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D.F. Krause
  D.F.'s Column Archive
January 25, 2006
The Mind-Twisting Psychology of the Investor

When the Dow hit 11,000 on January 9, for the first time since 2001, the milestone brought hope and expectations of continued better things to come. Investors brimmed with optimism.


But then, but then . . .


Blue-chip companies released disappointing earnings reports. Certainty faded that the Fed would stop raising interest rates. Osama Bin Laden made one of his patented Al Jazeera cameos. And just like that, a 333-point sell-off ensued, and now investors have returned to gloomy despair and psychological skittishness.


All this in two weeks.


Now let me see if I have this straight: Two weeks ago, it was time to put your hard-earned money into stocks because we all need to put our wealth to work for us and protect our futures. We all need to give our money a chance to grow and perform in the hands of proven business people and hard-working entrepreneurs.


This was two weeks ago.


But that was before we learned that a) some big companies aren’t making as much money as they would like; b) there is a chance interest rates might go up again; c) Bin Laden can still work a tape recorder.


That changes everything!


No more investing. No more putting wealth to work. No more giving any money to anyone. That’s over now. Bin Laden is raising interest rates and the people who make blue chips are losing market share to the potato chip people. We clearly can’t be making investments now.


So goes the psychology of the investment world, a phenomenon that has never made sense to this small entrepreneur, if only because the same people who are always wanting to manage the money they think I have are the ones telling me that you have to view investing as a long-term proposition.


And that makes sense. Asset Class A is up this year while Asset Class B is down. Next year, B is up and A is down, while D has emerged from the dregs to lead the pack and Asset Class H is showing signs of big things.


Next year it will all change, but if you can be reasonably sure of one thing, it’s that the overall trend of the market over time will usually be up. So spread your money across various classes, rebalance them occasionally and be patient.


Unless we learn tomorrow that Michael Moore won an Oscar or someone found a sweaty cotton ball in a bottle of Tylenol. Then, put your money in a shoebox.


I have been a business owner for six years. I have not always made the best decisions. But I have to believe there is still hope for me, because at least I don’t make decisions to invest or refrain because a headline made me nervous. And yet, there are people who apparently do this very thing every day, and these people are let loose on Wall Street – their behavior considered normal.


They also seem to demonstrate a habit of not reading much beyond the headlines – because if they did they might reconsider their panicky sell-off impulses. When Yahoo, Intel and Citigroup announced “disappointing” earnings (in other words, less than the optimistic guesses that preceded the announcements), the psychology of the market took a beating. But according to Thomson Financial, only 24 percent of the 95 companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 that have reported earnings have missed estimates. The norm is 20 percent, and even with 24 percent falling short, that’s still 76 percent making their goals.


This is a reason to panic? Thomson Financial also estimates that S&P 500 companies overall are expected to grow at an average of 13.1 percent, giving us a 15th consecutive quarter of double-digit growth.


That certainly sounds to this financial non-sophisticate like the kind of long-term performance we are told to seek when investing – an unwelcome news item or highly placed executive branch indictment notwithstanding.


But I realize how dated these comments must sound. Wisely and prudently investing is very two weeks ago. Now that the jitters have returned, the best a guy can do is keep checking his wallet to make sure terrorists and Michael Moore haven’t swiped it.


Until the Super Bowl commercials start. That’ll get the market in gear.

© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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