Tired of seeing losses in your investments? Ever sell at the bottom? Do you wish you could’ve gotten out sooner? Let’s face it. Most of us are terrible at timing the market. But that shouldn’t be an excuse to head for the hills. Wouldn’t it make more sense to know when not to be involved in the market, and more importantly, when you should get back in? Picking when to enter into the market can be just as important as what you pick.
Of course, it may seem easier to avoid the market altogether by just investing in bonds or real estate. But getting out of the market forever is not necessarily the best thing to do. After all, the stock market has outperformed the bond market and real estate over the long term. And the most likely way for us to fulfill our investment plans is by getting the highest possible returns necessary without too much risk.
Besides, unless another investment vehicle becomes a better reflection of economic growth like the stock market, I am afraid we are stuck in investing in the market in order to get better returns in good times and bad. Or are we?
Knowing when to get in
While I have earlier suggested what investments we should focus on, we didn’t discuss when it’s a good time to buy. And that’s very important to know. Think about it. Do you just go out and buy a car any day? No, you wait for a sale or go at the end of the month when the dealers need to make their sales quota. How about clothes? Again, most wait for a sale. This is the same concept you should have with investing in mutual funds, ETFs or stocks. You wait for a sale. Here are 3 indicators I use that can help me determine when the market on “sale.”
Indicator #1: The economy
Unfortunately, “red hot sales” in the market are more or less dependent on economic growth. For example if we expect an economic slowdown over the next 6 months or longer, the stock market will most likely sell off. Why? An economic slowdown means most companies will grow less. Would you pay more for a stock in a company that will grow less? Not me!
So, one indicator to let us know whether we may want stay in the market is to ask ourselves if the economy is going to grow, to slow or to maintain its current course. To figure this answer out, you could talk with your broker or read some monthly finance magazines. Magazines like Money, Forbes or Klinger’s will have columnists dedicated to writing a one pager discussing the economic outlook. Remember, don’t make this complicated. You are just looking for a couple of professional opinions, so you can make your informed decision.
Unfortunately, looking at the economy is not good enough, since this is a very slow and vague indicator of how to handle our money. I think we can do better…
Indicator #2: Market Volatility
There is an old Wall Street adage: Stocks tend to sell off 3 to 4 times faster than they climb. Why? There are many people who already own stocks who need to get out, and are looking for buyers. No one wants to be the first one to buy when a stock or the market seems to be in trouble. Would you? So stocks fall faster than they rise.
When stocks sell off faster, volatility (which is a fancy word for measuring how much a stock’s price moves) increases. When the entire stock market sells off, the volatility across many stocks start to rise. To help see this increase in volatility across the board more clearly, volatility indicators, like the put/call ratio and the VIX, were created and can be tracked much like an index.
Here’s how it works. If the market has sold off recently, I would see a rise in the VIX index. The more the market goes down, the higher the VIX indicator climbs, just like playing on a seesaw when you were a kid. When the VIX rises to a certain point, I exit the market. I make it that simple! In my guide, I go through an example using the VIX and show specific points and strategy I use to get in and get of the market. Obviously, my timing is not perfect, but I also miss long term corrections too!
While this is a good and clear indicator, it only works when the markets get more volatile. What if you want to get in the market when it is calm or starting to rise? There are shorter term indicators that can be used.
Indicator #3: Technical Analysis
Technical Analysis is just looking at your stock’s price and volume movements on a graph, and then drawing a conclusion. It basically tries to predict future price movements from previous price movements. For example, let’s say if the stock market had a big run up or just has experienced a big sell off, you can use a technical indicator to help you determine if or when the stock market may turn around.
Unfortunately, there are literally dozens of indicators to learn, none of them work perfectly and it takes time and commitment for you to master. But for me, I do my best to focus just on combining just a few long term indicators discussed in my guide. While there is no panacea to which technical indicators work best, I found that using a combination of few indicators proves to be better than the alternative of just simply guessing when to get in or out of my positions. Many discount brokers will also offer their clients free education to help them out.
Putting it altogether
By taking a look at the overall health of the economy, a few volatility indicators and some technical analysis, I am able to better determine when to get out of my positions. In fact, I use the combination of all three. It may not be perfect, but following each approach has really helped me determine when the market goes on sale or when it’s time to get back in.
The next time you decide to get into an ETF or a stock, first ask yourself at what point should get in. If the answer is “because it feels right,” think about better ways to make that decision. And as always, have a stop program to make sure small losses don’t become catastrophes. The best investors in the world tend to be better because they not only know what to get into, but often when. Become a better investor!