I'm having a hard time looking at companies for investment right now; perhaps I'm learning something about my own tolerance for uncertainty; right now there is so much uncertainty that I'm much more interested in learning about what's going on in the world than what a small island -- one public company -- is doing in that world.
I bought my first shares of stock in 1987, the day after so-called Black Monday (which is far too strong a name for something that entailed little more than stocks falling 22%). Given that history, you might think that I'd cotton to this week's falling market, too, and step up to buy something. The Nasdaq has fallen more than 10% this week and is down nearly 40% for the year, another record, after falling that much last year, too.
Eventually, if I have money to burn, I might buy something new. But today, just four market days after our country's civilians were attacked, and as our government prepares for a serious war in response, I'm not inclined to buy anything -- except in a 401(k). There is too much going on. There is too much uncertainty that is external to us. It feels like another shoe is going to drop. I sure hope not. But something doesn't feel right. We're on edge. We're headed into conflict.
I may have faith in our country, our businesses, and our stock market, but it would be arrogant to presume that things will stabilize and be "OK" in the next few years just because, well, usually that's the case. Usually it is the case. It usually takes a few years tops for "normalcy" to return. Not always. But usually. But I don't feel a need to rush in in the meantime. When I feel more comfortable about our investing environment, I'll know it. I'll be the first to know it. Hopefully at home you operate the same way.
It isn't just the pending war that makes me question investing significant new money right now. Perhaps even more than that, it's the economy. It isn't pretty, and it isn't going to get any prettier after this attack -- at least not anytime soon, in my opinion. I could be wrong. But I have to follow my instinct first and foremost. Yes, lows are usually set in the darkest moments of worry, but I still don't see any stocks screaming to be bought. Some stocks may be reaching value prices, but I'd rather pay slightly more later on, when facing much less uncertainty, than buy today.
With that backdrop, Paychex (Nasdaq: PAYX) announced first quarter fiscal 2002 results this morning. Paychex, as you might recall, is the finalist -- along with eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) -- in our high-growth study. Each of the past five years, Paychex has grown net income approximately 36%. It started fiscal 2002 with 20% net income growth, to $70.2 million, on a 15% increase in sales, to $234.8 million. The stock initially fell sharply on the news, but then rebounded.
Paychex also lowered guidance for the current fiscal year due to a weak economy and lower interest rates, which directly effect its interest income. The company expects sales to grow 13% to 15% this year, rather than previous guidance of 16% to 18%. This means that net income for the year may grow about 20% or slightly less. That's still impressive in this market, but it pales compared to the previous five years.
I don't know what to make of this right now. When you read the Paychex press release [Adobe Acrobat required] and listen to the conference call, for the most part, the business seems strong. Near-record low interest rates make it more difficult for Paychex to earn extra money, and rates will likely go lower still; but eventually they will begin to climb, and Paychex's earnings will climb higher with them. It is also more difficult lately to sign new clients -- totally understandable in this economy. But overall, I'm not of a mind to really think about this today.
Overall, my mind isn't focused enough on investing to feel that I'd be making completely rational decisions if I made any. So I'm holding off. I'm not selling what I own, I'll continue to automatically invest in a retirement fund through work, but I'm not buying anything new in any significant amount. (Although, I may send a few dollars to a few Drips to buy more shares, but no more than usual.)
I want to be focused before I make any significant investing decision. You should be as well. There is a lot going on right now. Ignoring that and trying to approach life and investing like usual doesn't make any sense. I'm waiting. Let's see where we are one week from now.
Of companies mentioned, Jeff Fischer owns shares of eBay. He hasn't thought to buy anything on the site lately, though. The Fool has a full disclosure policy.