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Rule Breaker Mailbag: Should I Sell Ahead of the Impending Crash?

By Motley Fool Staff - Dec 3, 2017 at 6:34PM

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David’s listeners last month asked questions that address four of his cardinal investing rules -- including some about market timing and asset allocation.

In this segment from the Rule Breaker Investing podcast, David Gardner dips into the mailbag and finds a couple of readers who in different ways are asking the same question: If the gurus and pundits are saying the market is overvalued and a bear is imminent, should we start selling now?

But the answers to how aggressive you should be and where the market is going are ones he's loath to address. And there are two basic reasons for that. First, as a general rule, you're better off staying fully invested. But second, there are just no one-size-fits-all answers on asset allocations.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on Aug. 30, 2017.

David Gardner: I mentioned that there are four cardinal investing points. I haven't ordered them. They're just all recurring, big questions that I want to speak to this month. This next one really comes from both [Joseph Brown] and Mike, who's a 47-year-old investor. You both asked similar questions.

I'll start with Joseph's version, abridging a little bit here. "David, in a recent issue of a widely distributed money magazine there was an article quoting several well-known money managers, Bill Gross, among them, who say that the market is oversold. Most sectors are overvalued. There's no safe place from the impending burst of the current bubble. This article has me wondering if I should take some money off the table as I'm within five years of retirement." That's Joseph Brown's note.

And then Mike you wrote that you're 47 years old, actively involved in investing these last five years when you started to receive an annual bonus as seed money for an account. You say, "I have moved from an index fund model to what my Fidelity account now calls a 'most aggressive portfolio.' In the last year I've used your services to find a good blend of what I consider buy and hold companies that will give a strong, reliable return balanced with stocks that might be up-and-comers to hopefully build a larger portfolio on.

"I have a ceiling goal for my portfolio to reach in value where I'd like to stop being as aggressive and start looking to move money into investments that would be more stable. My reason for this is my oldest son just started high school. I'll soon be planning to make college payments, etc."

So both Joseph and Mike are asking questions about where the market's headed, whether it might be dropping, and/or should they be redeploying, given these things. Or entering a phase of life where you start to slow down a little bit. Maybe you don't want a "most aggressive" [portfolio], whatever Fidelity means by that. Probably just you're all invested in stocks and maybe some higher P/E ratio stocks, or the kinds we talk about on this podcast, so maybe we all end up with aggressive portfolios by listening to Rule Breaker Investing.

But what I want to say to you are two things Joseph, Mike, and everyone else, about this key question of where the market is headed. No. 1, I honestly don't know where the market is headed. As I've said in recent months on this podcast, I've given away all effort to ever call or think about where the stock market is headed. I might have some intuition that we're a little low right now, or a little high, but I found that that intuition isn't really worth nearly as much as Point No. 2.

Point No. 2 is the incredible importance of being invested as fully as possible at all times. While it's certainly true that the stock market will have some death-defying drops -- and we've seen a couple of those in just the last decade or so -- it's equally true that even with those death-defying drops that have happened throughout history, the stock market averages around a 10% return.

Therefore when we're fully invested -- unless you're really good at guessing, the great investor Peter Lynch used to say, hey, I'm fine with people telling me -- I'm paraphrasing Peter Lynch, here -- I should be leaving the market because it's high right now, just so long as they ring a bell, a big gong, when it's time to get back in the market and often that's what you don't hear.

It's very easy to say that the market looks high. I hear that all the time on the airwaves or read it in print. Very few people will come back in and say, "Now is the time to buy," after they've said the market's high if they got lucky enough to see it drop over those succeeding months.

I would just say the key points, here, are remain invested at all times, if possible; but in deference to some of what Joseph and Mike said about whether they're too aggressively invested, or they're coming upon life stage moments where they may not want to be fully exposed to stocks, I absolutely think that's important, and you should listen to yourself and you should act accordingly.

And I'll probably be speaking of that in a couple of points a little bit more, but I want you to know that there's no one-size-fits-all answer that I can ever give to this question, because each of us has a different situation. But if it's your own sense that the market might be a little bit high or, I think more importantly, that you need this money now for the specific reason why you invested it in the first place; then yes, you should start to rebalance some, or sell back some, or start to move toward more dividend stocks if you like as long as you have good answers about what you're going toward and not just a feeling that you need to exit.

I would only ever start to move money around if I felt confident where I was putting it next; otherwise I'm more than happy with inertia and laziness to leave it invested as it is and let my stocks continue to go out there and perform for me. So make sure that you're doing it consciously; but yes, there are reasons not to be fully invested, especially given the context that each of us has in our individual lives.

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