When it comes to investment decisions, I'm as fundamentals-based as the next Fool. I invest primarily in mutual funds (I'm the resident fund geek around these parts), but when it comes to individual companies, I'm a big fan of those that can show me the free cash flow (FCF) -- cash from operations minus capital expenditures.
And if they're trading on the relative cheap, well then, so much the better. Amgen
Bennie and the Jets
That said, in addition to being a cash, fundamentals, and valuations fan, I'm also an avid macroeconomics watcher. I don't invest in a "top-down" way -- as a fund manager once told me, the big-picture data eventually plays out on balance sheets anyway -- but I am intrigued by the Fed, for example, and by the market's reaction to chairman Ben Bernanke's periodic congressional testimony.
Even better is watching the gyrations that can ensue as market makers parse the statements the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC) issues along with its interest rate decisions.
Which leads us to Jackson Pollock
No, really. Pollock, of course, is the iconic "action" painter whose "drip technique" -- whether you find it bold, boring, or something your 2-year-old daughter might do with canvas enough and time -- requires the active participation of its viewers to make it, as the art critics sometimes like to say, "signify."
As with Pollock, so with Bernanke -- and with the economy at large. Day after day, macroeconomic data pile up like so much dripped paint. Earlier today, we received readings on initial jobless claims and leading economic indicators. On Tuesday, we'll get the latest scoop on consumer confidence and existing home sales. The Fed's job is to interpret the macro mess and render a verdict or, to stick with the analogy, a review: Inflation rearing its ugly head? Time for a rate increase. Economy cooling too fast? Let's juice it with a cut.
And what happens if, as appears to be the case just now, we're poised midway between those two extremes? An interest rate holding pattern is in order. After all, as the great rocker/philosopher Geddy Lee once sang in a helium-tinged warble: "If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice."
Name that band!
As I said, I don't invest according to macroeconomic to-ing and fro-ing, but all savvy investors should be aware of the way the Fed impacts the market, their portfolio, and ultimately, their purchasing power, too.
With that in mind, in the March issue of Motley Fool Green Light -- a personal finance and investing service -- we demystified interest rates and the Fed, checking in with a feature that covered the central bank's ability to move markets as well as your credit card balance. In the current installment of the newsletter, we serve up smart ways to reduce your tax bill and cherry pick two compelling investment ideas that look attractive in the aftermath of the market's recent volatility.
If you'd like to sneak a peek at our current and back issues -- as well as the service's members-only boards and blogs -- just click here to snag a completely free 30-day guest pass. There's no obligation to subscribe.
Shannon Zimmerman runs point on the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service and co-advises Motley Fool Green Light with his pal, Dayana Yochim. At the time of publication, he didn't own any of the securities mentioned above. Microsoft and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson are Income Investor picks. You can check out the Fool's strict disclosure policy by clicking right here.