Most people never forget their first love. I’ll never forget my first trading profit! But the $600 (1970 dollars) I pocketed on Royal Dutch Petroleum was not nearly as significant as the conceptual realization it signaled! I was amazed that someone would pay me that much more for my stock than the newspaper said it was worth just a few weeks earlier! What had changed? What had happened to make the stock go up, and why had it been down in the first place? Without ever needing to know the answers, I’ve been trading RD for thirty-six years!
Looking at scores of similarly profitable, high quality companies in this manner, you would find that: (1) most move up and down regularly (if not predictably) with an upward long-term bias, and (2) that there is little if any similarity in the timing of the movements between the stocks themselves. This is the “Volatility” that most people fear and that Wall Street loves them to fear. It can be narrowly confined to certain sectors, or much broader, encompassing practically everything. The broader it becomes, the more likely it is to be categorized as either a rally or a correction. Most years will feature one or two of each. This is the natural condition of things in the stock market, Mother Nature, Inc. if you will. Don’t take her for granted when she gets high, and never ignore her when she feels low. Embrace her volatile moods, work with them in whatever direction they travel, and she will become your love as well!
Ironically, it is this natural volatility (caused by hundreds of variables human, economic, political, natural, etc.) that is the only real “certainty” existent in the financial markets. And, as absurd as this may sound until you experience the reality of it all, it is this one and only certainty that makes Mutual Funds in general (and Index Funds in particular) totally unsuitable as investment vehicles for anyone within seven to ten years of retirement! How many Mutual Fund investors have retired recently with more liquid financial assets than they had seven years ago, way back in 1999? There will always be rallies and corrections. In fact, it is worthwhile to “go back to the future” to establish a realistic Investment Strategy. In the last forty years, there have been no less than ten 20% or greater corrections followed by rallies that brought the market to significantly higher levels. The DJIA peaked at 2700 before its record 40% crash in 1987. But at 1700, it was still 70% above the 1000 barrier that it danced around with for decades before… always a higher high, rarely a lower low. The ’87 debacle was followed by several slightly less exciting corrections, but the case was being made for a more flexible, and realistic, Investment Strategy. Mutual Funds were spawned by a Buy and Hold Mentality; Mother Nature, Inc is a much more complicated enterprise.