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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A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

I listened to an interesting lecture last week on behavioral finance by Mier Statman. He presented an interesting question that really has me thinking.

Behavioral finance is a specialized field that studies how people make human choices when it comes to financial issues. You see, economists have theorized a “rational man” that makes choices based on pure reason, without any real emotion. Most economists use this “rational man” to figure out how the economy works. Unfortunately, for the economists, real people just don’t act that way.

The example Mier Statman gave, offhandedly, in his lecture was this: if you were given the choice between $1 million guaranteed or a 50% chance for $3 million, which would you choose?

According to economic theory, “rational man” would calculated the expected value of the two options and pick the larger one. Or, 100% chance of $1 million is less than 50% chance of $3 million (or an expected value of $1.5 million), so you should choose the second option.

Usually, I scoff at such examples because I almost always pick the “rational man” option, and pity the poor mortals who can’t aspire to be “rational man.” But, in this case, I quickly chose the guaranteed $1 million. “You mean, I’m mortal!” I seemed to think.

Even after thinking about it a bit, I still would chose the guaranteed $1 million. Why? Because $1 million would really make a big difference in my life, and I wouldn’t want a 50% chance of ending up with nothing.

After thinking about it a bit, I realized that the scale of the reward madea big difference for me. Give me the same bet on a 100% chance of $100 or a 50% chance of $300, and I’d happily take the 50% chance at $300. Same goes for 100% chance of $1,000 versus a 50% of $3,000. For me, I’d still rather a 50% chance at $30,000 over a 100% at $10,000. Around $100,000 is where I start to waffle, though.

I think I’d take the guaranteed $100,000 over a 50% chance at $300,000. Why? Because, once again, $100,000 would make a big difference in my life right now, and I’d much rather have a bird in the hand ($100,000) than 2 in the bush (a 50% chance of $300,000).

Where’s your break point? $30, $300, $3,000, $30,000, $300,000, $3,000,000? At what point would you chose the guaranteed 1 over the 50% 3?

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.

Does it really matter if it’s the year of the pig?

Believe it or not, there were several articles in the financial news today emphasizing that we are about to enter a new Chinese new year–the year of the pig–on Feb 18th.

These articles described how many in Asia are using this sign of the times to make investment decisions. Apparently, the geomancers–people who divine the future by reading stars, numbers and energy flows–are telling people to stay away from stocks and bonds and to consider buying real estate and paper-related businesses.

This may be a good year for real estate and paper-related businesses, and it may be a bad year for stocks and bonds, but I don’t think the stars or numbers or energy flows have anything to do with it.

If you think that such methods are a good way to make investment decisions, please consider the long term records of those who have made good investing decisions, and notice that there isn’t a single geomancer among them.

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.