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What the Sell-Off Means for Fund Investors

Morningstar Director of Fund Research Russ Kinnel puts today's market activity into perspective.

This article was originally published as a blog post sent to Morningstar FundInvestor subscribers earlier today. Download a complimentary copy of FundInvestor here.

Stocks were down sharply this morning as worries over China are hitting stocks worldwide. Although the U.S. market fell about 6% at the open, it was down a little less than 3% at mid-morning.

Last week was pretty unpleasant, unless you are still in the accumulation phase for your retirement. Through last Friday, all but 165 funds in the Morningstar 500 were in the red for the year to date. No doubt, that number will be higher by the end of Monday. If you are still buying equities, that's good news. If you are a net seller, it's bad news, of course.

Sell-offs are always unnerving, but generally the best response is no response. During the 2000-02 bear market, I asked Jack Bogle what investors should do, and he said, "Don't just do something, sit there!"

Worries about China slowing down hurt commodities makers the most as oil slid below $40 a barrel. But the selling really went across the board last week through most sectors and most countries. Growth funds are still mostly in the black year to date but very few value funds are.

Health-care sector funds have had the best year, while commodity and energy funds are at the bottom. Even among diversified equity funds, we now have some prominent ones with double-digit losses. Value funds like

Emerging markets are another sore spot as they are very commodity-driven outside of China.

The sell-off was good for a couple of safe havens, though. Long-term Treasuries rallied, as you can see from the 1.9% weekly gain at

The S&P 500 is now down about 4% for the year to date, though it is still up handsomely during the past three- and five-year periods. Emerging markets, however, are back to flat for the trailing five years. Both U.S. and foreign markets may start to appeal to bargain hunters.

One big event to watch will be the Federal Reserve's September meeting. Investors seem rather evenly split on whether the Fed will hike interest rates. Inflation remains very subdued, but the economy is pretty strong, and some argue the Fed needs to head off some asset bubbles right away. In addition, China's slowdown may lead to delaying a rate hike. There is consensus, though, that the Fed will only be raising rates gradually during the next year regardless of whether they start in September or later.

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