Looking back, 2020 was a real roller coaster for investors and savers

December 10, 2020

If there’s one thing almost everyone can agree on, it was great to celebrate – in a limited, socially distanced way – the end of the brutal year 2020, when the pandemic slammed the world.

It’s been a particularly frightening year for those of us struggling to save a few bucks for our retirement.

Back in February, when the COVID-19 crisis was beginning to take effect, stock markets dropped sharply, erasing “four years of gains,” reports Maclean’s . The market’s crash was based on fear – “not knowing how severe COVID was going to be in terms of morbidity,” the magazine explains.

In addition to the shocking numbers of deaths and sickness COVID-19 delivered, it also walloped our economy. According to Wealth Professional, quoting Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem, Canada’s economy “is expected to shrink by 5.5 per cent for the whole of 2020, with the initial rebound following the First Wave of the pandemic having eased.”

We all know what he’s talking about here – the First Wave led to lockdowns and business closures, and high unemployment. There was a break in the summer as much of the shuttered economy reopened, but now the Second Wave is causing lockdowns and job losses once again.

The usual safe harbour for savers when the economy (and stock markets) are volatile is in fixed income, investments that pay us interest. However, in order to reboot the economy, the Bank of Canada is planning to keep interest rates low “until 2023,” Macklem states in the Wealth Professional article.

Those “low for long” interest rates mean it is not the best time to buy bonds or guaranteed investment certificates (GICs). Some savers looked to the real estate investment trust (REIT) market to replace the income their fixed income was providing, notes The Motley Fool. While some REITs, notably industrial ones, and those involved with warehousing and data centres did well, “retail and hospitality REITs… had lost 80 per cent of their value at the market’s bottom.” The Motley Fool article wonders how investments in commercial office and retail space will fare in a world where most people are working from home.

Now that 2020 is behind us, there are signs of better days ahead.

The markets in Canada and around the world are now recovering due to late-year news that effective vaccines are nearly ready for distribution.

Dave Randall of Reuters, writing in the Chronicle-Herald, notes that November was “a record-breaking month as the prospect of a vaccine-driven economic recovery next year and further central bank stimulus measures eclipsed immediate concerns about the spiking coronavirus pandemic.”

Let’s review all this. The pandemic hit us hard, sending markets down, throwing people out of work, shrinking the economy. Central banks had to cut interest rates to reduce borrowing costs. That’s great for borrowing but less great for saving. Those looking to replace the interest they weren’t getting had to navigate a market that dropped by 40-50 per cent in the late winter and is recovering, and they had to face the reality that some sectors were doing far better than others.

2021, however, looks like a better year. Market optimism is returning, and once the vaccines start to get distributed around the country, we will (hopefully) start to see a return to more normal times, with no lockdowns and business restrictions.

The point of retirement saving is putting money away for the future, which may be quite soon or decades away. If you’re worried about saving on your own for retirement during these volatile days, you might consider teaming up with the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. With SPP, experts run the money at an extremely low cost. We all have enough to worry about these days – let SPP take the worry of pandemic-era retirement saving off of your plate!

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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