In a classic cartoon by Chas. Addams, whose weird characters populated the 1960s TV show “The Addams Family,” the audience in a movie theater is shown facing the screen. Every face is sad; everyone’s eyes are teary — except one. A ghoulish little man with fangs, wearing a black cape, is grinning. There is no caption.
I was reminded of it by the stock market’s sudden late-August 10 percent dive that made scary headlines for most investors. What did it mean? How far down would it go? What should I do? Or, as a client once asked me in a similar time: “Should I panic?”
Who knows how many people of all ages were saying, “All I know about the stock market is that it makes me want to turn off the TV and take something for my nerves.”
So who was smiling? Apart from the short sellers who had bet on a decline by selling stock they didn’t own (don’t try it), those who were smiling — or should be — were the long-term investors who see a steep decline as an opportunity to enhance their growth potential, and income-seekers who see dividend yields go up as stock prices drop.
For working people wise enough to be investing regularly and reinvesting the dividends, it’s a time to increase, not cut back, your allotment. If the S&P 500 were to go from 200 to 300 druing the next 10 years, it would be far more profitable for you if it got there, not by a slow, steady rise, but by dropping to, say, 150, in the meantime, because you’d be buying more shares at lower prices. Do the math.
For the retired seeking income, a buying opportunity requires having available cash or short-term CDs to liquidate. But before you go all-in, if you are on a monthly withdrawal plan, be sure you retain enough cash or equivalent to cover your needs without having to sell any stocks in a down market. How much cash? Advisers recommend holding anywhere from three to as much as 10 years’ liquid reserves to draw from in order to avoid the need to sell stocks during a possible bear market.
As for trying to understand why the market is acting like a yo-yo on steroids, don’t bother. Commentators are paid to comment, to say something that sounds plausible. Conditions cited as the reason for one day’s 600-point drop didn’t go away when the market bounced back up 500 points the next day. Any time you read about “investors’” sentiments affecting the market’s daily activity, forget it. In this age of computer-driven high-volume trading, you and I are not “moving” the market up or down.
Ours is not to reason why the tides go in and out, but to cast our lots upon the waves in the hopes they will carry us to our goals, whatever they may be.
For most of us, it’s the only game in town.