Worried About a Stock-Market Correction? Here’s How to Lock in Recent Gains - Kanebridge News
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Worried About a Stock-Market Correction? Here’s How to Lock in Recent Gains

The best course when stocks slide is for investors to stand pat, but ‘put’ options are one way to hedge against a drop and lock in some profits

Wed, May 1, 2024 10:03amGrey Clock 5 min

The past five years have been good to stock-market investors. The S&P 500 index has climbed an annualised 12% during that period, outstripping the 9% annualised gain over the past 40 years. This year alone the index is up 6.9% as of April 26, tacking on to the 24% gain in 2023.

But signs are emerging that the stock market could be due for a breather. As of April 25, the S&P 500 went 133 trading days without a decline of at least 10%, according to PNC Institutional Asset Management. To be sure, that’s still short of the 172-day average since 1928. But the S&P 500 has jumped 24% in the past six months (about 180 days), which buttresses arguments for a correction.

What’s more, the multiyear ascent has arguably sent stocks to overvalued levels. The S&P 500’s forward price-to-earnings ratio—a gauge of market valuation based on earnings estimates for the next 12 months—registered 20 as of April 26, exceeding the five-year average of 19.1 and the 10-year average of 17.8, according to FactSet.

“A correction is certainly possible,” says Jack Ablin , chief investment officer at wealth-management firm Cresset Capital, pointing to the high valuations and the prospect that rate cuts will come later than expected thanks to inflation that has been higher than expected.

Given the danger of a stock-market correction, commonly defined as a 10% to 20% drop, how can investors guard the profits they have made in recent years?

Wait and see

Assuming you have a well-diversified portfolio and aren’t counting on the money from your stocks to finance an imminent expense, financial advisers say the best strategy is to hang tight.

Corrections generally don’t stick around long. Since 1985, declines between 10% and 20% for the S&P 500 have lasted only 97 days on average—three-plus months—according to a CFRA analysis of S&P data.

It then has taken the market an additional 101 days on average to recover the ground lost during the correction. So in about six months, investors tend to be back where they were before the correction.

“If there’s a shallow correction of 5% to 10%, we recommend riding it out,” says Karim Ahamed , an investment adviser at wealth-management firm Cerity Partners. “Eventually the market recovers. The idea of selling out and climbing back in is difficult to achieve. You’re more likely to stay on the sidelines with your losses crystallising.”

The S&P 500 did fall more than 5% in recent weeks, from March 28 to April 19.

Sell losers

Some people, though, simply find it impossible to do nothing if they fear a correction is looming. At the least, they want to protect the gains they have earned so far. What’s the most prudent way for them to reduce their market exposure?

Keep in mind that most actions you can take to guard your stock profits carry a cost. The easiest method, selling stocks, subjects you to capital-gains taxes unless you are selling from a tax-advantaged retirement account. That tax rate varies according to your income, but will likely be 15%.

One way to limit the burden is through tax-loss harvesting, says Amanda Agati , chief investment officer of PNC’s asset-management group. That is when you sell stocks at a loss, lowering your net capital gain. If you have any dogs in your portfolio—stocks with poor fundamentals—you can unload those.

If you do sell stocks, you could put the proceeds into a money-market fund for now, financial pros say. Many such funds yield 5% or more, far higher than rates over the past 15 years. Or if you want to increase the safety of your overall portfolio, you could put the money into safe government bonds. Three-year Treasury notes yield around 4.75%.

Play defence

If you are going to unload stocks, but don’t want to sell right away, you can put in a stop-limit sell order through your brokerage. That order can automatically sell your shares if they slide to a level you designate (they can go below it, too), protecting you from big drops.

Say you bought 100 shares of Tesla at $140, and they are now trading at $165. If you don’t want your profit to disappear in a downturn, you could enter a stop-limit sell order with your brokerage at $150 for some or all of your shares. Those shares can be sold if the price reaches $150, securing some of the gains.

You also might shift your holdings more toward defensive stocks, such as utilities and consumer-staple companies, which generally outperform during market downturns, says Michael Sheldon , executive director of wealth-management firm RDM Financial Group.

PNC’s Agati suggests an emphasis on quality stocks, those with high recurring revenues, strong and dependable profit margins, high cash flow and low debt. These stocks—such as AutoZone and Visa , she says—have lagged behind the leaders of the market’s surge over the past year.

Consider options

Advisers also suggest looking at “put” options to protect your stock gains. Puts give you the right but not the obligation to sell a security at a preset price by a preset deadline.

Note that we’re talking about a risk-reduction approach here, not the kind of risk-taking—to try to amplify returns— that has been rampant in the options market. The simplest strategy could be to purchase a put option on a market-index exchange-traded fund, such as one based on the S&P 500. You could buy puts on individual stocks rather than an index ETF, but that may get expensive and complicated as each option carries a purchase premium.

Here’s how the ETF strategy would work: First, buy an option that would let you sell the ETF at a price below the current one, protecting you from declines beneath that level. You wouldn’t have to sell the ETF, and you wouldn’t even have to own it. As the S&P 500 falls, the put option gains in value, and you can sell it.

Say on April 16 you wanted to protect 100 shares of SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY) from a decline of more than 10%. With the ETF trading at $505 a share, you could buy an option that covers 100 shares for $1,050, or $10.50 a share. You’re paying a premium equal to 2% of your position.

The option’s expiration date is December, and its strike price is $455 a share, or 10% below the current value. The strike price is the price at which you could exercise the option. But generally you sell the option rather than exercising it, so you don’t have to dump any shares, especially if you don’t own them.

If the market doesn’t go down 10% by December, you let the option expire worthless, and you’re out the $1,050 you paid for it. If the market drops more than 10%, you can sell your option at a profit whenever you want until December.

While it might be more lucrative to sell it early, Ablin recommends holding until expiration if you’re using the option to protect your portfolio. “Think of it like homeowner insurance,” he says. “You pay a premium, like a deductible for insurance, and your coverage runs for a term.”

Keeping the option until expiration extends your coverage for the longest possible period.

By using options, you don’t have to sell any of your stocks, which are typically the best asset to generate strong long-term returns. “If you have the wherewithal to hold the S&P 500 for 10 years, your odds of making money are over 90%,” Ablin says.


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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”