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Turn Short-Term Fear Into Long-Term Profit

Volatility is way up. Your stomach, tied in knots by the drop in global equities and commodity prices, tells you that. Fear is back.

But like everything else in the financial markets, fear moves in cycles, and that makes this a good time to remind yourself that fear is a short-term phenomenon. It has very little, if anything, to do with the long-term value of a stock or other investment.

Fear doesn't change fundamentals, even if it can powerfully shift how much we're willing to pay for those fundamentals. It is dangerous to investors because it can make them forget long-term economic and market trends and abandon long-term winners at temporary bottoms.

The best antidote for short-term fear is to run down your list of those long-term trends that you believe will turn some stocks into winners. And then use the short-term market overreaction to fear as an opportunity for building positions that will profit from those long-term trends.

In this column, I'm first going to run down five long-term trends that I want to own in my portfolio. And second, I'm going to give you a tip or three on how to buy into these trends with the most safety while the stock market is still in the grip of fear.

The odds are, I think, that we've put an end to a period of extraordinarily low stock market volatility that stretches back to 2003. The VIX, the Chicago Board Options Exchange index that tracks the volatility of the Standard & Poor's 500 stock-index options, shows a low reading when investor fear of volatility is low. So, in the complacency that preceded the bursting of the technology bubble in March 2000, the VIX had dropped to an average of just 22.7 for that month. The VIX numbers climbed after that in reaction to the market's bust, seeming recovery ... and bust again. By March 2003, the VIX stood at 30.6.

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