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Heading to Shore

Amid extreme market volatility, Dominick Paoloni believed that the sidelines offered the best measure of safety.

Ilana Polyak, 02/02/2009

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At least once a year, Dominick Paoloni flies to the British Virgin Islands, rents a 50-foot catamaran for a week, and sails the Caribbean Sea. The trips, which tend to coincide with favorable winds, take him to one or two islands a day. The rest of the time is spent watching the sailboat slice through still, glassy waters.

On a few occasions, the seas have not been so kind, catching him in a tropical storm. Paoloni knows what to do on these occasions. "If I'm fighting with a 50-foot mast and there's lightning coming at me, I sail out of the way and head to shore," he says.

That was much the same storm the Lakewood, Colo., money manager saw brewing in last year's market. Extreme volatility was thrashing stocks around, and an investor in a tiny catamaran was unlikely to win such a battle against nature. "In September, I realized I was in the middle of a financial hurricane," he says about recent financial events. "When all my correlations converged, I got out of the way."

Paoloni moved his client accounts into a fully defensive position in money-market funds and short- and intermediate-term Treasuries. "I need to see volatility come down before I commit assets to this market again," he says.

The bulk of his clients, he says, are in their 60s, so losses are particularly devastating to these retirees and pre-retirees. "In bear markets, the game plan is to lose less," says Paoloni, who, in addition to being a Registered Investment Advisor, is also a Certified Elder Planner and is finishing up his CIMA designation. "When a client loses half his money, he has to make 100% return to get back to break-even."

Some might call a wholesale move into cash "market-timing" and insist that it is the surest path to financial defeat. After all, rebounds come fast and furious, and it's almost impossible to pinpoint a market bottom until after the fact. But Paoloni sees it differently. What he is doing, he says, is tactical allocation; he alters an allocation mix as conditions warrant. "As macroeconomic and correlations of assets change, how can you not change your allocations to stay diversified?" he says.

Rethinking Buy-and-Hold
The Bronx, N.Y., native started his financial career in 1983, when he worked for a Wall Street firm, Advest, as a broker. In the early 1990s, he handled stock transactions for clients. And when clients needed money management, he connected them with professionals who could give them that service.

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