How to handle the markets

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How to handle the markets

August 16, 2011 -

There’s a simple way to deal with the volatility of today’s markets: Ignore them. A Harvard study of investment habits, quoted on this morning’s Time website, found that investors who consumed no financial news earned better returns than those who were fed a steady stream of it. Investors in volatile stocks earned more than twice as much as similar investors whose trades were influenced by the media.

Economists do not advocate that we pretend there are no financial challenges today, of course. When unemployment soars, it’s essential that we maintain emergency savings and limit our debt. But reacting to the day’s markets is apparently an unwise strategy.

For confirmation, I checked the Dow Jones closing averages for the last two weeks. We ended August 1 at 12,132, then lost 265, gained 29, lost 512, gained 60, lost 634, gained 430, lost 520, gained 423, gained 126, then gained 214 yesterday. If I adjusted our retirement portfolio according to financial news, I might have moved our savings out of the markets on August 11 after the DJIA lost 520 the day before. I would then have missed the significant gains of the last three days. Janet already balances our checkbook so we don’t go to jail—I would have lost what little financial credibility I retain.

I see a spiritual application in this financial conversation. Marcus Aurelius, the great philosopher (and erstwhile Gladiator emperor), observed: “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” In other words, what enables you to win the present will empower you to win the future.

The emperor had human logic and Stoic perseverance in mind, but Jesus added tools to our toolbox. He taught us not to worry about what we will eat, drink, or wear, since “your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matthew 6:32). He encouraged us to focus on Tuesday rather than Wednesday: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (v. 34).

In dealing with volatile times, where are we to focus? “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 33). Make God your King this morning. Trust his omniscience to lead you into an uncertain future, and his omnipotence to provide for what you need. Name your fears for this day and place them in the nail-scarred hands of the Great I Am.

And know this: Whatever your past has been, your future is spotless.

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