The market is set to move higher.
The market is poised to move lower.
The market is going to move sideways for years, and you'll make more money investing in comic books.
With so many things weighing on stocks right now -- from accounting scandals to lackluster earnings -- it's impossible to tell where this market is headed. Instead, investors should fall back on some tried-and-true tenets of investing:
- Invest in stocks if you're in for the long haul.
Buy bonds and international stocks for diversification.
Take some selective losses.
But some readers don't agree with every suggestion that's appeared in this column recently. Here are some of their views on investing.
Earlier this week,
my column advised that if you can hang out in the market for 10, 20 or even 30 years, you will probably make money. That simply means that if you have a long time to invest, you can and probably should keep a big piece of your portfolio in stocks.
Reader Neil Beck thinks differently. "You're kidding, right? How many of your subscribers really have 30 years to make money before they have to live off of it? That reminds me of the famous statement attributed to the economist John Maynard Keynes: 'In the long run, we're all dead.'"
Well, for one, people in their twenties and thirties do have 30 years or more until their retirement. As you get closer to retiring, you do want to ratchet your risk down and move more of your portfolio into bonds and cash. But even a 50- or 60-year-old might have some money invested that isn't going to be needed for several decades. Those dollars could stay in stocks -- especially if the person is planning to pass those investments on to another generation.
But that suggestion doesn't mean you should buy and hold the same stocks and funds forever, regardless of what happens to those investments. Buy and hold doesn't mean buy and ignore. A
column from last week tried to address that.
You can dump a money-losing investment and take that loss on your taxes, using it to offset any capital gains or even up to $3,000 in ordinary income in a year. And you probably shouldn't hang on to any stock, like
, that's plagued by regulatory investigations and/or corporate fraud.
The idea is to find the right balance between holding and selling. First, you want to decide how much of your money should be in stocks. Is that desired allocation lower or higher than where it is now? Then you have to think about the stocks or funds that you still want to own. Were the executives at a particular company ripping you off? Then sell. Has a fund's manager dramatically underperformed his peers over the past few years? Then sell.
That's not meant to suggest that you dump everything and hide.
But reader Dale Vehlhaber seems to think that selling a few things means selling everything.
"You have the right spirit. SELL. SELL. SELL. I'll let all of you people lose your assets and I will continue to BUY, BUY, BUY! My strategy won't change. I have 15 years to retirement and I'm really hoping the market stays low for the next five years and then has a year like late '99. ... Aren't you familiar with the basic rule: Buy low, sell high? All you did was post another panic attack! Take care and remember one thing: If you keep buying high and selling low, you can expect to be working for many, many, many more years writing your column."
Vehlhaber makes a point, but staying in the market is very different from sitting on stocks that will never come back. You can feel free to sell some losers and reallocate your portfolio. I, on the other hand, will probably be writing my column for many, many, many years to come because I am a journalist. And I barely make enough money to live in this city.
Lastly, reader Gary Barnes wrote in to point out that it's OK to have a lot of your portfolio in your company's stock as long as you work for a good company.
"You might at least have had the courtesy to mention that those of us who have been 'overweight' in
over the past 15 years have done very well." The stock is up 500% over that period, according to Baseline.
"The positive results of investing in GE are and will continue to be a result of a top-notch and ethical management utilizing a winning strategy and business model and an inherently diversified portfolio of companies."
Telling investors that they shouldn't have too much of their money in any one stock isn't necessarily a knock on the company. When you work at a company, your livelihood is already tied to the success or failure of that business. If something does happen to the company and the stock, and you have, say, half of your portfolio in it, you could wind up losing your job and retirement savings.
Hopefully no one works for the next
or WorldCom. But in some respects, there's just no way to know.
In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, Dagen McDowell doesn't own or short individual stocks, nor does she invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Dagen welcomes your questions and comments, and invites you to send them to