Surviving Bear Country

bear market refers to a market-wide decline in stock prices of at least 15–20%, coupled with a pessimistic sentiment about the market. Clearly, these times are nothing to look forward to, but fighting back can be dangerous. Here we will walk you through eight important investment strategies and mindsets to help you stay calm and play dead when the stock market takes a swipe at your returns.

Keep Your Fears in Check

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There is an old saying on Wall Street: "The Dow climbs a wall of worry." In other words, over time the Dow has continued to rise despite economic woes, terrorism, and countless other calamities. Investors should try to always separate their emotions from the investment decision-making process. What seems like a massive global catastrophe one day may be remembered as nothing more than a blip on the radar screen a few years down the road.

Average Down Costs With DCA

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The most important thing to keep in mind during an economic slowdown is that it's normal for the stock market to have negative years—it's part of the business cycle. If you are a long-term investor (meaning a time horizon of 10+ years), one option is to take advantage of dollar-cost averaging (DCA). By purchasing shares regardless of price, you end up buying shares at a low price when the market is down. Over the long run, your cost will "average down," leaving you with a better overall entry price for your shares.

Play Dead

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During a bear market, the bears rule and the bulls don't stand a chance. There's an old saying that the best thing to do during a bear market is to play dead—it's the same protocol as if you met a real grizzly in the woods. Fighting back would be very dangerous. By staying calm and not making any sudden moves, you'll save yourself from becoming a bear's lunch. Playing dead in financial terms means putting a larger portion of your portfolio in money market securities, such as certificates of deposit (CDs), U.S. Treasury bills, and other instruments with high liquidity and short maturities.

Diversify

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Having a percentage of your portfolio spread among stocks, bonds, cash, and alternative assets is the core of diversification. How you slice up your portfolio depends on your risk tolerance, time horizon, goals, etc. Every investor's situation is different. A proper asset allocation strategy will allow you to avoid the potentially negative effects resulting from placing all your eggs in one basket.

Invest Only What You Can Afford to Lose

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Investing is important, but so is eating and keeping a roof over your head. It's unwise to take short-term funds (i.e., money for the mortgage or groceries) and invest them in stocks. As a general rule, investors should not get involved in equities unless they have an investment horizon of at least five years, preferably longer, and they should never invest money that they can't afford to lose. Remember, bear markets, and even minor corrections, can be extremely destructive.

Look for Value Stocks

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Bear markets can provide great opportunities for investors. The trick is to know what you are looking for. Beaten up, battered, underpriced: these are all descriptions of stocks during a bear market. Value investors such as Warren Buffett often view bear markets as buying opportunities because the valuations of good companies get hammered down along with the poor companies and sit at very attractive valuations. Buffett often builds up his position in some of his favorite stocks during less-than-cheery times in the market because he knows the market's nature is to punish even good companies by more than they deserve.

Take Stock in Defensive Industries

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Defensive or non-cyclical stocks are securities that generally perform better than the overall market during bad times. These types of stocks provide a consistent dividend and stable earnings, regardless of the state of the overall market. Companies that produce household non-durables—such as toothpaste, shampoo, and shaving cream—are examples of defensive industries because people will still use these items in hard times.

Consider Inverse ETFs

Inverse ETFs

Inverse exchange-traded funds (ETFs) give investors a chance to profit from a decline in major indexes or benchmarks, such as the Nasdaq 100. When the major indexes go down, these funds go up, allowing you to profit while the rest of the market suffers.