While freedom of the press is crucial to a well-functioning democracy, reading the financial press may be hazardous to your wealth.
One of the worst things investors can do, right now, is to pull out of the stock market because (they think) “the end of the world is upon us.” The truth is that many people “throw in the towel” at just the wrong time. And, certainly, the media, all too frequently, plays into (and plays up) that irrational fear, and usually at just the wrong time.
Several articles, had they been taken seriously, might have scared you right out of the stock market. If you had followed the very typical story line of “now is a very risky time to be investing in stocks” you might have missed out on the best September since 1939. In that single month, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained 8.8%!
Here are just a few of the recent articles that could have led you astray. (And note, please, the usage of the word “flee” in the title of the first two articles; I can’t help but relate the word “flee” to those old Godzilla movies, where everyone is haphazardly running for their lives.)
Small Investors Flee Stocks, Changing Market Dynamics, Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2010
“Many individual investors were tiptoeing back into stocks in the spring. Now, they’re running for cover again.”
“Individual investors were important market pillars in the 1990s, but their flight from stocks is changing the market dynamic.”
The article actually pictured a smiling couple who “sold the last of their stock holdings on May 20, moving the money to bonds, certificates of deposit and bond-like annuities.” What unfortunate timing! I’d be curious to see if they’re still smiling.
In Striking Shift, Small Investors Flee Stock Market, New York Times, August 21, 2010
Renewed economic uncertainty is testing Americans’ generation-long love affair with the stock market.
Investors withdrew a staggering $33.12 billion from domestic stock market mutual funds in the first seven months of this year, according to the Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund industry trade group. Now many are choosing investments they deem safer, like bonds.
The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were not alone in trumpeting doom and gloom. There have been similar articles in USA Today and Fortune. Even The Atlantic weighed in with a fabulous title: The Great Stock Myth.
For an astute analysis (and a thorough debunking) of the Atlantic’s article, read Larry Swedroe’s August 30th post, Are Stocks Really Doomed?
What can we learn from reading (and then completely disregarding) such inflammatory articles? We learn that they are not at all helpful for long-term investing. Articles of these types almost always appear after periods of low returns and/or increased volatility of stock prices.
What we know is that, yes, stocks are risky. And, yes, prices fluctuate. And, (a very emphatic) yes, we are all facing serious economic and political challenges. And, perhaps some people should have a significant amount of their money invested in fixed income securities.
But your portfolio should depend on an individual assessment of your goals, your time horizon, and your ability and willingness to accept risk.
Your long-term investment strategy should definitely not depend on – nor should it be influenced by – what you read in the media.