Q: I've been investing for a few years now, and the recent market action has me frightened. In fact, I've considered getting out of stocks entirely until things calm down. What would you advise an investor like me to do during a bear market like this?
First and foremost, the one thing you don't want to do is panic and sell your stocks. It's common sense that the goal of investing is to buy low and sell high, but by selling into a bear market, you're doing the opposite.
It's important to remember that bear markets are normal parts of a healthy stock market -- and this one isn't even too bad yet. It just seems that way since it's been a decade since the last drop of 20% or more. Historically speaking, moves like this happen far more frequently, about once every three years.
Perhaps the smartest thing you can do in a bear market if you're a long-term investor is to go bargain-hunting by adding shares of your favorite stocks at a discount. While it's impossible to time the market, it's generally a good idea (from a long-term perspective) to buy stocks when everyone else is selling. For example, I thought Apple was a good value at about $210 -- so I think it's really cheap in the $150s.
Here's the best way to think of a bear market. Let's say that you were shopping at your favorite store and all of the prices were suddenly marked down by 20% or more. Would you panic and run out of the door? Of course you wouldn't -- you'd probably fill up your shopping cart. The same logic applies here.