The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
NEW YORK (
) -- You might think it's a stupid idea to buy stocks right now. And I'll admit, things are a bit bleak
. Seasonal hiring is disappointing and unemployment remains stubbornly high
. Inflation is eroding family budgets while wages and personal income are stagnant. Debt woes in Europe are in focus, but the "super committee" ensures that debt problems in America will be the subject of ridicule sometime soon.
It's indeed ugly on Wall Street. September saw us shed about 4% from all of the major indices -- and if we hadn't seen some big up days last week, we could have languished at lows that were off about 6% on the month. And who knows what October will bring after a flop earlier this week and a rally off of the lows in the last two days.
But the risk you should be focusing on right now isn't the risk of owning stocks. No, the real risk could be what will happen if you are not invested in the market.
Here are three reasons why you should stop fretting and start investing now, with investment opportunities to prove the point to consider:
1. Cash is losing value fast
The myth of going to cash is that you will protect your money. Maybe it's true that you won't see a red arrow next to your bank account unless you make a withdrawal, but the sad reality is that if your money is just sitting there, it is losing value every day. The U.S. Labor Department reported recently that consumer prices were rising at a 3.8% annual rate -- the hottest pace of inflation since November 2008. In short, your money can buy about 4% less now that it did a year ago.
Still think it's wise to let your cash just sit there?
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The solution is to seek shelter in
sectors that profit from inflation . For instance, the
Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF
focuses on agriculture and food companies that feed the farm industry -- companies that are benefiting handily from selling higher-priced corn, soy and other grains to both consumers and packaged food companies alike.
For mutual fund investors, consider the
PIMCO Commodity Real Return Strategy Fund
. With $16.5 billion under management, this is one of the largest and most respected pure-play commodity funds out there, buying and selling futures on hard commodities ranging from oil to grains to gold and everything in between. This is a broad-based way to play inflationary trends, and a more direct investment on inflation. The downside is that the expense ratio is a bit steep at over 1.2%, but the active management and sophisticated trading by PIMCO's staff might make the premium worth it to some folks who want to deal in commodities directly this way.
2. Stocks (and funds) are the only place to find income
Ten-year T-Notes yield less than 2% as of the end of September. A "high-yield" savings account or CD delivers about the same. What's the point of tying up your money in these investments only to see it languish and deliver such paltry returns on your investment?
No, the only true place to find income these days is in dividend stocks. And not just a decent 3% or 4% return. If you do some hunting around, you can find stocks that yield more than 6% of your investment via stable and sustainable dividends.
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Consider telecoms like
. Both yield more than 6%, and the duopoly between the two means neither stock is going anywhere.
In Big Pharma, stocks like
yield more than 4.5%. Also big brands that will stick around for decades.
Utility stocks like
also boast 4%-plus yields. Utility stocks are legalized monopolies with as stable a business as you can find, so no risk of dividend cuts there.
The list goes on. What's more, you can find master limited partnerships (MLPs) and real estate investment trusts (REITs) that boast even bigger yields based on their tax-code designation and mandate to deliver the lion's share of profits to shareholders.
Not comfortable picking an individual dividend winner? Well, fund investors should consider the
Dow 30 Enhanced Premium & Income Fund
ETF, which boasts a yield north of 9%. It trades well under $10 per share and pays about 23 cents per share in quarterly distributions.
3. There always are profits if you invest wisely
You might be convinced that because the market is volatile and that the Dow Jones is slightly in the red year to date, that means that stock investors have gotten fleeced. Not so.
For starters, a host of big-name stocks have outperformed. Take
, the poster child of a stock that is beating the market, which is up 20% so far in 2011 as of this writing.
is up 17%.
is up 24%. There are a host of others.
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Yes, it is impossible to lock up all the stocks that are going to rise and avoid all the stocks that are going to fall -- but in a diversified portfolio, some of these gains would more than offset losses.
Think it's above your pay grade to build a diversified portfolio like this all alone, or to find the real winners in a tough market? That's what
good actively managed mutual funds are for. Take the
Wells Fargo Advantage Growth Fund
that has tallied 15% gains in the past 12 months versus a measly 3% for the Dow. That's in large part thanks to winners you might have not even heard of, like
, which has tacked on 60% gains since January. No bear market there.
In short, don't think that just because the market is down your portfolio has to be.
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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.