Don’t Invest From 40,000 Feet

I read a lot of investment advice on and off the web. One of the mistakes I often see is that investors try to invest from 40,000 feet above their targets. By this, I mean they pay far too much attention to things like politics, seasonal effects or the Federal Reserve.

I hear people say things like, “I want to hold off investing right now until I see how the election turns out.” I’m never sure what that means exactly. Or they say, “I’d never investment now, not with Helicopter Ben in charge!”

I realize this sounds like heresy, but the Fed’s role in the movement of stocks is far, far over-rated. What’s more important is earnings and (to a lesser extent) valuations.

Look at McDonald’s ($MCD). The stock has done very well over the last ten years because its profits have done well. Yahoo‘s ($YHOO) profits haven’t well and the stock has suffered. Sure, there are exceptions, but those are the minority. Valuations, of course, do matter. Overall profits have increased while the market has done poorly.

Don’t mistake what I’m saying: Monetary policy is important, but even if you knew exactly what the Fed was going to do, that should barely impact your investments. Most investors would be much better off if they ignored all the news about the Fed or politics. People need to believe that someone is in control of the market, and that someone must be in Washington. I hate to break it to you, but they’re not running the market.

I also hear people say that sure, the market is up over the last three years, but that’s only because it’s been boosted by the Fed. They often say this as if the profits somehow don’t count. Don’t look for confirmation of your political views in the stock market (this is known as the “Larry Kudlow Effect”).

Since the beginning of 2009, Lowe’s ($LOW) is up about 40% while Home Depot ($HD) is up about 110%. Investors would do themselves a lot more good thinking about how two companies that are so similar can perform so differently or why Starbucks ($SBUX) went from $40 to $10 and is now over $60. What happened there? Google ($GOOG) gets tons of attention but its stock hasn’t outperformed the market over the past few years. Danaher ($DHR) gets almost no attention yet the stock keeps powering higher (even this morning, the AP calls the company a “health care conglomerate“). I don’t think that’s due to Ben Bernanke.

Ignore the large-scale stuff—anything where it’s easy to have a canned opinion (Obama, Bernanke, Romney). Instead, focus on low level things like one particular company’s sales, earnings and debt.

Posted by on April 19th, 2012 at 9:49 am

The information in this blog post represents my own opinions and does not contain a recommendation for any particular security or investment. I or my affiliates may hold positions or other interests in securities mentioned in the Blog, please see my Disclaimer page for my full disclaimer.

Tickers: , , ,