The last stock market crash, in 2008, is becoming more of a distant memory every day.

Since the spring of 2009, we've been in a market that has gone increasingly higher. And in periods like last year, it did so with very few significant dips along the way. This year, however, volatility has returned. And while that doesn't mean a bear market is around the corner, market experts say it's just a matter of time.

The biggest thing investors need to be wary of, however, isn't the market. It's the experience level of those who are guiding you through it. Think about it: If your advisor is under 30, he or she has zero experience navigating through a serious market downturn. If they're under 40, it's likely they've only been through that one downturn and then a long period with the wind at their back.

Robo-advisors, too, have yet to be tested. They were all created during the current bull market, so they've benefitted from easy conditions the entire time. And if you're a DIY investor using a discount brokerage, chances are the nearly decade-long market rise has made you a little complacent.

I feel strongly about this topic, because as a two-decade veteran of the business, I've learned what it takes to succeed in different market conditions—and I know that many investors and advisors are simply unprepared.

If you might be flying through rough weather, you want a captain who is a seasoned navigator. That's almost always a human financial advisor, who should be:

• An industry veteran who has been through multiple market cycles
• A competent and ethical professional
• A true advisor, rather than a stockbroker presenting himself as an impartial guide.

BrokerCheck will give you a snapshot of a broker's employment history, regulatory actions, and investment-related licensing information, arbitrations and complaints.

The Securities and Exchange Commission's public disclosure site can provide you with background information on a financial advisor and details about the practice and what kinds of clients they typically serve. It's always best to work with an advisor who's experience in serving people that fit your financial profile.

Please contact us if you'd like to discuss how to prepare your investment portfolio for changing market conditions. 

Imagine that a financial advisor wants to sell you a certain mutual fund.

"Is this the best fund for me?" you ask.

"Maybe not, but it's good enough," the advisor responds.

Incredulous, you reply: "If it's not the best, then why are you recommending it?"

"Because it pays me a bigger sales commission than the other choices," he replies.

If any sane customer heard their advisor say this, they'd be out the door in a flash. But countless investors do business with advisors who operate under this same conflict of interest. It's just that, unlike in our fictional example, the advisors' agenda is not out in the open. And they're not required to disclose their financial conflict of interest. So customers just don't know.

The truth is that most advisors do business under a set of rules that allows them to put their own financial interests ahead of their clients' financial interests. However, a significant minority of advisors operate under what is known as a fiduciary standard: They are required by law to put their clients' best interests ahead of their own. In other words, they are the opposite of the advisor described above. A conversation with a fiduciary advisor would go like this:

"Is this the best fund for me?" you ask.

"Yes, it's the very best fund for your needs," the advisor responds.

"Are you earning a big commission by selling it to me?"

"I'm not earning a commission at all," he replies. "I avoid that conflict of interest by charging a flat percentage fee each year on your entire account."

In a nutshell, this is why you should insist on working with a fiduciary advisor. It's also important to know that advisors can't just call themselves fiduciaries. They have to be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission or financial regulators in their state as fiduciary advisors.

If they are registered as brokers with Finra (the regulator for brokers), they do not have a legal requirement to put your financial interests ahead of their own. The first advisor in this article is a Finra-registered broker. The second is a fiduciary advisor.

If you're investing for retirement or any other important goal, you can't afford to work with someone who's allowed by law to shear you like a sheep. You need to work with a fiduciary advisor. If you'd like to learn about more about how Copeland Wealth Management, a fiduciary advisor, puts your interests first, please give us a call.

For the first time in decades, we're hearing rumblings of a possible trade war, as China and the U.S. engage in a tit-for-tat escalation.

Since the beginning of the year, the Trump administration has levied two rounds of tariffs on China, while threatening to add $50 million more and, most recently, an additional $100 million. China has responded with tariffs on $3 billion of U.S. goods, and has threatened more.

Lately there has been some conciliatory talk from Trump and China's Xi Jinping, though it remains to be seen if the tariffs and the threats will actually be ratcheted down. The stock market has been surging or plunging with each new announcement on the tariff front. And investors have been asking what this means for them.

First of all, I am doubtful that we will end up in a full-blown trade war with China. Trade wars ultimately hurt all the countries involved. What I see President Trump doing here is creating leverage through his threats in order to ultimately negotiate a trade deal that's favorable to the U.S. Negotiating from a position of strength, seeking to intimidate the other party, has been Trump's playbook for a long time.

Still, the fear of the unknown can impact stocks. The best way to protect your portfolio amidst all the trade-war rhetoric is by working with a financial advisor, review each of your holdings to determine which might be most at risk.

China is shrewdly targeting a range of industries in order to put heat on U.S. politicians. Their threats target the agricultural, auto and pharmaceutical industries, among others. But tariff laws can get pretty specific, targeting one kind of crop and leaving others untouched, for instance. If your portfolio doesn't have a lot of exposure to at-risk companies, you're likely to see a lot less negative impact.

Investors who are a little more aggressive might, in fact, want to buy companies whose prices have been pushed lower as a result of the back and forth on trade. On the other hand, if you are more risk-averse and dislike price volatility, you may want to consider buying "insurance" in the form of options that trigger buying or selling at a certain price threshold. Or you may want to sell some positions outright.

The important thing is to know why you are selling, buying or hedging each holding. The greatest risk here is panicking and making emotional decisions. If you don't have a financial advisor to evaluate your holdings and walk you through your options, please reach out and we'll help.

With April approaching, it's time to talk about tax windfalls—and how to use them wisely.

There are really two sources of extra cash that may be coming your way. First, you may be seeing more take-home pay because of withholding adjustments in the wake of the new tax reform law. Second, you may be anticipating a nice fat tax refund from the IRS in a few weeks.

Without a plan for what to do with this extra money, there's a good chance that you'll spend it impulsively. That's why now is the time to review your retirement plan and your investments to make sure you're saving enough.

Here's why doing so is important. The last thing you want in retirement is to realize that you don't have enough income to support the standard of living that you take for granted right now. Reviewing your retirement plan will allow you to confirm that you're saving enough so that you can retire comfortably—or how much of a shortfall you need to fill.

In addition, it's an opportunity to manage the risk in your investment portfolio.
Your investments should seek to balance growth and safety. But even if you've worked with an advisor to strike the right balance, changing markets can destroy that balance.

The past few years have been great for stocks, and less good for bonds. As a result, if you originally had a 50/50 balance of stocks and bonds, those faster-growing stocks might now represent, say, 70% of your portfolio, while bonds' value is now just 30%. That's a far riskier mix of investments than was originally intended.

To restore your original allocation, you'll need to bring the ratio of asset types back into balance. And one way to do that is to use your tax windfall to buy more of the asset type that's under-represented. By the way, if your goals have changed, a retirement review is also the right time to adjust your investments to reflect that.

If your retirement plans are on track, it might be wise to set extra cash aside in an emergency fund. You don't want to find yourself in a situation where you need to turn to credit cards or, much worse, raid a retirement account, to cover unexpected expenses. If you're all set on your emergency fund, it might make sense to invest extra money in taxable investment accounts.

The bottom line: Tax season is a good time to get together with your financial advisor for an annual review of your retirement plan and your investments. If your advisor hasn't reached out to you in a while, pick up the phone and give him or her a call. You're paying the person to look out for your money, after all. If you don't have an advisor who can do that for you, please give me a call.

February has been a tough month for the stock market: Declines exceeding 10% have erased the year's gains, despite a partial recovery in recent days.

After a 2017 in which the market didn't have any major setbacks, it may feel like a long, ugly selloff lies ahead. But the truth is that market volatility—those violent swings up and down—is completely normal.

Over the past 40 years, U.S. stocks have averaged a more-than-10% decline each year during bull markets. By that measure, last year was the anomaly, not this year. But the question remains: Are your investments safe?

Copeland Wealth Management's investment portfolios are built with the expectation that markets will have normal corrections. We even expect there to be periodic longer bear markets. But historically, markets always end up higher after a few years. In other words, the stock market usually takes two steps forward, one step back, and so on. The key is to remain patient and stay the course.

Nor does the recent correction (a correction is a drop of 10% or more from a previous market high) does not appear to be signaling a recession. Corporate earnings, which drive the stock market, are healthy. And economic growth is on the upswing around the world.

With a recession usually comes a longer period of weakness in the stock market. But without the usual signs of a recession, stocks appear to be poised for modest (but not great) growth over the next several months if not longer. And it's likely that there will be more volatility over the course of 2018. The key to success will be to remain calm in the face of those price swings.

One thing that's not helpful is to pay attention to the talking heads on cable television shouting: "buy buy buy!" or "sell sell sell!." Remember that a lot of commentators out there stand to make money for their firms and themselves if they can convince their viewers to trade stocks based on short-term emotion. Don't fall for it.

With that being said, market pullbacks can present selected buying opportunities. This doesn't mean buying on impulse. Investors should maintain a "wish list" of companies that they want to buy, and a price level at which they're worth buying.

Recently, Apple and Sysco, a food services company, were two stocks on my buy list that fell into my price range because of the market selloff. Again, selective buying, not nilly-willy trading, is vital. You should always work with a qualified, experienced advisor who can analyze the market and specific stocks. Don't hesitate to contact us if you'd like to discuss how to invest in 2018.