Don’t pay attention to stock market anxiety. Do this instead


Many Americans view the arrival of fall with a sense of unease. Summer vacation season is now a memory, the school year is underway, hurricane season reaches its peak while temperatures tend to get cooler across much of the country.

For investors, it doesn’t help that September is traditionally the worst month for the stock market.

Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist of CFRA, notes that September owns the distinction of having the “deepest average decline” for the S&P 500, falling an average 0.7 percent. The index falls nearly 60 percent of the time.

But don’t let that long-term history be a source of anxiety. Consider the market’s more recent performance.

The market has been on a good run

Stocks have had a solid year so far. Through the end of August, the benchmark S&P 500 was up 10.5 percent for the year, while the Nasdaq was up 19 percent.

Despite the solid gains, there has been a resurgence in volatility. Stovall notes that August “displayed its traditional colors by accounting for nearly half of the year’s volatility,” as measured by trading days with market moves of 1 percent or more.

Still, the best-known gauge of market nervousness, the VIX, or volatility index, remains low. Nicknamed the fear gauge, it recently saw some short-lived spikes tied to North Korean missile launches and nuclear tests, but it has since calmed.

Let’s remember how far the stock market has come over the past nine years. In March 2009, the Dow Jones industrial average bottomed at 6,443 after losing more than half its value. More recently it has eased off the highs above the 22,000 level.

As long as the economy continues to grow, corporate profits are solid, inflation remains in check and interest rate increases don’t get too aggressive, the bull market advance can continue.

4 things investors should do

Here are some things to keep in mind about the stock market as we close in on the final three months of the year:

If you have a long-term investment horizon, don’t focus on short-term moves in the market. People who sold out of the market at the lows of 2009 lost out on the recovery. Very few people are able to predict market turns, including Wall Street professionals and talking heads. If you have a hard time stomaching market downturns, consider putting money into a CD.
A market pullback means stocks are on sale, so think of a dip as a buying opportunity.
Do your best to stay invested, whether for retirement, saving for college or other purposes, and stick to an emergency savings strategy. People who fail to consistently invest are least able to weather market downturns because they’re under-invested in the first place.
Just because September is typically a bad month for stocks doesn’t mean it is every year. The market has already shaken off a number of near-term threats, including federal debt ceiling worries.

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