I know, I know -- the stock market is crazy and unpredictable right now.

I know that sitting in cash or doing nothing until things settle down seems like a sensible course of action.

But I also know this: 10 or 15 years from now, the market will be up. Way up from here, in all likelihood.

If you're under 50, and you're trying to figure out what to do with the wreckage of your retirement portfolio, there's only one good answer: Buy great stocks.

Here's why.

When the game is rigged, bet with the house
No, the stock market isn't "rigged" in the sense of being manipulated. It is, however, inherent in the market's nature to go up over the long term, scary bear markets notwithstanding.

Check out these 15-year returns, which assume purchase on Dec. 8, 1993 and include reinvested dividends for those stocks that have them:


15-Year Gain

McDonald's (NYSE:MCD)




Southern Company (NYSE:SO)


Nokia (NYSE:NOK)


Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM)


Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)


Target (NYSE:TGT)


Source: Yahoo! Finance. Figures as of market close on Dec. 5, 2008. *Nokia return since Apr. 25, 1995.

Those returns are despite the dot-com bubble bursting and despite the recent market crisis. As Richard Ferri, an investment manager and author of several books on asset allocation and indexed investing, argues in this month's issue of Rule Your Retirement, there are strong reasons to believe that the market is naturally prone to going up over time -- and that average annual returns near 10% over the next 15 years are extremely likely.

His methodology and reasoning are a little too elaborate to lay out here -- check out the complete article for specifics -- but his recommendations for those under 50 are crystal-clear:

  • Your portfolio should be 100% in stocks.
  • Continue to add to your retirement accounts, and use that money to buy stocks.
  • Be aggressive -- as aggressive as you can stand.
  • Ignore performance. Don't look at your statements.

That last one might seem weird -- how will you know how you're doing if you don't look at your statements? -- but Ferri has a point. He argues that they're "completely irrelevant" -- following short-term price movements just doesn't give you any useful information. In fact, it's more likely to give you something to worry about, needlessly.

I'd add this caveat: This only works if you have very long-term investments! Not all portfolios are built to run 15 years or longer with no more maintenance than the occasional trade or rebalance -- in fact, most aren't.

How do you do that?

Construct a long-haul portfolio
Ferri is a proponent of indexing -- of using index funds and ETFs in your retirement portfolio. That’s one way to build a long-term investment strategy. Another way, one likely to yield far greater returns if done right, is to buy great stocks -- the blue-chip dividend monsters and future giants that will keep delivering rewards year after year. (Can you guess which method I favor?)

Of course, "buy stocks" isn't a complete to-do list. To maximize your gains over the long haul, you need a solid asset-allocation plan -- one that gives you exposure to all the key corners of the stock market. Your 401(k) provider can probably help you come up with a decent one -- though as a rule, those computer-generated templates tend to be more conservative than is appropriate for most young investors.

A far better set of asset allocation roadmaps for retirement investors -- one of the best I've seen, and one that works well whether you're using mutual funds in a 401(k) or stocks in an IRA, or a combination of the two -- are the ones maintained by the team at Rule Your Retirement. They're available to members by clicking on "Model Portfolios" under the Resources tab after you log in.

Not a member? Not a problem! You can check out the templates and put them to work for you today -- and read the complete interview with Rick Ferri -- with a free 30-day trial. It only takes a few moments, and there's absolutely no obligation to subscribe.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.