by Steve Selengut
Fascinating, isn't it, this stock market of ours, with its unpredictability, promise, and unscripted daily drama! But individual investors are even more interesting. We've become the product of a media driven culture that must have reasons, predictability, blame, scapegoats, and even that four-letter word, certainty. We are a culture of investors where hindsight is rapidly replacing the reality-based foresight that once was flowing in our now real-time veins... just like downhill racing, grouse hunting, and Super Bowls.
The Stock Market is a dynamic place where investors can consistently make reasonable returns on their capital if they comply with the basic principles of the endeavor AND if they don't measure their progress too frequently with irrelevant measuring devices. The classic investment strategy is so simple and so trite that most investors dismiss it routinely and move on in their search for the holy investment grail(s): a stock market that only rises and a bond market capable of paying higher interest rates at stable or higher prices! Just not going to happen...
This is mythology, not investing. Investors who grasp the realities of these wonderful marketplaces recognize the opportunities and embrace them with an understanding that goes beyond the media hype and side show performance enhancement barkers. Simply put, when investment grade securities rise in price [As they are now, with the DJIA finally putting together a successful attack on the 11,000 barrier], Take Your Profits, because that's the purpose of investing in the stock market! On the flip side (and there has always been a flip side, more commonly dreaded as a "correction"), replenish your portfolio inventory with investment grade securities. Yes, even some that you may have just sold days or weeks ago during the rally. This is much more than an oversimplification; it is a long-term (a year or two is not long term.) strategy that succeeds... cycle, after cycle, after cycle. Sounds an awful lot like Buy Low/Sell High doesn't it? Obviously, Wall Street can't let you know that it is quite so simple!
[Note that Dow Jones 11,000 was last breached during the infancy of this century, and that the last All Time High in this much too widely followed average occurred late in 1999. When the DJIA banner is repositioned on that historical peak of 11,700 or so, it will represent no less than six years of zero growth in this, the most respected, of all Market Indicators! Would the media strip the gold medal from this Stock Market Icon if it knew that during these same years: (1) There have been significantly more stocks rising in price on a daily basis than moving lower. In fact, more than two-thirds of the last 68 months have been positive. (2) Since April 2000, there have been 120 more positive days in NYSE issue breadth than negative days. (3) 250% more NYSE stocks established new high price levels than new lows. (4) We are working on our sixth consecutive year of positive issue breadth!]
So understand that your portfolio statement values will rise and fall throughout time, and rather than rejoice or cry, you should be taking actions that will enhance your "Working Capital" and the ability of your portfolio to accomplish your long term goals and objectives. Through the simple application of a few easy to memorize rules, you can plot a course to an investment portfolio that regularly achieves higher highs and (much more importantly), higher lows! Left to its own devices, like the DJIA for example, an unmanaged portfolio is likely to have long periods of unproductive sideways motion. You can ill afford to travel six years at a break even pace, and it is foolish, even irresponsible, to expect any unmanaged or passively directed approach to be in sync with your personal financial needs.
Five simple concepts of Asset Allocation, Investment Strategy, and Psychology are summed up quite nicely in what I call "The Investor's Creed":
(1) My intention is to be fully invested in accordance with my planned equity/fixed income asset allocation. (2) On the other hand, every security I own is for sale, and every security I own generates some form of cash flow that cannot be reinvested immediately. (3) I am happy when my cash position is nearly 0% because all of my money is then working as hard as it possibly can to meet my objectives. (4) But, I am ecstatic when my cash position approaches 100% because that means I’ve sold everything at a profit, and that I am in a position to (5) take advantage of any new investment opportunities (that fit my guidelines) as soon as I become aware of them.
If you are managing your portfolio properly, your cash position has been rising lately, as you take profits on the securities you purchased when prices were falling just a few months ago... and (this is a big and) you could well be chock full of cash well before the market blows the whistle on its advance! Yes, if you are going about the investment process properly, you will be swimming in cash at about the same time Wall Street discovers the rally and starts encouraging people to weight their portfolios more heavily into stocks; the number of IPOs coming to market starts to rise exponentially; morning drive radio DJ's start to laugh about their stock market successes; and all of your friends start to talk about their new investment guru or the 30% gains in their growth Mutual Funds. What are you doing in cash!
This is what I call "smart" cash, because it represents realized profits, interest, and dividends that are just catching a breather on the bench after a scoring drive. As the gains compound at money market rates, the disciplined coach looks for sure signs of investor greed in the market place: fixed income prices fall as speculators abandon their long term goals and reach for the new investment stars that are sure to propel equity prices ever higher, boring investment grade equities fall in price as well because it now clear [for the scadieighth (sic) time] that the market will never fall again... particularly NASDAQ, which could double and still not be where it was six years ago. And the beat goes on, cycle after cycle, generation after generation. What do you think; will today's coaches be any smarter than those of the late nineties? Have they learned that it is the very strength of a rising market that proves to be its greatest weakness!
Professional Investment Manager since 1979
Author of: "The Brainwashing of the American Investor: The Book that Wall Street Does Not Want YOU to Read", and "A Millionaire's Secret Investment Strategy"