My mother used to employ a very simple and pragmatic strategy whenever my brother and I would fight over the last piece of gum or the last cookie. "Split it in half," she'd say.
You can apply the same philosophy to the quandary today's investors face. Even though there are some good stocks looking awfully cheap right now, it's hard to know what to do in such a choppy environment. Are you behaving like a frightened kid, standing on the sidelines during a rare ideal entry point into one of the great bull markets of all time? Or are you the smartest person in the world for stepping aside as the market continues to come crashing down? Nobody knows.
Let's face it -- you're not going to know. So if you've got money earmarked for stocks, but you're scared to pull the trigger, why not go ahead and invest half of it now? That way, you get at least half of your money into the market at a great price. And even if stocks head south, you still have some dry powder to get in at even more attractive prices.
It's the economy, numbskull
There are many good reasons to fear the current market. The Dow is down more than 12% from its October highs and could well keep falling. AT&T's
So have you scared yourself out of the market for good? Well, here's the other side. Although the U.S. economy is reeling from slow consumer spending and higher inflation, the global economy has never been in a stronger position to help offset slower American growth. In fact, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) forecasts 7.8% growth for the Asia-Pacific region in 2008. In addition, according to the World Bank, developing countries worldwide collectively match the size of the U.S. economy, and they're growing three times as quickly. Because of the weaker dollar, these countries are buying up U.S. exports at record rates, and their buying spree should help mitigate the U.S. slowdown.
It's also worth noting that many analysts predicting a recession are expecting a relatively mild one. Some say we're already in a recession. So since the market typically looks six months ahead, many prognosticators may soon see recovery on their radar.
A sell-off this broad punishes all stocks -- the good, the bad and the subprime-infected. Last Friday, more than 400 stocks on the NYSE hit new 52-week lows, and with many great stocks getting battered with the rest, bold investors will find some tremendous opportunities. Some excellent companies near their 52-week lows, including Disney
Stock market investing is a bold endeavor. You make money over the long term by buying good companies when they're cheap, and the opportunity to purchase the very best companies at bargain prices is rare. No one ever knows which direction the market's next 10% move will take. But everybody knows which direction the next 100% move will be. Still, you don't have to jump in with both feet. You can jump in with one. As Warren Buffett says, "Look at market fluctuations as your friend rather than your enemy; profit from folly rather than participate in it."
Fool contributor Tom Hutchinson holds no financial position in any companies mentioned. Disney is a Stock Advisor recommendation, while Bank of America is an Income Investor pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.