See-Saw Stocks

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The recent volatility in financial markets has been widely discussed in the media, and has been a growing concern among investors. In observing market activity, pundits and commentators are continually linking market action with headlines from around the world, as though every move in stocks can be tied directly back to a morsel of economic data or a new quote from a policymaker.

Of course, given the political upheaval on the far side of the pond – and the financial difficulties faced by a number of nations in that region – much attention has centered on Europe. Many continue to question whether the problems there might be on a transcontinental flight headed for New York.

The problem, dear reader, is that each comment made by a business news reporter about what the cause of a market effect is just that: an answer in search of a question. In reality, the world’s financial markets have been going up and down because that’s what markets do – they go up and they go down. However, day-to-day action of stocks doesn’t change their fundamentals; and that’s where investors should be focusing.

From day to day stocks might rise because some senior IMF official tells the press that a deal has been reached on Greece’s 49th bailout package. On the other hand, stocks might fall because a Goldman Sachs trader sits down to his trading desk upset because this morning Starbucks ran out of his favorite flavor (Meltdown Mocha, if you’re curious).

The simple facts are these: Despite recovering – in many cases to pre-crash levels – stocks remain cheap given the prospects for the US and global economies over the next 15-20 years. At the same time, bond yields are uncharacteristically low – probably at the bottom of a 30-year cycle.

Simply stated, bonds aren’t the place to be today, given that as interest rates rise – and they WILL rise – bond values will fall. Stocks are obviously the better option.

However, investors who want to do well over the long term in these volatile markets need to be taking their lead on buying stocks for their portfolios from the old tagline for Showtime Rotisserie: Set it and Forget it! In other words, don’t be constantly monitoring and worrying about stocks – leave that to professionals.

Anyone wanting to see what – in our opinion – the stock market will look like over the next 10-15 years should take a look at a chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average that covers the 1980s.

Obviously the market won’t follow this course precisely. As the old saying goes, history never repeats itself – but it rhymes.

If you’ve set out to manage your money on your own, trust that the economy will recover, so stocks are still cheap. Pick a few solid companies, buy a bunch of shares, and try not to check them accept a few times a year. In the end, investors who do any more than that are bound to do more harm than good.

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