That's a natural reaction, especially when people must stay home, often alone.

Concern in such circumstances may be normal, but that doesn't make it warranted. Markets regularly pull back significantly, such as in 2008. The recent drop in the market is larger and occurred particularly quickly, but eventually normality will return, says Frédérique Carrier, head of investment strategy for RBC wealth Management based on London. "Only the timing is in question."

The key to managing these markets is to stick to a previously discussed plan, Moore says. What happens month-to-month is less important than the desired result in 15 or 25 years. "It's about not being distracted by short-term events," he says.

One way to keep the right focus is to switch your attention to where you can make a difference. "You can't control the market, but you can control your strategy," Carrier says.

Here are seven strategies that may make sense for your wealth plan:

1. Strategic annual gifting

Making gifts while the markets are lower could be advantageous. The person or entity receiving the gift will benefit during the eventual recovery, and there may be tax benefits. "It can work whether gifting to an individual or into trusts," Moore says. "As assets grow, the gains can be captured inside the trust and be free from inheritance tax."

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2. Refinancing

Interest rates have fallen from low to ultra-low, and that may be an opportunity to refinance loans. "Borrowing money is comparably cheap, and some clients are increasing liquidity to take advantage of depressed asset prices," Moore says.

3. Tax-loss harvesting

The drop in the major indexes may also present suitable opportunities to exit an investment that's no longer desirable and take advantage of tax allowances. "In the past, if you sold it, you may have paid capital gains tax," Moore says. But the market drop may change that. Any losses incurred can also be used to reduce the tax burden on future gains, he says.

4. Estate strategies

Moore says the pandemic has already prompted a large increase in people wanting to write their will. "Rather than talking about it, people are taking action," he says. If there isn't an existing will, now is a perfect time to get that done. When there is no will, the state decides how an estate gets distributed, and those decisions may not fit with what you want, Moore says. If a will exists, does it reflect your desires and is it up to date?

Other important things in estate planning include reviewing trusts and health care directives.

5. Insurance

Insurance is frequently a key part of wealth planning. Often it gets used to help cover inheritance taxes.

However, insurance costs have started to rise and may continue doing so. "What we have found is that there's an upward shift in premiums for insurance," Moore says. That increase has been around 10-15 percent in recent months, he says. Anyone who was considering using insurance may want to take swift action.

6. Diversification

Downturns in the market can hit some investors hard, especially if their holdings are concentrated in a few types of assets. Such portfolios can be turbulent. However, a well-diversified portfolio—holding many different types of assets—may help mitigate risks by reducing volatility."We had advised our clients going into this crisis to have a defensive portfolio with an allocation to a variety of sectors given the business cycle was in its late stage," Carrier says. "A defensive portfolio is a way to weather turbulence." Typically, diversified portfolios include stocks from a variety of countries as well as bonds, cash and real estate.

Currently, corporate bonds look like a particularly attractive asset to buy, says Carrier. The prices of these securities are already assuming a recession occurs. Moreover central banks have said they'll start buying these securities to help bolster the economy.

7. Buying low

One possible upside to a drop in the market is that most securities prices are lower. That will include some financially strong firms that will emerge and prosper once this storm passes. Some will be selling for bargain-basement prices. Investors who have the available cash and the resilience to buy during a period of uncertainty may be able to profit.

However, the timing of when to buy can be tricky. "It is difficult to know where exactly the bottom of the market will be," says Carrier. "We would probably advise using a system of tranches where you don't go all-in on a single day but do so over a number of weeks." This technique means investors don't have to pinpoint the day the market reaches its absolute low.

The bottom line

Your plan should be your focus, not the market. Instead of being fearful, review your strategies to make sure they reflect your current risk appetite, your goals, and the timeline for those goals. And make adjustments where necessary. "Have your objectives in mind and make sure your tolerance for risk in line with what you told your advisor, Carrier says. "That's how you weather storms."


Important information: This document contains general information only. It is not intended to be specific investment advice or an investment recommendation. Please bear in mind that the investments or services contained within this document may not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not a guide to future performance, future returns are not guaranteed, and a loss of original capital may occur. The tax treatment depends on the individual circumstances of each client and may be subject to change in the future. If you have any questions regarding the topics discussed in this article please speak to your Relationship Manager, or Investment Counsellor.