Back at the beginning of the year, I asked you to ask yourself these two questions:
1. Is the recent rally over?
2. If it is, what should I do next?
Since then the market has been up, down, and up and down again with the net result being mostly flat. Unless you're among a small minority of successful traders, odds are you haven't made any money even though you very much would have liked to.
With many predicting a sideways, go-nowhere market for the foreseeable future, here again are three strategies you can use to both play a little defense and position yourself to profit regardless of how the broader indexes perform.
Must-do No. 1: Buy some bonds
Jack Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, says he's made a career out of repeating the same sound advice for the past 50 years. And one of those pieces of advice is to make sure that the percentage of bonds you own in your portfolio is equal to your age. So if you're 60, you should have 60% of your investable assets stashed in bonds.
That may sound conservative, but rest assured that the ballast bonds provide is crucial for all investors, but especially for investors who are closer to retirement.
One caveat here is that, given our government's rampant deficit spending and the prospects for inflation, you likely don't want to own long-term Treasuries. Rather, consider a short-term bond index.
Must-do No. 2: Get some foreign exposure
We all know about the problems in the U.S. economy. But what you may not know is that emerging markets such as Brazil, China, and India not only handled the downturn better than we did, but also appear to be emerging from it faster and on steadier ground.
PIMCO co-Chief Investment Officer Mohammed El-Erian has taken to calling this changing world order "the new normal," and he recommends that U.S. investors who have been dramatically underexposed to foreign markets now consider having up to 60% foreign exposure.
So take some time in 2010 to add global exposure to your portfolio. You can do that quite easily without having to learn the ins and outs of foreign stock analysis by purchasing multinationals that make significant sales abroad such as Coca-Cola
If individual stocks bring more risk than you wish to take on, you can also up your foreign exposure through an exchange-traded fund such as Vanguard Emerging Markets
Must-do No. 3: Consider commodities
Finally, if inflation does hit us hard in 2010, you can protect the value of your savings by making sure that at least some of it is stashed in commodities, such as oil or gold, that are likely to be repriced upward with inflation.
You can do this easily by purchasing industry names such as ExxonMobil
Integrated energy names such as Exxon and Total look particularly alluring right now if you believe oil prices will rise because many energy names have been sold off in the wake of the disastrous BP
This has been and will continue to be a rocky year, but if you go out today and make sure to (1) buy some bonds, (2) get some foreign exposure, and (3) consider commodities, then you'll be better-positioned to handle that reality better tomorrow that you were yesterday.
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Tim Hanson does not own shares of any company mentioned. Coca-Cola is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Coca-Cola, Total, and Procter & Gamble are Income Investor selections. The Fool owns shares of Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock ETF. The Fool has a better than amateur disclosure policy.