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Big bad bear (02/11/2004)
By Al Thomas
by Al Thomas

The big bad bear is stirring again. So far he has stretched, yawned and peaked out of his cave. After his almost year-long nap he is hungry. A nice big steak would hit the spot.

That steak comes from cattle and not too far from his den there is a fat complacent bull munching in the pasture. He has his tail towards the bear and Mr. Bear remembers that 3 years ago he walked up to another bull and bit him in the backside. It looks like he can do it again.

We know who bull and bear really are. It seems that almost everyone is bullish and thinks we are in another bull market like the one in 1999 where all investors thought they were geniuses. History has taught (for those who wish to listen and learn) that major bull markets are followed by bear markets of equal length. The major bull came to an end after 18 years in 2000. Can we expect an 18-year bear market? If history repeats its cycle the answer is yes.

The recent return of the upward movement of stock prices from last year is very typical of rallies in bear markets. Many have a 50% retracement of the first down leg (as happened after the big break in 1929) that tops out with the resumption of the downward path.

Today our bull is feeding on the lowest interest rates in 40 years, a tax cut that puts extra money in the hands of consumers (where it belongs) and a strong housing market plus the belief that the market always does well in an election year. Let's hope all these things will come to pass.

The worst problem for investors is their complacency. They start making money and forget to protect their profits. These slip away when the market starts down and their broker says, "Don't worry. The market always comes back". If the investor did not learn to protect his assets from the 2000 debacle he is doomed to lose again. What should he do?

He should protect his investment account with stop-loss orders on all stocks and mental stops for all mutual funds. Brokers hate this and will try to talk their clients out of doing it. Why? Because he makes a commission as long as you are invested and nothing if you have cash in your money market.

It is better to make 1% in a money market than lose 20% or more of the principle as the market heads south. You don't have to be a market "expert" to place a stop. Decide how much risk you are willing to take - 5%, 10%, 15%? Place your stops accordingly.

When this bear comes out of his cave don't let him bite you - you know where.

Copyright Albert W. Thomas All rights reserved. Author of "If It Doesn't Go Up, Don't Buy It!" www.mutualfundmagic.com comments to al@mutualfundmagic.com  

 

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