As I write this, we've had several strong up days in the U.S. markets. Oil futures are around $54 a barrel, gold is sitting at just over $800 an ounce, and a mere $1.53 buys a British pound, near levels not seen in many years.
My advice? Take advantage of that great exchange rate and spend a few days in London. London is actually quite nice to visit in early December, the air not as crisp as the northeast U.S. cities but similar, autumnal. Of course, I love London and think it's a great place to spend time even if it's 3 degrees (Celsius) and raining, even if you're on a shoestring budget, but I digress.
If you're reading this, impromptu overseas vacations probably aren't the first things on your mind. And much as I would like to spend the next couple of weeks romping around the Continent, it's not the first thing on my mind, either.
Right here at home, there's a growing sense that we're in big trouble. As we East Coasters say, the outer edge of the storm is just coming ashore, and it looks bad. How can we protect our portfolios from being blown to matchsticks and swept out to sea?
Rising to the occasion
You could choose to sell all your stocks and park everything in short-term, cash-equivalent investments. I wouldn't buy U.S. Treasuries right now -- not because of any fears about the U.S. government's ability to pay, which I think are ridiculously overblown, but because there are better-yielding safe harbors out there.
But to my mind, that's reactive. That's huddling in a defensive crouch instead of standing up and looking for opportunities. That's about not losing money instead of making money.
If that's what you really want to do, go ahead. But I'll tell you this: There will be -- and already are -- investors making significant money in this market, even before the economy starts to recover.
I don't know how to do that!
Sure you do! Investing right now is the same as investing at any other time. Read, do research, think about what's likely to happen, find the best investments to make that are consistent with your thesis, invest as much money as you're comfortable investing, be patient while keeping an eye on things.
You don't need to be a short-seller or George Soros disciple to do this. You just need to think past your fear.
Here's an example. When I write about looking for beaten-up stocks, I get emails saying things like, "The dollar is going to crash! How can you suggest buying U.S. companies at a time like this?"
Put your money where your mind is
I have two answers for those folks. The first is that I'm always bullish on America in the long-term. The second is, if you think the dollar is due for a nosedive, don't just hide, do something. Buy exchange-traded funds (ETFs) like the CurrencyShares Japanese Yen Trust
There are ETFs available nowadays to support all sorts of investment theses, or if you just want to add a little hedge to your portfolio in case things don't play out the way you expect. Think Big Pharma is going to do better than most sectors, but aren't sure which company to buy? The Merrill Lynch Pharmaceutical HOLDRs ETF has about 20 holdings, with big positions in giants like Abbott Labs
Looking for a China bounce, but not sure which company to buy? One trade buys you the PowerShares Golden Dragon Halter USX China Portfolio, which gives you exposure to big positions in Baidu.com
You get the idea. While a word of caution is in order -- you should evaluate the ETFs themselves as you would any other investments, and be sure you understand the risks you're taking on -- it should be clear by now that there are ways to invest in just about any viewpoint with just a few trades.
More broadly, from the viewpoint of a market participant with money to invest, separating your thinking from the "It's awful out there!" viewpoint long enough to take a hard look at what is really likely, and investing accordingly, could prove very profitable in the long run.