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Apprenticed Investor: Bull or Bear? Neither

Surely, there are cheaper places to look for validation than the stock market.

Bull and Bear, a Matched Pair

In a firm I worked at during the bubble years, many of the brokers had bulls on their desks, but no bears. I used to take away their bulls, and refuse to return them unless they promised to display the bear also. I did this to prove a point: There are two sides to every market.

If you ever meet a money manager/broker/financial adviser who only has bulls displayed, run -- don't walk -- to the nearest exit. Why? Because it reveals a fundamental lack of market understanding: Markets go up and down; the bull and the bear each have their day.

And that's why the bull or bear question is inane. Stockholders should be watching market signals, economic issues and corporate earnings, with an eye toward adjusting their risk profile and investing outlook. Why? Because just like markets, risk goes up and down also. But once an investor commits to the bull/bear question, it leads to the unfortunate tendency to cheerlead for their last call rather than focusing on protecting capital. This very quickly can become an expensive hobby.

Red or Green: A Case Study

Here's a hypothetical example: Let's say you have a few errands to run that will require your driving a car. Before you turn the key, decide the following: Are you a "red" or a "green?"

You have to be something, so pick one before you leave the garage.

Now, apply that choice at every signal you hit on your errand. If you're a red, come to a dead stop at every signal. If you are a green, just drive through the next red light. When the cop asks why, just tell him it's because you are a "green." (Good luck in court).

Clearly, this is absurd. Rational people observe the color of the light, and step on the brake or accelerator as appropriate. Yet when it comes to the markets, many otherwise rational people do just this. They have predetermined their intentions and invested their dollars -- regardless of the many signals the broader market gives. One need look no further than recent history to see that ignoring market signals is a recipe for disaster.

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