by Craig Erwin 2-8-20

My wife invited several couples over for dinner in late 2018. I was surprised to hear nearly all the men express alarm over the recent stock market tumble because it had been years since I had heard anyone mention the stock market at a gathering. Markets were having an especially turbulent year-end, having endured a brutal sell-off in December. CNN reported that it was the worst year for the stock market in a decade. One guest, who was approaching retirement, appeared quite worried. I thought this odd because I knew he didn’t have any money invested in the stock market.

What some perceive as a threat can be viewed as an opportunity by others. When people are fearful and they just want to get out of the stock market, regardless of the losses they will incur, it is often a better time to buy than sell stocks. When everyone panics, it may well be an opportunity to buy companies’ stock at bargain prices. Or at least at lower prices than you have seen in some time.

That’s the way things work in other markets, too, including the residential real estate market. When house prices keep rising sharply year after year and everyone you know is wildly optimistic and making a fortune by flipping houses, things may be about to change, quickly and violently. At such times, house prices are in danger of falling sharply. In contrast, when house prices have already fallen sharply and keep falling, and everyone is terrified that prices will never stop falling, it’s probably a pretty good time to buy, and at pretty attractive prices.

So following the crowd and allowing emotions, not facts, to drive your decisions, is a good way to get into trouble. Often it is best to go against the grain, in the direction opposite the crowd. When everyone else is buying, you might be wise to consider selling. When everyone else overreacts and panics, you must try to stay calm and avoid doing anything rash and impulsive. At such times, it is wise to focus on the long term rather than be swept up by the current crisis. In other words, the best thing to do is usually nothing at all, especially if you are emotional. But if you do act, be sure to keep a cool head and do what makes sense for the long term. Don’t just blindly do what the crowd is doing.

So, the next time everyone around you is running around and screaming that the sky is falling, take a deep breath, ignore all the craziness around you, and consider whether the current crisis requires any response from you. It probably doesn’t. If you ignore the crisis that has everyone else panicking, you will probably be fine. You will probably be much better off than those who act hastily out of irrational fear or greed. Then take a long walk and think about the things that really matter – your life, your family, and your health. And, other than taking a walk, do absolutely nothing.

Somewhere down the road you will probably be glad you did.