Julie Jason's Your Money: Now is a good time to learn more about the stock market

By JULIE JASON February 09. 2018 9:23PM
A screen displays the Dow Jones Industrial Average after the closing bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York Feb. 8, 2018. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

As I'm writing this column on Feb. 8, I'm watching my stock screen - the Dow Jones industrial average just closed below 24,000 (down more than 1,000 points, representing a loss of 4 percent). A few weeks ago, on Jan. 17, the "red-hot Dow" (CNN's term) closed above the 26,000 level. Back on Jan. 4, the Dow broke through the 25,000 mark.

If you are an individual investor who is worried, let's talk about that. We know from money flows that some people wait too long to get into the stock market - that is, they wait until the market is "red-hot" before buying. I'm guessing one of two things: 1) these individuals (I hope) were not investing important sums of money, such as their retirement savings, or 2) they were flying solo, without a co-pilot.

My first question to all investors is: What's your horizon? The market is still in bull-market territory, the bull that began on March 9, 2009. If you have been invested in the market all along, the current pullback has to be put in context. No healthy market rises without correcting.

Some believe there is more downward pressure to come, but not enough to move into a bear market, which is a 20 percent decline. Quoting from U.S. Investment Policy Committee Notes (Feb. 7) by CFRA, one of the world's largest independent investment research firms:

"Despite yesterday's (Feb. 6) reflex rally, this decline may resume and conclude with a double-digit correction, rather than the sub-10 percent pullback already recorded on a closing basis, due to how far the S&P 500 traded above its 200-day moving average and how elevated prices had become relative to EPS (earnings per share) and inflation."

Further, CFRA notes: "A silver lining in all of this is that sharp and swift sell-offs have traditionally led to quick conclusions and rapid recoveries. In addition, following the end of corrections and bear markets, the three sectors and 10 sub-industries that were beaten up the most typically became the new leaders. Even though the worst might not be over, we are not projecting the start of a new bear market, since we don't forecast recession."

Earnings are far from weak: "This year we see Real GDP rising 3.1 percent and S&P 500 EPS up more than 19 percent, combined with a 2.90 percent 10-year yield and a 1.9 percent y/y (year over year) change in Core CPI by the final quarter of 2018."

So, if you are not one who jumped into the market because it was demanding your attention with all-time highs, I trust that you're a savvy investor with a safely structured diversified portfolio and a long investment horizon. On the other hand, if you need some help to get there, I have some suggestions.

First, there is no better time to learn more about the markets.

An example of a trusted resource is the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which is the nongovernmental regulator of the securities industry. I attended FINRA's investor forum in Stamford, Conn., on Feb. 1. The event was sold out, with nearly 500 investors in attendance. The presentation included "key principles of investing" and "tips for smarter investing," which provide the foundation for good investment decisions.

If you are curious, here is a video link: https://tinyurl.com/ybm3lqr9.

FINRA has a wealth of unbiased educational materials on its website (finra.org). Take advantage of them.

Second, I caution people about overconfidence. Behavioral economists have brought to our attention that even the most experienced investors can act against their interest at times.

When tested, investors can prove to be insufficiently knowledgeable about basic investment principles. In a FINRA Foundation study, even experienced investors could only answer 4.4 questions correctly from a 10-question investor literacy quiz. (To see the quiz, go to www.finra.org/investors/investor-knowledge-quiz.)

Third, if you are a do-it-yourself investor, consider the value a financial professional can bring to the equation.

There are many different types of professionals who have invested in developing their own expertise in order to serve a certain clientele. Finding a good fit takes some homework. If you would like some guidance, write to me at readers@juliejason.com; I'll respond in this column.

One final thought: The financial markets are the one and only mechanism for building wealth over time and creating income for retirement. It pays to spend some time learning the basic principles that can lead to making sound investment decisions in good markets and bad.

Julie Jason, JD, LLM, a personal money manager at Jackson, Grant of Stamford, Conn., and award-winning author, welcomes questions and comments to readers@juliejason.com.


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