The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) has long been held up as the stock market index to follow. Now that the Dow Jones is at such a high level, even moves that are small on a percentage basis allow for attention-grabbing headlines like "Dow Jones Today Skyrockets Over 200 points!" or "Dow Jones Plummets 150 points!"
While these headlines lure in readers, they do nothing to make us better investors. Read on to see why the best investors ignore the daily movements of the DJIA.
Dow Jones today
Do you remember when the Dow jumped 220 points after tensions with Ukraine moderated? How about the 200-point drop after Chinese industrial production slowed, or the 180-point jump following the release of minutes from the secret early-March meeting of the Federal Reserve?
I doubt it.
And don't get me started on early October. The Dow Jones Industrial average dropped 272 points on a Tuesday -- its biggest drop of the year to that point. The next day, the Dow jumped 274 points -- the Dow's biggest gain of the year. Then, on Thursday, the Dow fell 334 points.
The headlines would have you think the world is ending or that you won't be able to retire because of these market dips. The stock market is one of the few places where, whenever things go on sale, no one wants to buy.
However, these moves only amounted to a 2% drop from the end of the previous week. To put that in an even bigger-picture perspective, the Dow is basically flat year to date.
What you should do now?
Nothing. You don't have to do anything. If your investment strategy changes based on one day's market movements, you're doing it wrong. Your focus should be to stick to your plan, constantly educate yourself, and invest for the long term. And if you don't have a clear strategy, this is your wake-up call.
Research has shown that process is one of the biggest determinants of success in the market over the long term. While your process can yield good or bad results in the short term, those with a proven process do better than the average investor over the long term.
For total beginners, I would first suggest learning about how the market works and how you can do at least as well as the market through index investing. I highly recommend The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by John Bogle as a great place to start.
If you understand the basics of the market as well as index investing, check out The Motley Fool's 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly, which will teach you the process The Motley Fool has used to consistently beat the markets over the long term.
Everyone can learn from this
For every investor, focusing too much on daily market movements is a mistake. Things happen for no discernible reason. Rather than wasting time wondering why the market is up or down by a percent or two, we should focus on business fundamentals and continue to search for quality stocks trading at bargain prices.
We also must keep calm and not make rash decisions based on short-term market moves. Research has shown that it is far better to focus on minimizing mistakes, rather than overreaching for greatness. As economist Eric Falkenstein wrote: "In expert tennis, 80% of the points are won, while in amateur tennis, 80% are lost. The same is true for wrestling, chess, and investing: Beginners should focus on avoiding mistakes, experts on making great moves."
And as Warren Buffett's longtime business partner Charlie Munger said: "We try to profit more from always remembering the obvious than grasping the esoteric. It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent."
My Dow Jones Industrial Average prediction for today
The Dow Jones Industrial Average will continue to fluctuate. That's a given, and we have no control over it. What you can control is your reactions to those fluctuations -- and the best reaction is usually no reaction.