"But there is no joy in Mudville - Mighty Casey has struck out."
You've probably read the poem Casey at the Bat when you were in school. The poem is about a baseball team that was losing by two runs as the end of the game came near. The team's star player Casey was the fifth batter in the final inning. All the team had to do was somehow make it through four batters and, if they could, Casey would be up and surely win the game for the team.
The first two batters did not reach base. The crowd and the team were low on hope, especially with the next two batters being two of the weakest on the team. Sure enough, they each got on base. With the crowd energized and cheering loudly, here came Casey. He was so confident that he would win it for the team that he let the first two balls go by for strikes. Then came the third pitch …"mighty Casey has struck out."
The stock market has made all of us feel a lot like a resident of Mudville who was at the game that day. The market goes down 600 points and all hope is taken from us. The market goes up nearly 500 points and we're reenergized. The market continues to disappoint, and your portfolio might look like a big series of strikeouts leaving you fearing for your money. When we have no economic joy, we tend to look only at the now. This causes us to make bad decisions with our money.
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Do you need some encouragement? "If you bet against the United States of America, you will surely lose," said Dick Grasso, former CEO of the NYSE on August 11. "We live in the greatest country on the planet … the strength of [the economy] is going to blow your socks off," said Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase. Finally, don't forget the famous words of Warren Buffett who said: "Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful."
The world economies may look dire, and investors around the world are worried about what happens next. Great investors never look at now. They look to the future. The only thing they do right now is position themselves for the recovery. Here's how:
If you have a 401(k), IRA or other long term retirement account, and you won't be retiring for decades, do nothing. Leave your money alone. History is clear. When downturns such as this happen, they don't tend to cause panic while they're here. Much like a bad storm, they leave quickly.
Even if it were a few years, that's not going to hurt your retirement accounts when you look at it in the context of a multi-decade time horizon. If you're close to retirement, you should probably still do nothing, but speaking to a financial adviser may ease your fears. (For related reading, see An Introduction to Ineligible IRA Contributions.)
Do you have a favorite stock? When great companies get pulled down by an economic downturn, the sale sign shows up on that stock. Buy it while it's on sale and then hold it for a long time. With many stocks down 10-20%, these stocks are priced as if they belong in the clearance bin. Buy a little now, and if the markets continue to fall, buy more at even lower prices.
Find the Accidental High Yielders
CNBC's Jim Cramer advises investors to invest in accidental high yielders when the market falls. These are stocks that see their prices go down so much that their dividend yield goes up to highly attractive levels. Although this isn't a recommendation to buy these two names, Frontier Communications saw its dividend go up to 11% and Eli Lilly to nearly 6%. There are plenty of other stocks with yields that are just as attractive.
You should never buy a stock based only on the dividend yield. In downturns, great companies often become even more attractive because of their higher yields. Buy while the stock is low because the dividend yield will retreat as the stock price goes higher.
Fund Your IRA
When the market is down, it's the perfect time to fund your IRA. That money will immediately go to work on those investments that are currently on sale. Of course, you should balance your retirement funding with protecting your finances from an economic downturn, but if you have enough money in your emergency fund put more money to work for retirement.
Get Ready to Buy an Index Fund
An index fund tracks the performance of a certain index such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Russell 2000 or the S&P 500. It's best to wait until the market calms down, but once it does consider buying shares of the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) or index instrument of your choice.
While this will allow you to capitalize on the recovery, you want to protect yourself. Make sure to set a stop or trailing stop so you don't lose a lot of your investment if the markets take a turn for the worse. ETFs are generally regarded as an investment for those experienced with the stock market. (For more on ETFs, see Using ETFs To Build A Cost-Effective Portfolio.)
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The Bottom Line
There may not be joy in Mudville today, but successful investors know that looking at today is a losing strategy. Look years into the future, and take advantage of the low prices that are available to you. Casey may have struck out today, but never bet against a winner. His next home run isn't far away.
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