When Markets are Stormy, Remind Yourself of these Three Rules
Investing is necessary to help build for a future where inflation hasn’t eaten away at savings. But when the investment markets have been at their most difficult in years, most long-term investors have found their investment portfolios have gone into reverse. Many have then committed more cash to their eroding positions as the “buy the dip” thinking, up until recently, has, overall, worked out.
Whether by managing several billion for a large mutual fund or by keeping my household’s stock portfolio out of trouble, I’ve learned a lot. Most of what has been fruitful seems basic but is often forgotten when battling the markets. The information is easy to convey, the actions take discipline. Here are three key thoughts and actions to help you make decisions.
Know that There are Good and Bad Days
Do you fish? Most people understand fishing. You use past experience and current conditions to estimate (guess) what kind of fish might be biting. You then gather the right equipment and bring yourself to the place where you’re most likely to catch something worthwhile and at a time when the fish are most likely to satisfy your desire to catch them.
You choose the tackle that has been most productive for whatever you’re fishing for, get your lines in the water, and then sit patiently.
More often than not, when fishing, things don’t go as planned. The fish may not be as eager to get caught as you had hoped, or you might quickly catch as much as your freezer can hold, or the law allows. Sometimes a boat comes by and cuts your line. Stuff happens.
If the fish aren’t biting, you evaluate if waiting will yield more than fishing elsewhere. If they instead are biting like crazy, and there seems to be a storm approaching, it might be best to reduce your risk and head back before being caught in a storm. Often the best fishing is right before or after a storm, mid storm is a net negative and could be damaging.
Treat investing like fishing. Learn the best spots for the current conditions. This could be industry sectors, or segments based on market cap., within the categories, ask what companies have the highest probability of a positive outcome. Read up on the companies and see what professional analysts are saying about the financials, business model, management, and outlook. As with fishing, the old guy at the dock that has been fishing the area for years may steer you into (or out of) a boatload of success. Still, use your own judgment, and never act on a hot tip blindly.
Investing, like fishing, can be most successful before or after a storm. Taking positions in the middle is for thrill seekers, not investors.
Have a Plan
Seems simple enough. If you are fishing, you may schedule yourself for what time of day the fish are likely to be feeding, and if they aren’t, how long, you’ll wait before you try a different lure or a different location? You’re likely to have several hooks in the water at different depths and a plan to switch to whichever depth is getting the most action.
Moving to a different fishing spot when the one you’re at is still productive may seem unreasonable, but if other fishermen have moved to fish where you are, taking your current catch and moving to where you think you’ll do better can be smart.
As a portfolio manager, I held dozens of positions simultaneously, they all had a purpose. If I couldn’t say what the expectations were of any position, I got rid of it. Rolling the dice is expensive. My portfolio objective was to beat the benchmark and consistently be a top-five fund in the category. My plan to accomplish the objective was to have pre-assessed the possibilities before entering any position. I also told myself what I’d do when any of them occurred. In this way, I had a plan for most all scenarios.
The plan helped prevent me from ever trying to take more out of a trade than it is willing to give. It also forced me to never enter a position without having done my homework on the company and the environment in which the company operates.
Technology makes it easier than ever to do preliminary reading and research. Channelchek and other outlets for quality research, coupled with information and tools usually provided by your broker, means today’s retail investor has more than most professionals did in 2000.
Part of the plan should be when to do nothing. The top portfolio managers get paid quite well to do very little each day except monitoring positions in case something, based on their plan, happens. Don’t ever transact because you’re bored. Each position should have a purpose, if there is something else that is likely to better provide that purpose, no-cost trading makes it efficient to adjust your holdings. But if it is doing everything it should, doing nothing is often the best action. Sit on your hands.
Plan your trade, trade your plan, and get out when it is not the best commitment of your money.
Know What You Trade
I’m a student of and a participant in the markets, I suppose I’m also a teacher of sorts, but I never stop learning. This makes me a generalist in many categories, with above-average knowledge in a few. It’s important to know your investment realm. If your fishing is to stand waist deep in water with a flyrod catching more than anyone else on the river, it doesn’t mean you’d have the ability to go offshore and have any success. In fact, offshore, you’d probably throw up. Flyfishing and deep sea fishing are related but not the same. If you knowledgeably trade a few small-cap mining stocks and decide to one day buy TSLA or AAPL, your experience may not translate well. If either one dropped $50 a share, it might make you want to throw up.
Knowing different investment types and sectors better so you can focus on those you’re best suited to is, like everything else, education and experience.
Learn to decipher what is good information and what is mostly entertainment. Then immerse yourself. Don’t feel that you have to go where the crowd is. Social media has been powerful in getting us to follow the crowd, but defining the right or best thing for us is critical to any success. No one knows what you want more than you, no one knows what you can stomach better than you, and not everyone enjoys any type of fishing or any type of investing. For those people, there are food stores and wealth managers or funds.
No matter the caliber of trader/investor, when markets are turbulent, it’s a good habit to refresh yourself on basics. These investing basics include you don’t always have to be in the market – you can expect to run into problem periods, it’s better to avoid these storms than have to rebuild afterward. Also, pre-thinking actions in an “if this, then that” format before even entering a position will prevent bigger problems and provide greater success. Decision-making while the market is either making you euphoric or the market is punching you in the face is the wrong time. Better decisions are made when thinking clearly. If you don’t think you enjoy investing, leave it to someone else, not everything is for everybody.
For those wishing to hone their expertise, try to learn about everything, but pick a few specialties. I know people that only trade the FAANG stocks and have superior performance. I know others that focus only on biotech and overtime have done well. Then there is the person that only invests in companies with products or services they themselves use, no matter what your focus is, read up on the company and understand how it trades and what its business is impacted by.
Managing Editor, Channelchek