Readers Write: Most Americans should be investors, not traders

Letter to the Editor for the June 17, 2013 weekly issue: The small investor is led down the garden path of attempting to grow riches from a mix of potent investment vehicles and propitious timing. It doesn't work that way. If investors can exercise patience and discipline, time becomes their ally.

Thank you for the May 13 cover story, "The market's message." Certainly the saddest statistic has to be the 22 percent of Americans who exited the market near the bottom, 87 percent of whom are still in cash today with the stock market hitting record highs – which brings me to your article's focus: Is it a good time to enter the market?

The answer to the question of when the market is at a peak is this: The market peaks when individual investors capitulate and put their money, with zeal, into equities. As a 35-year investment professional it always disturbs me that equity mutual fund inflows (a measure of small investor activity) peak near the time the market does and, conversely, redemptions peak near market bottoms (i.e., buying high and selling low) – defining tragic performance for the small investor time and again.

The remedy is in becoming a true investor – a concept that seems lost today with high-frequency trading, the proliferation of derivatives and options, leveraged and deleveraged exchange-traded funds, and short-long strategies, to name a few. The small investor is led down the garden path of attempting to grow riches from a mix of potent investment vehicles and propitious timing. It doesn't work that way.

Families build wealth through disciplined, consistent saving and investing. The billionaire investor Warren Buffett gives us three famous quotes on this subject. "Our favorite holding period is forever." "Look at market fluctuations as your friend rather than your enemy; profit from folly rather than participate in it." "We believe that according the name 'investors' to institutions that trade actively is like calling someone who repeatedly engages in one-night stands a 'romantic.' "

What the market is telling us is that "investors" have lost their way and have become traders, forgetting the fundamentals of investing. Corporate earnings growth and the resulting stock appreciation take time. If investors can exercise patience and discipline, time becomes their ally.

Stocks over the past 60 years have returned an average of about 10 percent per year. Even the past 10 years, which includes the worst bear market since 1929, gave stock investors an average return of 8.53 percent per year (S&P 500 Index). Most important, there was no market timing required.

Paul H. Collins

President, American Trust Investment Advisors, LLC

Lebanon, N.H.

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