Let’s face it. We as individual investors are very afraid right now. Did you notice all the articles from us personal finance bloggers about the market throughout the year and the lack of them right now? Part of it is because we all want to cover the thanksgiving spending etc etc, but it is also because many of us don’t even want to think about our investments. If March or August of 2007 was a fearful time for individual investors, now is many times worst.
So, what is our investment advice now? What should we do in these times when people are telling us that the decline just started because all the mutual fund investors (the general public) will start selling once they receive their quarter statement and realize that their investments returned nothing for the past year?
Instead of giving some general advice, let’s break it down to different types of investors so the advice is more specific. There are three types of investors: passive investors, stock pickers, and short term traders.
Passive Investors – I hope this includes most of us because it takes a considerable amount of time to invest in stocks. We buy low cost index funds and have a long time horizon. For us, we shouldn’t care about volatility and we should buy more shares right now. Even better, we should setup automatic investing so we keep investing whether the market goes up or down. If you are very unemotional about your investments and have a VERY LONG time horizon (5 – 10 years+), you may want to look at the financials but buy the ETF that looks at the whole sector instead of buying a specific stock because you are a passive investor.
Stock Pickers – Many of us fall under this category. We use a portion of our money to buy into certain stocks because we feel like we can outperform the market. Those of us that buy individual stocks should move into defensive stocks. Just think of all the companies that people would still buy from no matter what the economy does. P&G is a great example because they sell many day-to-day products like soaps. These types of companies aren’t exciting in bull markets but they deliver the necessary consistency that people can count on in a bad economic environment. Now is not the time to bottom pick financial stocks. Even though they may seem very cheap to you, it may just keep going down in the short to midterm. Just wait till these stocks seem to keep going up to jump back in but there is no reason to get in at this point.
Short Term Traders – Well, I’m just going to state the obvious for you guys since you probably shouldn’t be trading if you don’t know this already. I would either see which stocks/sectors you can short or just sit and do nothing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing nothing. Sit with your cash and just wait till there is a bull run again. Whether it is 3 months or 6, you can just ride is out.
Mixture – In the real world, almost all of us fall under a mixture of all 3. If we are smart, we will try to separate into 3 different portfolios and follow the strategies accordingly because it will be impossible to not get confused.
Now is a fearful but interesting time. What we do during these volatile times is much more important because we can really destroy our portfolio and wealth by acting inappropriately. Whatever you decide to do, not losing money should be number #1 on the list. To help that, the first thing we need to do is stop investing based on headlines.