Is anyone besides me sick of hearing political bickering and whining?
First we had one side wagging its high-and-mighty finger at the executives of corporate America and saying that their greed led to the economic tsunami that we've been trying to bail ourselves out of. Now we've swung almost fully in the other direction, where we have many of the folks on the other side of the aisle jawboning about a state-run economy and political criminality. And somewhere in the middle are the media, bouncing around like a kid after too much sugar and inciting both sides to crank up the volume further.
We know exactly what brings the combatants to the playing field. The incumbent political party is trying to keep its mandate, the rival is trying to claw its way back, and the media is busy delivering auditory and visual crack so that it can sell advertising space. As a TV viewer, I get indigestion; as a citizen, I hang my head; and as an investor, I get the urge to sell everything and move to a bunker in the mountains.
Day to day, I try to take in as much information as possible to help me steer my portfolio in the right direction. But when I read and listen to a lot of the news coverage looking for that helpful information, I can't help feeling as though I'm fishing for marlin in a mud puddle. So how can a true-blue Foolish investor handle this highly charged, highly politicized atmosphere? I have a few ideas.
It's not inconsequential
As much as I'd like to completely ignore what's going on in the world of politics, doing so is a difficult proposition right now. The size and breadth of government intervention -- not just in the United States, but around the world -- is so large that it would be a mistake to assume it won't have an impact on a wide variety of businesses.
My response, though, is to watch the political melee just closely enough to steer myself clear of any shareholder destruction that might be coming. That means keeping my hands away from companies such as Citigroup
Now before I move on, I should note that I'm fully aware of the potentially huge speculative gains to be made on some of the stocks mentioned above. If, for example, Citigroup manages to fight its way back from the brink of death, those who jump in near the nadir could rake in a bundle. For most long-term investors, however, I see a lot of booby traps that can be easily avoided with a simple strategy.
Stick to the big picture
Much of what's burning up the airwaves (and coax cables) is coverage of what might transpire in the next 10 seconds, 10 minutes, or 10 months. But what about 10 years? Last month I wrote an article reviewing a few trends that I think will be beneficial for investors to have an eye on over the next decade-plus.
I won't spoil the whole article here, but one of the trends I looked at was energy. Last summer, energy absolutely stole the show. Everyone was convinced that China and other emerging markets were going to gobble up all of the world's natural resources and that no price was too high for a barrel of oil. Today, not so much. But although there's less talk that the sky will fall as a result of energy shortages today, the basic framework for a future energy pinch wasn't incorrect, and the problem hasn't been solved.
So as the news media babble on about TARP, TALF, and a bushel of other made-up words, we investors can be busy kicking the tires on ConocoPhillips, National Oilwell Varco, and other companies that could benefit from the long-term need for energy.
If a stock appreciates in the forest and no one is there to see it ...
But perhaps one of my favorite ways to deal with the pandemonium is to flip off the TV, grab a cup of coffee (preferably at Dunkin' Donuts), and get intimate with the annual reports of some of the companies nobody is talking about. I have found that focusing where others aren't is often a good strategy, but in today's market it's pure gold to do so, given the number of great companies with cheap stocks littered all over the place.
What do I mean? Well, if I was as fixated on the banking sector and government policy as everyone else is, I might miss the fact that Microsoft
As the saying goes, there are no called strikes in investing. You don't have to swing the bat. So just because so much of the focus is on the financial sector, that doesn't mean you have to take a home-run cut at one of the big banks. Stick to what's time tested for investors -- find great companies and buy them at great prices.
And if you're looking for some help finding those hot spots, you may want to check out the Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter service. The team's mandate at Stock Advisor is simple -- pick the best stocks. Period. Big or small, tech or retail, the team is seeking out the long-term winners. After seven years, their average recommendation is beating the market by an average of 39 percentage points. Best of all, you can check the service out completely free for 30 days.
Walt Disney and National Oilwell Varco are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Walt Disney, 3M, and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations.
Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned. You can see what stocks he's keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio, or you can connect with him on Twitter @KoppTheFool. The Fool’s disclosure policy has never once been caught with its pants down. Of course, it doesn't actually wear pants ...