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How to Invest at a Record High

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It finally happened. The stock market hit a new record high, and now, everyone's fighting about whether it marks the end of an impressive bull market or just the beginning of a much larger one. Yet while it's the job of financial television to turn every daily move into a media event, your investing strategy needs to last not just for today or tomorrow but next year and for the rest of your life. With stocks at unprecedented lofty heights, what's the right move for your money?

Fighting the urge to do something different
For those of you who already have a solid investing plan, the answer is likely nothing at all. The best plans include strategies that focus less on daily valuations and more on long-term trends. So although seeing stocks at record highs might trigger a minor event like a rebalancing of your portfolio in order to moderate risk, it likely wouldn't include major changes to the makeup of your investments, either in the direction of wholesale selling out of the stock market entirely or in plowing all your spare cash into stocks in hopes of another leg up in the bull run.

Unfortunately, millions of investors don't have a solid investing plan. With the market's meltdown back in 2008 and 2009 having scared many of those investors out of stocks entirely, the past four years have been a missed opportunity. Waiting for a long-awaited pullback has proven to be a fruitless hope, as stocks have moved higher with only brief pauses along the way.

So if you're assessing what to do in light of the Dow's record run, here are a few ideas for you to consider.

Tip 1: Figure out a path to an investment portfolio with acceptable risks.
The simplest way to invest is using an asset-allocation strategy that divides your money across different types of investments. By keeping a mix of all of those -- with higher allocations to stocks for more aggressive investors and lower ones for more conservative investors -- you can give yourself a course to follow throughout your investing career.

Admittedly, every investment has risks right now. For stocks, valuation is a concern, even though corporate profits are also at all-time highs. Bonds may seem safer, but the threat of higher interest rates could make today's bond buyers regret their timing. Even cash has risk, as trends toward dollar devaluation compared to other currencies and rock-bottom interest rates that don't even keep up with inflation slowly erode your purchasing power.

Once you've decided on the right mix of investments, the next step is to figure out what you need to buy and sell to implement it. If you're cash-rich but nervous about the market, take more time to ramp up your stock exposure, making new investments on a regular, repeated basis rather than buying in a single lump sum. If you're more comfortable with a one-and-done approach, though, then don't hesitate to do the lump sum -- historically, it has proven to be the better move more often than not.

Tip 2: Even in a high market, there are still bargains.
Just because a major benchmark hits a high doesn't mean that everything is expensive. Shopping in beaten-down corners of the market can unearth smart buys.

One such area involves commodities. The global slowdown has indiscriminately hammered many promising companies in the energy and natural-resources areas, as fears of overproduction and supply gluts have created overhangs in formerly hot markets. But if the market's highs accurately reflect an economic rebound, then the best companies in these sectors should flourish. National Oilwell Varco (NYSE: NOV  ) stands to benefit from greater levels of energy-related activity, as it will mean selling more of the pipe and other drilling supplies it provides for exploration and production companies. Similarly, Joy Global (NYSE: JOY  ) and Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) stand to gain from higher demand for the heavy equipment that mining companies need in order to unearth natural resources. Yet all of those stocks trade well off their yearly highs and have reasonable valuations to boot.

If you don't like commodity-related plays, you can find other opportunities. The key is to start thinking like a value investor and realize that pockets of good value still wait to be discovered.

Tip 3: Trim unsustainable high-flying stocks.
Conversely, if the market has bid up a stock beyond belief, trimming down your position makes sense -- but only if you think its gains are unsustainable.

Too often, investors ignore that caveat and end up selling a high-flying stock early in its cycle. Countless times, priceline.com (NASDAQ: PCLN  ) presented investors with compelling reasons to sell out, most notably during the big recession in 2008 and 2009. Yet the company's competitive advantage persisted, leading it to much greater gains than its industry peers.

So don't sell automatically just because stocks are at record highs. The best reason to sell is a threat to your long-term investing thesis behind the stock.

Keep calm and invest on
The market's at a record high, but what happens next is anyone's guess. The best thing to do now is to get a plan that you can follow not just today but well into the future, no matter which direction stocks move.

National Oilwell Varco is perhaps the safest investment in the energy sector due to its industry-leading market share. To help determine if the stock is a nice fit for your portfolio, check out our premium research report with in-depth analysis on whether National Oilwell Varco is a buy today. For instant access to this valuable investor's resource, simply click here now and claim your copy today.

Tune in every Monday and Wednesday for Dan's columns on retirement, investing, and personal finance. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger.


Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (10)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2013, at 12:38 PM, jambo297 wrote:

    Thanks. You are reaffirming my thoughts on rebalancing. I am new to stocks and am having fun and now that some are up I want to lock in gains and moderate risk. I still want to keep some of those that I think have a chance to run some more. Using today to sell portions that are now trading at high P/E; at 52 wk highs AND relatively high PEG. I don't know how else to judge "sustainability."

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2013, at 6:58 PM, dan1931 wrote:

    HERE WE GO AGAIN WITH DDD. STAY OR GO, ANY THOUGHTS ON A MERGE, THANKS .

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Dan Caplinger
TMFGalagan

Dan Caplinger has been a contract writer for the Motley Fool since 2006. As the Fool's Director of Investment Planning, Dan oversees much of the personal-finance and investment-planning content published daily on Fool.com. With a background as an estate-planning attorney and independent financial consultant, Dan's articles are based on more than 20 years of experience from all angles of the financial world.

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