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What millennial investors should be learning from 2018

In the past two months, over $25 billion has left passive mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), the largest amount since 2008, during the financial crisis.

In a Credit Suisse note, analysts wrote that the domestic outflows were countered by a rise in fixed income investment. Inflows to global stock mutual funds have also remained solid.

By and large, ETFs have been traded hotly in February and March, 35% up from last year at this time. For example, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY), saw an average daily trade value of almost $30 billion in March.

The reason why is no big secret. Recent volatility has led many to allocate less to ETFs. BlackRock, for instance, saw a 46% decline into its ETFs in the first quarter. Much of this pullback is a result of institutional investors looking for other bets during uncertain times. But unlike in the past, these outflows in passive index funds and ETFs aren’t being offset by inflows from retail investors, individuals who are saving for retirement or other life goals.

The first bit of turbulence for many investors

For most of the millennial generation, the market’s recent turbulence is the first real hiccup since they opened their 401(k)s or IRAs — and it can be scary. But anxiety from dark headlines often dissipates when investors keep their goals in mind. Too often, though, these goals are thrown out the window when panic over volatility sets in.

Stuart Ritter, certified financial planner for T. Rowe Price, has a good way of putting it. Imagine you’re in a plane headed to Los Angeles from New York. As you’re flying, the weather in Cincinnati is abysmal, and the plane is being battered about. If you’re going to Cincinnati, maybe you worry about this, but you are not. You’re going to Los Angeles.

Or as I said during February’s stock market tumble, losing your 401(k) password is probably solid investment advice if you’re in your 20s.

“Since 1926, the S&P 500 has always had a positive return over every 15-calendar-year period,” said Ritter. “And your time horizon is likely much longer than that.”

Ritter advises that if you have a plan in place — appropriately allocated stocks, bonds, and cash for your situation and goals — stick with it. And, of course, figure out a plan if you don’t have one.

According to Judith Ward, a senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price, any financial goals beyond three to five years probably should have some solid exposure to stocks.

If [a goal] is in 15 years or longer, then a heavy stock percentage is okay,” she told Yahoo Finance.”

Many financial planners say that for people with far-off goals like a child’s college fund, a down payment on a house someday, or retirement, there’s something to be said for taking advantage of scary volatility or a dip. Ward, for example, promotes the idea that it’s good to automate things as much as possible, like regular contributions to 401(k)s in fixed dollar amounts, a technique called “dollar cost averaging”(this way you purchase more shares of the investment when prices are lower and fewer shares when prices are high).

“When the market’s down that means they’re buying more shares,” Ward said. “They are able to accumulate more shares and invest at lower prices.”

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann. Confidential tip line: FinanceTips[at]oath[.com].

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