The VIX Volatility Index surged to an all-time high today -- and if you've been reading the newspapers this week, that's likely the most obvious stat you've heard in some time. Things are rocky out there, though. Even blue-chip bellwethers General Electric (NYSE: GE ) , AT&T (NYSE: T ) , Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) , Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO ) , and Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB ) are down 25% or more in the past month.
There's been nowhere to hide. So what's your next move? We asked a panel of Fool analysts what advice they'd give investors in a market with stock prices continually dropping daily. Here's what they had to say.
Robert Brokamp: Keep saving for retirement. You don't want to pass up the tax breaks that come with IRAs and 401(k)s, nor do you want to pass up the employer match, if you're lucky enough to have such a thing. If you can't stand buying more stocks with each contribution (though that's what I'm doing with each of my contributions), choose something more conservative, such as the money market fund or a shorter-term bond fund. But whatever you do, keep saving.
This is also a time to build up your emergency fund. The unemployment rate is up and will keep rising. Everyone should have three to six months' worth of living expenses somewhere safe, such as an FDIC-insured savings account.
Bill Barker: Don't try to time anything. Invest your time into finding highly stable companies with histories of surviving or even thriving in recessionary conditions. Make sure they've got rock-solid balance sheets, and find a price that feels "once in a lifetime" to you. You may already be seeing those prices today, but you don't need to feel like the market must bottom before buying something that is clearly trading below its intrinsic value.
If you're queasy about anything, don't buy more -- but don't sell into a panic unless you're not already diversified appropriately for when you're going to need to take that money out of the market. If that's the case, rebalance your portfolio now.
Tim Hanson: Dollar-cost average in on a regular basis, but do so in small amounts in order to have money on the sidelines in case the market drops more. Given low trading costs, that's the best way to take advantage. If you're paying $4 per trade (not uncommon), you can invest in blocks as small as $200 without getting mugged by trading costs.
JE: Don't check your stocks.
Andy Cross: It's amazing, and unsettling, to see the stocks of some very high quality companies fall day after day. If you've built a fairly bulletproof and diversified portfolio, then you can take these hits in stride, as long as you're investing cash you don't need until five or 10 years from now, or longer. You may even want to nibble at them at attractive prices (I use DRiP programs for many of my holdings). Certainly don't rashly sell all your stocks; that's just what we're seeing from hedge funds and mutual funds. Rather, keep your wits about you, and look at picking up shares of your favorite investments at a discount. I can pretty much guarantee you'll find some good ones out there.
For continuing coverage and analysis on all the market turmoil:
- Roundtable: Panic, Sell, or Panic-Sell?
- Panic 2008
- How Bad Will It Get?
- Fool Poll: How Low Will the Dow Go?
None of the advisors own shares of the companies mentioned in this story. Read about the Fool's disclosure policy here.