Investors Refuse to Learn Old Lessons

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It seems strange to say, but this year winter really can’t come quick enough. The markets have just wrapped up their worst quarter since 2008 and the economy continues to deteriorate with no end in sight, as Fed Chairman Bernanke already hinted that the US is likely slipping back into recession

A brief history lesson: During the average recession, US stocks typically fall about 40% from their highs before bottoming. To date, stocks have already shaved roughly 20% off their highs; if the US were to officially enter a recession and stocks went through a normal correction, the Dow (Dow Jones Industrial Average) would fall to somewhere near 8,000.

Presently both the Dow and the S&P 500 are at levels first reached before this millennium, which means that anybody who has owned most stock indices hasn’t made a dime since ’99 (except possibly for dividends). That’s not to say there hasn’t been money to be made – quite a lot of it in fact. The important thing is not just to be in the right place, but at the right time.

Our mantra, our motto that we constantly remind clients is “it’s not what you own; it’s when you own it.” This has been proven time and again over the past three years. Looking at where the markets stand today and how things are developing, we have no doubt that there are some very good buying opportunities on the way. The question is when.

We’ve written before and it bears repeating that today is shaping up to look almost identical to the late 1970s for a host of reasons. The economy is slowing, the political landscape is looking familiar (Jimmy Carter versus Barack Obama), with partisanship coming to a head.

People are fed up with stocks, many selling out of frustration and vowing never to buy stocks again. Unfortunately, a lot of investors did precisely the same thing in the late 70s, right before one of the biggest booms in stock market history. Fortunately, a capitulation like this is usually a sign that the good times are closer than most people think.

Also ironic is how the balance of international economic powers has shifted. In the late 70s, everyone thought Japan was going to own the world. Nowadays everyone thinks it will be their neighbor, China. In all likelihood, just as the shift of power from the US to Japan reversed in the early 1980s, the same will likely occur with the US and China in the near future.

So when it comes to the markets, we know there are some great buying opportunities coming, but it’s never smart to try to catch a falling knife. And that’s exactly what the markets are right now.

With the massive shifts going on, it’s important for most investors to seek sound advice, but to make sure the advice they’re paying for is the advice they want. In other words, that it aligns with their goals and objectives.

For example: If the goal is to make money, are you paying for that advice? Or is the goal to build a tailored portfolio?

Investors need to understand that these are two totally different aims. Not only that, but they are generally mutually exclusive. One must take precedence over the other.

So, a word to the wise: Investors who aren’t willing to spend the time necessary to follow the markets, do the research, and objectively manage their own money need to seek the advice of someone who will. As importantly, they need to first seek to understand their own goals and objectives. Only then can they identify someone capable of providing the help they need to get through these tumultuous times.

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