There’s baseball season, football season, the holiday season and, of course, earnings season. While the first three may fill you with happiness and (in the holiday case) good cheer, earnings season fills new investors with confusion.
Why do I bring this up?
I woke yesterday morning to a nerve-wracking CNBC.com headline: Investors Brace for Shaky U.S. Earnings Season.
What is Earnings Season? Is It Contagious?
The good news: earnings season affects you directly, but not in the harmful way you may think.
Earnings season is the time (quarterly) when the majority of companies that move financial markets with their results declare how well they’ve performed recently. This news is for the prior quarter.
It’s important, when listening to reports about earnings, to listen for any future forecasting and to also determine what might have been the culprit behind a great or lousy prior quarter. If it’s increased sales on the same-old widget the company’s always sold, fantastic! If the company had a one-time mistake, things might still be looking up. If products just aren’t selling or management is quitting, it might spell bad news.
What Do I Need to Know?
Corporate earnings reports drive the stock market. Sure, financial markets respond to other pressures, but over time the stock market is simply a reflection of the economy. So, if you reread the headline above, Investors Brace for Shaky U.S. Earnings Season, what does that really mean?
Based on the information I told you above, it means this: companies didn’t have stellar profits last quarter.
That’s not nearly as shocking a headline, is it? In fact, I’ll bet you already knew that.
Move On, Nothing to See Here…..
Many investors read the CNBC headline above and think: I’ve gotta sell right now! If you’ve read my ramblings before, you’ll know that I think the opposite. I’m looking to buy when prices are low and sell when they’re high.
Here’s what I recommend instead of having a panic attack:
1) Rebalance your portfolio. Here’s how it works: if you’ve determined how much stock and bond exposure you want (among other asset classes), skim off the areas that have done well to fill in non-performing areas. Low markets are ideal times to rebalance because you’ll reaffirm your long term strategy, take gains from performing spots and redeploy in assets you already own that are low today. Smart move. Then, schedule another rebalance six months from now on your calendar.
2) Look for buying opportunities. If you’re interested in investing, shaky markets are a great place to place your first buys. Make your list of stocks to watch. Wait for earnings reports. Read what companies report, and make your move! Don’t make a common mistake and go whole-hog on a “can’t lose” investment. I’ve been involved with too many “can’t lose” things. I also told my dad I couldn’t lose my hair like he did. Glad I didn’t bet on that….
3) If you’re nervous, put defensive measures in place. Use stop losses on individual stocks and exchange traded funds. Monitor fund results more frequently and establish a “worst case scenario” strategy. Remember this: never buy or sell everything on one day or at one time. It’s safer to march in slowly and march out slowly. An orderly walk toward the exit beats a panicked race to the door. Often, down markets rebound quickly.
CNBC, like other publications, is in the business of selling advertising. If the elevator is labeled “Up” or “Down” it’ll be a smooth and steady ride, but I’m sure CNBC knows that “Soar” and “Plummet” garner readers…and then advertiser dollars.