Editor's Note: With this story, TheStreet.com introduces chief markets writer Brett D. Fromson. Fromson comes to TSC with a wealth of journalistic experience, as a veteran of The Washington Post , Fortune and other publications. He will write occasionally for the next couple of weeks and several times a week thereafter.
What was the message in the market today? And what, if anything, should you consider doing tonight or tomorrow?
On a confusing day like this, with the whiff of panic in the air, both bulls and bears on Wall Street agree on several things.
First, you should review your portfolio. Make sure you really want to own whatever it is you do own.
Listen to Richard B. McDermott, a bullish portfolio manager at
Cantor Weiss Asset Management
"I don't care where the averages finished," he said. "This was by midday a Nasdaq crash. The people in my office are feeling very lucky that we did not have a complete crash. If you are a tech investor like me, you should consider yourself very lucky.
"Take this an opportunity to go through your portfolio and make sure that the business models of the underlying businesses you own are sustainable," he went on. "A lot of the B2C companies are never going to make money. Do you want to own them? What are they really worth? You could take today as an opportunity to lighten up."
Billionaire bear Larry Tisch agrees that investors should re-evaluate their holdings. "Can you justify the valuations of the stocks in your portfolio?" he said. "Today was a shot across everyone's bow."
It's just common sense. Whether you think today's decline is yet another dip to buy, as McDermott thinks, or a colossal bear trap, as Tisch thinks, you owe it to yourself to scrutinize your holdings carefully. Valuations do matter. Business models matter. Whatever your tolerance for risk, make sure you are comfortable with what you have.
Everything Can Go Down
A second lesson is that in a bad market, everything can go down. At the lows today, not only was the tech-heavy
Nasdaq Composite Index
down 575, but the
Dow Jones Industrial Average
had sunk 504 points. The expected rotation from tech to old-line companies completely broke down. There were a few pockets of strength -- notably the drugs, some defense and the consumers -- but mainly it was a wipeout at midday.
"The scare factor causes people to throw good stocks out with the bad," said veteran strategist Bob Stovall, who recently joined
Texas investor Frederick E. "Shad" Rowe Jr., who runs
, noted, "Markets going down don't take prisoners." Rowe, who is by no means a tech investor, saw his investments drop several percentage points today.
And finally, very few expect a crash.
Bob Torray, who runs the
from Bethesda, Md., said, "The future of the market all depends on the economy. I foresee a big downward revaluation in tech stocks, but if the economy remains as it is, you are not going to see the average company go down to 8 times earnings."
Stovall agreed. "I don't expect the market P/E to go down even to 15. People still have a belief that the U.S. is the world's leading country. And they are right."
McDermott is even more bullish. "The economy is growing. Tech is where the growth is. I expect the market to rally. Today, in my opinion was a bottom. Like it or not, I am going to hold my nose and buy tech."
One word of caution.
Today, there was enormous selling pressure. The market came back. Thank God. And that selling pressure -- the "puke factor" -- may signal a bottom to be followed by a rally. But it could be a bear trap. The Dow and the Nasdaq are well off their highs, but there could be another leg down.
It has happened before. The lows of the Great Crash did not occur in 1929. Yes, stocks fell 48% in two months in '29, but the Dow then rallied into early 1930. The slaughter came only in October 1932. That was when the Dow bottomed out, 86% below its high-water mark.
No one knows the future, and if things go sour, no one will bail you out.