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How the School of Athens could help investors navigate markets in 2024

Wealth Strategist Ben Rizzuto shares three lessons from School of Athens luminaries and explains how they might guide investors through challenging markets in 2024.

Ben Rizzuto, CFP®, CRPS®

Ben Rizzuto, CFP®, CRPS®

Wealth Strategist

10 Jan 2024
5 minute read

Key takeaways:

  • As we start the new year, many of the problems that plagued us in 2023 persist, causing many investors to feel uneasy about what markets will bring in the year ahead.
  • The teachings of ancient Greek philosophers hold many universal and indelible truths that can offer valuable perspective on investing amid uncertainty.
  • Here, we share three lessons from the School of Athens that reinforce the importance of education, diversification, and making small but steps toward our long-term goals.

If you’re fortunate enough to have the opportunity to tour the Vatican, one of the most prominent sights you’ll encounter there is Raphael’s “The School of Athens” fresco in the Stanza della Segnatura. The fresco was painted between 1509 and 1511 and depicts a gathering of philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists from ancient Greece.

In studying the fresco – and more specifically, its subjects – one will find depictions of some of the greatest minds in human history. The discoveries they made centuries ago still impact our lives today, and in studying their teachings, I’ve found that many of them may help investors as they enter 2024.

As we start the new year, many of the problems that plagued us in 2023 persist: Wars in Europe and the Middle East, upcoming contentious elections around the world, fears of recession, and a number of other concerns that we found to be top of mind in our most recent Investor Survey.

Today, I’d like to share three lessons from three of the luminaries from the School of Athens and discuss how they might guide us in 2024.

Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity.

– Aristotle

Based on events around the world and upcoming elections, many investors are feeling understandably nervous. In fact, in our Investor Survey, American respondents told us that the U.S. presidential election was their top worry going into 2024. And with dozens of elections occurring around the world in 2024, citizens of India, the UK, Taiwan, Ukraine, South Africa, and elsewhere may have similar concerns about how the results of these elections could impact local and international financial markets.

Educating yourself on how a country’s elected leader affects the market may be the key to decreasing these concerns and the emotional decision-making that may stem from this stress.

For example in the U.S., the average return of the S&P 500® Index between 1937 and 2022 shows that election-year returns have on average historically been positive and accretive to our portfolios. More specifically, the average return from 1937 to 2022 of the S&P 500 was 11.9%. In non-election years, it was 12.5%, and in election years, it was 9.9%.

So, while election-year returns have historically been somewhat lower than non-election-year returns, they are still additive. And as we know, trying to time the market to try to make up for this difference would likely do more harm than good.

Market returns during the presidential years (1937-2022)

Considerable anxiety in advance of elections but little discernible impact on returns.

Source: Market performance based on S&P 500® Index for the period 1937-2022. Past performance does not predict future returns.

Going back to the quote from Aristotle, having this educated perspective may serve as “a refuge in adversity” that allows us to tamp down our emotions as elections near so we can stay invested and prosper.

The beauty of diversity lies in the richness of perspectives.

– Hypatia

This quote from the philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician Hypatia speaks to a foundational idea in investing: Diversification in a portfolio creates a “richness of perspectives” that is so important in long-term investing. Incorporating a mix of asset classes, sectors, and individual securities leads to diversity in investment returns that can help us achieve long-term growth with less volatility.

Diversity is also important when we consider the philosophy of the money manager. To put it simply, are they active or passive? Different approaches add to the diversity of ideas within our portfolio. In our Investor Survey we found that, among respondents who own mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs), a significant percentage (37%) prefer an equal mix of active and passive managers, while 29% prefer mainly active managers and 17% prefer mainly passive managers.

Even though investors may be tempted to chase returns or focus on the best-performing investments, having this diversity of thought and philosophy can help smooth out returns and keep their focus on long-term financial goals.

Well-being is realized by small steps but is truly no small thing.

– Zeno

Speaking of long-term perspective, Zeno, reminds us of the many small steps that go into reaching our financial goals. Whether it’s educating ourselves on how elections affect the markets, incorporating diversity in our investments, or creating a financial plan, these seemingly small steps and habits can have a huge impact on our long-term financial well-being.

One habit that works in both good times and bad is investing a small amount of money. First and foremost, this helps us create good financial habits by automatically investing smaller amounts on a consistent basis rather than a lump sum all at one time. By continually building on our existing foundation, we take small but meaningful steps toward our long-term goals.

Along with that, it can be especially helpful during periods of volatility because it helps smooth out the impact of price volatility to decrease your overall cost per share. This can provide greater growth potential while helping you sidestep the emotional traps that often ensnare investors during periods of volatility.

None of us knows what tomorrow – let alone 2024 – will hold for us or the markets. While that is the case, I have found that these ancient philosophical teachings offer timeless perspective during periods of modern-day uncertainty. So as 2024 begins, I encourage you to keep the three quotes I’ve shared in mind. They proved wise thousands of years ago and remain just as prudent today.

Volatility: The rate and extent at which the price of a portfolio, security or index, moves up and down. If the price swings up and down with large movements, it has high volatility. If the price moves more slowly and to a lesser extent, it has lower volatility. The higher the volatility the higher the risk of the investment.”

Mutual Funds: A mutual fund is an investment option where money from many people is pooled together to buy a variety of stocks, bonds, or other securities. This mix of investments is managed by a professional money manager, providing individuals with a portfolio that is structured to match the investment objectives stated in the fund’s prospectus.

Exchange traded fund (ETF): A security that tracks an index, sector, commodity or pool of assets (such as an index fund). ETFs trade like an equity on a stock exchange and experience price changes as the underlying assets move up and down in price. ETFs typically have higher daily liquidity and lower fees than actively managed funds.

These are the views of the author at the time of publication and may differ from the views of other individuals/teams at Janus Henderson Investors. References made to individual securities do not constitute a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any security, investment strategy or market sector, and should not be assumed to be profitable. Janus Henderson Investors, its affiliated advisor, or its employees, may have a position in the securities mentioned.


Past performance does not predict future returns. The value of an investment and the income from it can fall as well as rise and you may not get back the amount originally invested.


The information in this article does not qualify as an investment recommendation.


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