I don't know about you, but this market is starting to make my head hurt.
Jaw-dropping plunges that reverse themselves into triple-digit gains in less time than it takes me to go on a bathroom break. Bank write-offs so huge that I begin to question what exactly is happening behind the doors at financial shops like Citigroup
Scratching your head? Welcome to the club.
It's a lot to take in. Naturally, few of us truly enjoy these times of market turmoil. When absolutely nothing makes sense and the future is about as murky and up in the air as it gets, it can be all too comfortable to pack our bags, sell everything, and wait for the storm to pass.
More losses, please
But it doesn't end there. How about when you're pretty sure your stocks will keep falling? When your analysis tells you it is going to get worse? Take bank stocks, for example. With billions of dollars' worth of adjustable-rate mortgages due to reset this year and interest rate cuts failing to stop much of the bleeding in the past week, troubling times certainly may still lie ahead for mortgage players like Washington Mutual
Provided you believe in the long-term prospects of the company, no way.
It might seem a little counterintuitive, perhaps even ignorant -- willingly holding a stock you know is going to go down -- but the alternative to this comes in the form of two little words successful investors despise with a passion: market timing.
Selling is the easy part. Once you're out and sitting in cash, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing the downward pain is over. The hard part is deciding when to get back in -- and if the current market volatility has tempted you to sell, I'm willing to bet you won't be tempted to get back in until stocks make a solid rebound and have shown impressive gains.
Think about it; the Nasdaq has already dropped about 20% from its highs in October. Did you want to sell back then? Probably not. When stocks are soaring, many investors take the view that good times are here to stay. When they fall from grace (like they have now), doom and gloom present themselves as if the entire market is going to zero.
Far too many people will tell you they're in it for the long term, but then spend significant amounts of effort trying to bounce in and out of stocks at just the right time. Barring a complete prophetic sense, you're ability to do this will probably be about as accurate as those guys at the fair who try to guess your age.
A friend of mine recently told me he was going to sell all the stocks in his 401(k) and put the money in a bond fund, then wait until the market recovers before he'll switch back into stocks. Hmm ... so the plan is to sell now, book some serious losses, then jump back in after everything has cleared up and stocks make their inevitable recovery? The only thing this will guarantee is that you'll sell low and buy high. Now, I've heard the saying "pleasure from pain," but setting yourself up for failure in investing still doesn't strike a chord with me.
Is the entire market ugly right now? You bet. Will it get worse? Good chance. Even so, the last thing you want to do is panic-sell, only to watch everyone else partake in the eventual recovery as you sit on the sidelines in cash. That's just taking a double sucker-punch from Mr. Market.
Relax. Breathe. It'll be OK.
Every major stock correction in our market's history has been followed up with a corresponding rally -- albeit, in due time. While we've certainly witnessed our fair share of gut-wrenching headlines of late, that's all part of being an investor. If anything, you should be using the recent market wobbles to your benefit, taking advantage of some still healthy stocks getting caught up in the fray, such as Procter & Gamble
Tough times, Fools. Markets go up, markets go down. Even though the bloodbath may endure for some time to come, the last thing you want to do is miss the next elevator up once things turn themselves around.
For related Foolishness:
Washington Mutual, Bank of America, and J&J are all recommendations of Income Investor.
Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. He appreciates your questions, comments, and complaints. The Fool's disclosure policy is all about investors writing for investors.