Rolling over?

The S&P 500 is down 16.2% since April 23. Commentators all over are trying to peer into their crystal balls to figure out if the market is tanking, or just taking a breather before resuming its climb.

Data point in both directions.

The Chinese stock market is down much more than U.S. markets, but state manipulation makes that data point suspect.

Railroad figures continue to look good. They haven’t recovered summer 2008 highs, but they’ve been steadily heading in that direction.

Commodity prices have pulled back but haven’t broken down to levels that would suggest all hope is lost. Copper is below $3, but has paused around that level. Oil prices are over $70, just where Saudi Arabia wants it (suggesting demand is still strong). U.S. natural gas prices have been climbing since late February and are hitting new highs. Asian steel prices have declined since March, but have leveled off above prices of last summer. Dry bulk shipping prices have tanked, but that could be as much due to on-coming supply of ships as lower demand.

The Economic Cycle Research Institute’s (ECRI) Weekly Leading Index has declined to the point of many past recessions, but hasn’t crossed the threshold or time period to make recession certain.

Weekly unemployment claims are below 500,000, but not below the significant 400,000 level that frequently signals the sustained end of recessions.

What’s an investor to do in such situations?

First, remain calm. No one predicts recessions with precision, except in hindsight.

Second, stick to your discipline. If some of your investments look cheap, buy more. If others look expensive, sell some or all. Don’t try to time the market, evaluate prices relative to potential returns and buy when returns look good. You won’t catch the bottom, but no one but the lucky do anyway.

Third, plan to react to up or down side. It’s handy to have a plan instead of reacting emotionally. Feelings are an investor’s worst enemy. Decide what you’d do if prices took off (probably selling) and what you’d do if prices decline (probably buying), and then have the courage of your conviction when the time comes. Don’t change your plans based on how you feel, but on what you rationally think.

Investing is a game where cooler minds prevail. Don’t get emotional and don’t abandon your soberly made plans. In the long run, the next few months will probably look like an unmemorable blip on the computer screen. Invest wisely and you won’t care.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

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