Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM
It's tempting to just say Hallelujah to Monday's stock market rally, and heave a sigh of relief. On the other hand, the 936-point rally on the Dow, and the nearly 200-point gain on the Nasdaq could be seen as even scarier than the downdraft of last week.
These huge one-day gains reveal the panic mentality that has gripped Wall Street, and individual investors, on both the upside and downside. And the outsize movements reveal just how thin the markets are on both sides of the pricing mechanism. It's as if the stock market were a giant hot air balloon, sometimes plummeting unsteadily and then catching a lift from a gust of wind.
How can investors make sensible long-term plans if they get caught in these cross-currents? The answer is simple: They can't. So don't start celebrating, even if the market continues to rise. Think of it as an opportunity to test your intellect and your emotions.
By now you're receiving your quarterly brokerage statements -- which don't reflect the reality of the past two weeks. So update your balances online at the Web site of your 40l(k) plan or mutual fund.
Now sit down with a pen and paper and ask yourself the basic questions:
**What is my real time horizon for using this money? That may bring you to the conclusion that you need some money sooner, but another portion will not be needed for at least 20 years.
**What is my real risk tolerance? Were you able to withstand the panic that comes from watching your money "melt away" because you had enough set aside to see you through the next few years?
**Do you believe that America will be a better, stronger country a decade from now, using its unique economic system to create new inventions that will create economic growth? (This is a trick question! Would you have been able to predict the Internet and the growth of technology when the markets were scary in 1987?) So ask yourself, when has America not been a better country after going through trying times?
You're getting a unique chance to put your money where your mouth is! If your personal situation or long-term outlook tells you to play it safe, then trust your instincts -- with at least a portion of your money that remains.
But if you believe you'll look back and kick yourself for not believing in the future, then hold tight to your investment plan. Some people will be right, others will be wrong. And we won't know, except in hindsight.
And then some people will have the presence of mind to make a split decision -- some sound investments, and some "chicken money" in insured deposits or Treasury bills, with a little in gold or commodity stocks as a hedge against inflation. You won't make all the money you might have, but you sure will sleep better in the meantime. And that's The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser. Distributed by Creators Syndicate. Copyright Terry Savage Productions Ltd.