After all of the analysis, the economic statistics, and the explaining that low commodity prices, particularly oil's, have a stimulus effect that ultimately offsets the ill, it's time to get down to what truly matters most in the business of long-term investing.
In 2008 (during the heart of last bear market) I published what I believe remains my most important essay. Here's that hypothetical conversation between an experienced adviser and his client:
Investor: My gosh, the Dow was down 250 points today! What happened?
Adviser: Stock prices fell.
Adviser: Because shareholders wanted to sell their stocks and no buyers would pay yesterdays prices.
Investor: Why wouldnt they pay yesterdays prices?
Adviser: Because they didnt see value in yesterdays prices.
Investor: Why not?
Adviser: Perhaps they felt that yesterdays prices were based on earnings assumptions that may not materialize this year, due to the slowing economy.
Investor: Will the economy continue to slow will we have a recession?
Adviser: What do I look like, a fortune teller?
Investor: Uh..... so, my portfolio's been dropping almost daily since the start of the year. Why?
Adviser: Because stocks are falling.
Investor: But why are they falling?
Adviser: Because no one wants to pay last years prices.
Investor: I know, you told me that already. But yesterday the Dow was up over 100 points. Why?
Adviser: Because investors wanted to buy and shareholders werent willing to sell at day before yesterdays prices.
Investor: Why wouldnt they sell at day before yesterdays prices?
Adviser: Because they saw more value in their stocks than the day before yesterdays prices represented.
Adviser: Maybe they felt that the day before yesterdays prices didnt fully reflect the upside earnings potential of the underlying companies.
Investor: How could their attitudes change so much in one day?
Adviser: Now thats a good question!
Investor: Okay, but what if the market keeps dropping?
Adviser: It will keep dropping, I guarantee it.
Investor: What do you mean?
Adviser: I mean it will always keep dropping and it will also keep going up. Its inevitable.
Investor: How could it keep dropping and keep going up?
Adviser: What I mean is, the market will always have periods when it drops and periods when it goes up. That we know for sure.
Investor: Okay, I get that, but what about my portfolio?
Adviser: Your portfolio will keep dropping and it will keep going up. If youre a long-term investor, youre in luck. The market has always kept going up more than it has kept going down --- over the long-term.
Investor: But I dont like the uncertainty?
Adviser: How much do you not like it? Are you losing sleep?
Adviser: Then get out of stocks.
Investor: But Ive been told theyre the best investment long-term?
Adviser: Youve been told right, the best investment long-term not always the best investment short-term. But is it worth losing sleep over?
Investor: But if I get out of stocks, what do I do with the money?
Adviser: Buy CDs and save every penny you can. Youll likely have to save more to reach your long-term goals, but youll sleep much better.
Investor: I dont think Id sleep well only earning what CDs pay.
Adviser: Then learn how to sleep owning stocks.
Investor: How do I do that?
Adviser: Dont think about your stocks. Hire a money manager and stick with your program.
Investor: When do you think the market will rise again?
Adviser: After its done falling.
Investor: Is there anything I can do in the meantime?
Adviser: Yes. Anything but think about the stock market.
Investor: Will the Fed lower interest rates?
Adviser: Of course.
Adviser: When they see fit.
Investor: Will they lower interest rates at their next meeting?
Adviser: Youd have to ask them but Id guess yes.
Investor: Will that help the market?
Adviser: What do you mean? Help it go up, or help it go down? Both are important.
Investor: What do you mean?
Adviser: You cant have one without the other. Down trends are essential for the long-term survival of the market. Kind of like taking a rest every now and then. The longer the market stays up without any sleep, the harder the sleep when it finally comes. The good news is the market has always woken up.
Investor: Cant you be a little more helpful and just give me a forecast for 2008?
Adviser: Trust me, my forecast won't help you. And does it really matter?
Investor: What do you mean, of course it matters?
Adviser: What do you want the market to do go up or go down?
Investor: Now theres a brilliant question I want it to go up, of course!
Adviser: Now or later?
Adviser: Lets forget about up for a moment and think about down. Since the market is for sure going to go down every now and then. Would you rather it go down now or later? Are you going to need the money you have in stocks now or later?
Adviser: Okay then, since we know the market will always go down, and since youre not selling your stocks till later better that the market go down now rather than later, dont you think?
Investor: Okay I get it. But I still don't like it.
Adviser: I understand. Most people don't. But it's my hope that, with a healthier perspective, you'll stress less going forward.