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Investing: ‘What ifs’ and ‘maybes’ lose out to long-term planning

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Back in August 2011, I posted Don’t Panic. plan

I took a look at investor psychology in the face of negative sentiment on the markets. In It was the best of times (for dividend investors), I outlined how well dividend-payers did over the last few years. The markets have done very well for the dividend-centric.

So what’s an investor to do, now?

Interesting U.S. market stats

Bob Pisani, of CNBC, points out some interesting information regrading U.S. markets:

Most notable among the trends was a near-record pace of fund flows last week into equity funds.

Stock mutuals saw $19 billion come in, the highest since 2008 and the fourth-biggest in the 12-year history of tracking the data, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

The latest American Association of Individual Investors survey registered a 46.4 percent bullish reading during the same period, well above historical averages, while those expecting the market to be lower in six months fell to 26.9 percent.

Finally, the CBOE Volatility Index, or VIX, a popular measure of market fear, is at a subdued sub-14. A declining VIX usually means rising stock prices.

(Read More: Why VIX’s Recent Plunge May Be Bad for Stocks)

About the only areas showing caution were safe-haven money market funds, which saw assets grow to $2.72 trillion on an influx from institutions, and commodities, which had outflows of $570 million.

The most popular reason among traders for all the optimism is basic relief that the U.S. made it through the “fiscal cliff” scare relatively unscathed.

If that’s the case, the looming debt-ceiling battle and a likely lackluster earnings period could offer perilous counterweights.

So, what’s an investor to do?

The reality is, if you know who you are as an investor, and more importantly, where you want to be, none of this should rattle you. But it should make you think. Trading the media is something some do, and some do it very successfully, but most don’t. And that’s why investors must plan.

When planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people.

— Chinese proverb

Warren Buffett plans. Why not you? After all, planning is a form of self-reflection and self-education.

The metric of the past and planning for the future

It may be wise for investors to reassess their investing plans, to decide if their plan is capable of meeting their goals and then have the courage to sail on the course they’ve charted. If past is prologue, then the last couple of years have rewarded the longer-term planners for wading through the ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ and sticking to the fundamentals.

The market hasn’t had a 10 per cent correction in a while in the U.S. While we all watch, we have to wonder at the market’s resilience while remembering why we hold assets that act as ‘insurance’ against revaluations. Any correction should be incorporated into your plan and taken advantage of. But a 2 or 3 per cent drop from an all-time high is hardly a correction. Having some cash on hand when markets have hit recent highs is rarely a bad idea.

The market hasn’t seen a traditional correction in almost three years. Majority sentiment would have seemed against this phenomenon three years ago. We will have a correction at some point. No one can be sure of the degree of the next correction. But does this alter your planning?

Planning empowers you in the face of ‘peril’

It’s best if you incorporate the possibility of a correction into your plan. Because, at some point, the stock markets will correct.

In a world gone into overdrive, where the short-term seems like the long-term to some, authentic long-term planning may be the most valuable commodity.

The markets are like anything else with respect to planning. And the markets are one of the best barometers of human psychology. ‘Perilous counterweights’ need to be part of your planning.

We’ve all heard that in the long-term risk gets reduced by time-in-the-market. In the meantime, knowing your tolerance for risk is crucial. What we can learn from the period from August 2011 to now is that risk happens in so-called ‘safe’ investments, too.

The broad markets have outperformed cash. At some point, markets will correct. Maybe that process has started. Markets correct. This is part of what makes a bull market healthy. And corrections are the reason why we should use proper asset allocation in our portfolios.

One thing is sure. It was better to be in-the-market than it was to be in cash in the time period we looked at above.

No one owns the patent on the future. No one ever knows the exact nature of the next correction. It’ll be interesting to see what the next six months holds …

A plan we can live with is part of what keeps people happy as investors over the long-term. So that we can sleep and dream of sheep.

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