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I'm sitting on a reasonable pile of cash, earning negligible interest in a bank savings account. After determining that I can live without this money for 5-10 years, I decided it would be best put into an index mutual fund.

However, I can't get myself to pull the trigger. With the poor economic forecast in many countries right now (including my own country, the US) most investors believe the market will be heading south for a while to come.

Question: do I sit on 0.5% interest until better forecasts emerge? Or will long-term behavior compensate for the current downturn?

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    0.5%‽ What bank is giving you such a good rate? – Dan B. Jun 4 '11 at 19:53
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Forecasts of stock market direction are not reliable, so you shouldn't be putting much weight on them. Long term, you can expect to do better in stocks, but obtaining this better expected return has the danger of "buying in" to the market at a particularly bad moment, leading to a substantially lower return. So mitigate that risk while moving in a big piece of cash by "dollar cost averaging". An example would be to divide your cash hoard (conceptually) into say six pieces, and invest each piece in the index fund two months apart. After a year you will have invested the whole sum at about the average of the index for the year.

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Buy low and sell high. Right now stocks are cheap (or at least cheapish). If you wait for better forecasts, the price will be higher. They might go down still farther, but no one knows for sure when that will happen, or where the bottom is -- despite what the talking heads on TV say. Remember that what you really care about is sell price minus purchase price (plus dividends, but I'll ignore that). What happens between the time you buy and the time you sell is irrelevant financially, but can be important psychologically.

If it was me, and you are sure you won't need the money for at least 10 years, or better still 15-20, I would buy some index funds. Pick something that you are comfortable with (some are more aggressive/risky than others), and then only look at it a few times a year, if that much. Only do this as long as you are sure that you won't sell if the market drops further. That is a guaranteed way to lose money.

This is what I've been doing for my retirement funds for 15 years, and its worked well so far.

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    Of course, buy low and sell high. The hard part is: what's low? It's not so obvious that stocks are now cheapish (much less cheap). – mgkrebbs Jun 3 '11 at 20:55
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    @mgkrebbs: You can measure high/lo, cheap/expensive in a number of ways. How about price to book value? – bstpierre Jun 3 '11 at 23:00
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Well, you probably already know this, but no-one can guarantee you results...in any economic climate. Even traditionally low risk investments now seem higher risk to people when the economic forecasts are grim. That being said, 0.5% is pretty low. So, where does that leave you?

Why not start with a risk tolerance analysis for yourself. There's a bunch on them on the internet if you google it. Here's one: Rutgers Financial Risk Tolerance Quiz

Based on the result you get back, and whether you agree with it or not, this may give you a starting point for determining if entering the stock market is right for you. I'm guessing you can get better than 0.5% return over 10 years pretty easily though.

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Are you kidding? The stock markets just took a nose dive this week. Perfect buying opportunity. Just be sure to dollar cost average your way in to avoid excessive timing risk.

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If you have a long enough time horizon, investing in the stock market while in a bad economy can turn out to be a very smart decision. If you need access to your capital in the short-term, 1-2 years, then it is probably a bad decision. If you have the ability to ride out the next few years, then you may be buying securities at an extremely low valuation. Take AAPL and MSFT for example. These are both technology stocks, which is by far the hottest sector in the economy now, and you can buy both of these companies for less than 13x earnings. Historically, you would have had to pay 20x or higher for high tech growth companies, but today you can buy these stocks at discounted valuations. Now AAPL may have a large market capitalization and a high stock price, but the simple fact is they are growing their earnings very quickly, they have best in class management, and they have $100 billion in cash and $50 billion in annual cash flow generation and you can buy the stock for a historically low multiple.

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Wow I love some of these answers. Remember why you are investing in the first place.

For me I like Dividend stocks and Dividend Capturing. Here is why. With over 3500 dividend stock companies paying out dividends this year, that means I can get a dividend check almost every day. What about if the stock goes down you ask? Well out of these 3500 companies there is a small group of these stocks that have consistently increased their dividend payout to their investors for over 25 years and a smaller group that have been increasing every year their pay outs for over 50 years. Yes Kennedy was in office back then and to this day they consistently pay higher and higher dividend payments to their investors, every year... for 50 years.

As for the Dividend Capturing strategy, that allows me to collect up 10-20 checks per month with that little effort. As for the stock going down... Here is a little tidbit that most buyers overlook. Stock price is more or less the public's perception of the value of a certain company. Earnings, balance sheet, cash flow, market cap and a few other things in the quarterly report will give you a better answer to the value of a company. If stock price goes down while earning and market go keep going up... what does that tell you?

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