Improving Investor Behavior – Learn to Love a Falling Market

Note

This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, January 20, 2019.

The financial markets have given investors quite a ride in the past few months. Not only have we seen a drop in the prices, but the volatility and multiple-percentage point days seems to have investors feeling a little seasick. The first thing queasy people want to do is to get off the boat.

This is precisely the wrong thing to do, and here’s why. Thinking fluctuation is bad for investors is an incorrect perspective. Volatility is the stock market’s way of redistributing shares of great companies to their rightful long-term owners. When markets fluctuate as they have in recent months, it is nearly impossible to divorce yourself from the emotional powers of fear and greed. The price per share does not matter unless you are buying that day, or selling that day. Other than some “entertainment value.” daily fluctuation should be ignored.

“What makes stocks valuable in the long run is not the market. It is the profitability of the companies you own,” said Peter Lynch in Worth Magazine in 1995. I agree with him. Over time, as corporations become more valuable, sooner or later, their shares will sell for a higher price. Our contention is you need to remember you own a piece of successful, profitable companies.

When we experience moments in time like this past December, when prices decline temporarily, investors tend to get anxious and fearful. If you are a long-term investor who likes owning great-dividend paying companies, the short-term volatility should be irrelevant. If you do not intend to sell any investments for many years to come, why worry about what the prices are today? Short-term price declines cause many investors angst. That emotional heartburn is just one reason it makes sense to work with a professional who can help keep you on track.

Managing assets for the past 40 years, I often feel I live in what might be described as “investment manager hell.” When clients are excited, almost giddy with enthusiasm about the markets and economy, I tend to feel frustrated. Moments like these usually mean my favorite companies are overvalued.

On the other hand, when clients express frustration, anger, fear, or anxiety about the markets, I tend to get excited. This usually means my favorite companies are on sale. Remember that falling prices mean better deals. Sometimes the price drops so far, and so hard, it’s possible to pick up shares at fire sale prices. Panic can be an expensive emotion for sellers.

Rather than get caught up in the moment, we look toward the future and what opportunities may develop for investments. This is investment manager hell – loving “bad” markets and hating “good” markets. When you work diligently to understand each of the companies you may own as an investor, you realize the value of the company is the sum of the future cash flow that a company may generate. The higher the current stock price, the more over-valued that investment may be. Likewise the lower the price today, the more under-valued that company is. It may be a great time to increase ownership shares.

When prices are temporarily falling, rather than be fearful, recognize that you can purchase company stocks at lower prices. Try to make it a practice to never react to prices alone. A more in-depth, thoughtful approach is necessary to evaluate how a company is doing. Price should not be the sole indicator.

How you think about market fluctuation and, more importantly, what you do about it takes discipline. Often investors let fear and greed override common sense or wisdom. Don’t be a victim of the market. Remember, the best time to buy is when things go on sale. Investments are no different. Great investments, like great products or services, sometimes offer discounts. When they come along, buy them, keep them for a long time, and watch how that investment can pay off.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren

Steve started his investment career in 1978 with the NYSE investment firm EF Hutton, working in the environment of a large investment company. Desiring to provide clients with objective investment advice, he founded Prosperion Financial Advisors. Learn more about Steve here.

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The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.