Have you been reading the news lately? There has been a massive sell off of equities on the worlds largest stock exchanges. It seems to have started in China, but has spread like a virus.
There are a lot of factors involved in the sell off. Generally, when investors don’t have confidence in the market their money’s in, they sell their shares. How does this work if we’re supposed to be like Benjamin Graham and use a buy-and-hold investment strategy? Shouldn’t all investors be holding?
The thing to remember is that there are different kinds of investors. Most of the money that’s in stock exchanges doesn’t come from people like me or you, it comes from massive funds that need to constantly withdraw money from their investments and need to be sensitive to short term happenings.
Take pension funds for example. Massive pension funds worth billions of dollars exist in most states and provinces (Ontario Teachers Pension Plan has over $150 billion in assets). Pension funds are constantly withdrawing money and need to make sure they have enough money to see them through any slowdown without draining too many funds.
So though large institutional investors like pension funds will use a buy and hold strategy, they will also need to withdraw some money when they think the market might dip too much. What they are doing is basically guessing what the market will do.
Does that mean you should too? No, it is nearly impossible to accurately and consistently predict what stock markets are about to do, there are simple too many uncontrolled factors to take into consideration. For large funds, decisions are largely based on statistics. Institutional investors will attempt to time the market with mixed results, but the idea behind a buy and hold strategy is to buy into companies that will be resilient through a market downturn. In fact, if your favorite company’s share price goes down 20% because everything else has gone down 20%, what a great opportunity to buy more and watch it regain 20% almost as quickly as it shed it.
When the market has its bad days (and there will be plenty more bad days mixed with the good days), your best strategy is to take comfort in the fact that you’re in it for the long haul and to see momentary blips as opportunities to buy premium stocks at discounted prices, not reasons to panic and sell as a knee-jerk reaction.
As for the latest market shenanigans, it is largely a Chinese phenomenon that has reverberated around the world. In the years leading up to the current crisis, Chinese investors plowed money into the Shanghai Stock Exchange, inflating the value of many companies and effectively created a bubble. The Chinese government hasn’t helped by interfering in the market and introducing measures designed to keep the value of the stock market artificially high, rather than letting the market run its course and correct itself.