By Michael McCarthy

Another morning in the markets, another 300 point drop in the Dow.  Once again, the platform and the phones will run hot as investors seek the answer to the question; “Is it time to panic?” This of course assumes panic has not set in already.

However, emotional responses are rarely useful in markets. While traders and investors are engaged in the same markets they focus differently. These related activities can inform each other, and one lesson investors can take from traders is in making sure they remain on balance, and emotionally aloof from their market activities.

I’m on record as a buyer of Australian shares at current levels. The 15% pullback in the index is masking some more substantial falls, and for the first time in a considerable while I can identify shares I think are good value. I acknowledge there are risks – as always. In my view the market bearishness on China is wildly over done, and share markets have already priced in a US interest rate rise. Anyone who disagrees with these two propositions will likely be more bearish, and that’s okay. There’s plenty of room for honest disagreement in markets.

But not according to some. After publishing a couple of articles on the above last week, here are some of the comments back:

The dismissive: “Piffle”

Tending toward personal attack:  “Baloney. Standard spruiker BS.  McCarthy in a previous life was Captain of the Titanic; standing firmly on the sloping deck”.

The cynical: “Buy buy buy, please, our business model depends on it ...” (Um, no it doesn’t).

The fantastic: “China is a mess and NO ONE KNOWS what its numbers are so no one sane could envy it. Global trade is FALLING.  Container rates are dropping like a brick.”

The collegiate: “Mate, that odd unpleasant odour is of it hitting the fan. Skip the heroics and get your life jacket on.”  

And the considered: “The key question for me is whether stock markets around the world will crash.”

The one thing all the responses have in common is a high emotional content, with the exception of the last one. Anyone who manages traders will tell you that high emotional content in any discussion about markets is a sign of imbalance. It’s difficult to make sound decisions under pressure in fast moving markets when emotionally off balance. Good traders do all they can to make sure they do not end up in this state.

Staying in good investment shape is matter of planning. Knowing your goals, timeframe, risk appetite, and broad investment plan is a good start. The idea is to know ahead of time how you will react in markets, whatever happens. Being mentally prepared for any eventuality helps keep emotions in check. To this end, investors should discuss with their advisors the market possibilities, and a (general) course of action for all of them.

The reason this pre-planning contributes to investing success is that decisions are made in a calm and considered manner, away from market pressure. 

The reality of investing is that no one knows the future. All any of us can do is identify and apply investment approaches and plans that best match our individual investment goals. For many of us, this means getting expert help. However, there are many ways investors can increase the chances of higher returns, some structural and others personal. Bringing a “cool”  head to investment decision making is an important part of a smarter approach.