Year-End Portfolio Tweaks for an Unusual Year

At this point in the typical year, this column would be filled with all the usual personal financial advice: max out the contributions to your 401(k) and 529 savings plans, add to your health savings account, make year-end charitable donations and make sure to rebalance your investment portfolio.

But 2020 was not a typical year, and the usual financial advice won’t do. The reason is obvious: The pandemic changed life as we knew it, from market to politics and everything in between. So as the year draws to a close, there are several personal finance items to consider due to this uniquely unprecedented year.

Highly Appreciated Stocks: This is a good problem to have. The pandemic and lockdowns created enormous and unexpected stock winners this year. For example, vaccine developer Moderna, Inc. soared 617%; work from home facilitator Zoom Video Communications Inc. surged 406%; and remote document manager DocuSign Inc. gained 215%. If you were fortunate to be in some of the small healthcare stocks, you might be wondering what to do with the eye-popping gains like that of Novavax Inc., which exploded higher by 3,037%, or Vaxart Inc., which rocketed up 2,000%. And many know about new S&P 500 Index member Tesla Inc., which has returned 731%.

These and other stocks with big gains are creating portfolio management risks that should be addressed. When a single winner balloons to 30%, 40% or even 50% of a portfolio, it becomes too much of a good thing in that too much of one’s assets may be tied to a single stock. Most investors will have a hard time sleeping well when half of their net worth swings up and down like a crazed chimpanzee.

The simplest solution is to sell a large chunk of the big gainers and rotate the proceeds into a broad exchange-traded or mutual fund. Recognize what this exchange accomplishes: you are giving up the potential for further gains (of which there is no guarantee) and paying capital gains taxes in exchange for more balance and far less volatility.

Those who have difficulty psychologically making the pivot from wealth accumulation to wealth preservation, try thinking about it within the framework of regret minimization. The key is not letting a good problem become a bad one.