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(TNS)—The very young and very old needn’t worry so much about market turbulence, we’re often told. Over a long time, volatility smooths out quite nicely for the young. Older retirees, hopefully, have tamped down enough risk in their portfolios that a stock shock shouldn’t cause much of a blip.

Where does that leave those in the middle, particularly the ones with five or fewer years until retirement or those in the first few years? Welcome to the nail-biter years, when a few volatile sessions can cause many would-be retirees to rethink their timing.

This column typically explores the retirement levers we can control: spending rates, asset allocation, investment costs and the like. Focusing on what we can control, experts say, helps distract us from we can’t control, which is the haunting worry that a big market dip early in retirement will derail our best-laid plans.

Does that mean we should never think about market forecasts and timing? Plenty of evidence suggests that is precisely the thing to do. Studies have shown investors achieved better returns when they invested lump sums rather than dribbling in the money over time to take advantage of lower stock prices during downturns.

Realistically, though, most people struggle to ignore big economic and market events in the years leading up to retirement. Likewise, people in their first decade of post-work life perhaps feel even more vulnerable to economic downturns. Experienced sailors can keep a ship moving in a variety of wind conditions, but they can’t control nature.

That’s where so-called tactical investing strategies come into play. Investors pick a mix of stocks and bonds appropriate for their age and risk tolerance, but tilt a small portion of the portfolio to reflect current economic or market trends. For example, someone with a recommended asset allocation of 60 percent stocks and 40 percent bonds might allow the stock portion to swell or shrink by 5 to 10 percentage points if monetary policy and other economic factors were pointing in one direction.

“The most important thing you can do is have long-term investment parameters and never violate them,” says Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist for the Leuthold Group. “You want to operate in a range that has nothing to do with whatever is going on today.”

At the margin, however, Paulsen thinks there are opportunities to tweak portfolios to take a different tack that ultimately helps investors stay the course. He believes the Federal Reserve’s recent dovish signals on inflation pressures may extend the bull market in stocks in the coming year. And if consumers reignite their own appetites for risk, the case is even stronger.

“Last year the expansion was headed for an end because we were at full employment and the Fed was tightening,” he says. Now, after the Fed has backed off, he’s leaning toward the bullish case for stock performance remaining strong.

He believes there are still opportunities for international stocks and U.S. financials, though he’s less enthusiastic about former tech darlings like Facebook and Amazon.

Whether Paulsen’s take on the economy convinces you to slightly tilt your nest egg toward more risk––and slight is the operative word after such a long bull market––or it simply helps you resist pulling out of stocks altogether, make sure your core asset allocation is strong. If it is, even a strong wind won’t blow you too far off course.

Janet Kidd Stewart writes The Journey for Tribune Content Agency. Share your journey to or through retirement or pose a question at

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