2 smart moves wealthy investors are making during the pandemic

Twenty/20 | @ravivora

Successful investors like Warren Buffett or Howard Marks have prophet-like status to many people. Buffett and Marks are the types of investors who can, themselves, move the markets, and for that reason, every choice they make is closely scrutinized by average investors trying to make smart decisions.

During times like these, when the markets have been seesawing up and down and the short-term outlook is uncertain, it can be even more tempting than usual to watch what successful and wealthy investors do and to look to them for guidance or reassurance.

So it may be comforting to learn that the people with the most money at stake are, in large part, sticking to the basics. Many wealthy investors are doing two things, data shows: They're staying in the market, and they're continuing to make contributions through the crisis.

1. Wealthy investors are staying in the market

Even as the stock markets dropped 34% at the end of February, many people with money in the markets held fast. Overall, 80% of investors stayed the course during the market volatility in the first quarter, according to data from Bankrate.

Those plans haven't changed. Among wealthy investors, about half (47%) plan to keep their portfolios at roughly the same level in the next six months, meaning that they'll continue to buy and sell investments at their normal rate, and 37% plan to invest more, according to the quarterly UBS Investor Sentiment survey published at the end of April. The survey collected answers from almost 3,000 investors with at least $1 million in investible assets.

While the UBS survey indicates wealthy investors aren't as optimistic about the market as they were at the start of the year, it also shows that many are sticking to the strategy most financial professionals recommend: Buy, hold, and stay invested for the long term.

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"How many of these wealthy investors see the market is not day-to-day, it's decade-to-decade," says Jedidiah Collins, a Seattle-based certified financial planner and author of the book "Your Money Vehicle."

"Think in decades — that's the correct investor mentality," he says.

2. They're continuing to invest

Top-tier investors recognize a down market for what it is, says Collins: a buying opportunity. Wealthy investors are "taking advantage of the chaos," he says.

Rather than sell their holdings and lock in losses, others take an aggressive approach and start to buy. They're able to purchase stocks at cheaper prices while the market is down. And by betting on the long-term trends of the market, they will likely earn a higher return over time.

This is likely what's driving the 37% of wealthy investors who say they plan to invest more in the next six months, per the UBS survey.

By continuing or even ramping up investing activity during a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, investors can also take advantage of dollar-cost averaging — effectively smoothing out how much they pay for investments and boosting their long-term average returns.

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That's why investors in general should adopt a buy-now attitude, says David McInnis, a certified financial planner and the principal and co-founder of East Paces Group in Atlanta. "For the average person, you should always be buying stocks — like Warren Buffett says."

Buffett's overall strategy is to "buy and hold." He also invests in broad index funds and ETFs, which he has continued to champion, even during the pandemic, because they're generally a lower-cost and safer way to invest than picking individual stocks.

How to invest wisely through the pandemic

Putting money into the market while the world is so full of uncertainty takes an iron constitution. But there are reasons that wealthy investors and Wall Street traders keep shoveling money into the markets, experts say. 

"We've seen an impressive rebound in the stock market" in recent weeks, says McInnis. "Without question, it's mostly due to the Federal Reserve and the policies that they've enacted." Moves like dropping interest rates to zero and passing massive stimulus packages have helped calm the markets, he says.

There are a couple of ways you can take the emotion out of your investing decisions so that you can make the most out of the current market. Specifically, invest in broad index funds and ETFs, and keep your long-term goals in mind.

Also, make sure your portfolio is well-diversified, which can help protect you by ensuring your money is invested in different products, sectors, and geographic regions.

Those two steps should help you ride out the crisis. And stick with your plan through any future market bumpiness: "If you're buying stocks now and you have a longer-term outlook," McInnis says, "you'll be happy that you did."

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