Beliefs Culture Opinion

COMMENTARY: Investment advice for the gurus of Wall Street

c. 1997 Religion News Service

(Dale Hanson Bourke is publisher of RNS and author of and author of”Turn Toward the Wind.”)

UNDATED _ This week’s roller-coaster ride on Wall Street has left the experts bewildered and forced the analysts to scramble to look like they actually understand what is going on. The problem with all of these economic geniuses is that they are looking only at stocks, bonds and the markets. What they need to do is get out a little more.

This isn’t about Wall Street: It’s about life.

Most of us average investors aren’t kids anymore. We’ve seen a little more of life than we expected to. Maybe we are finally growing up.

So for the sake of the gurus of Wall Street, I offer my own investment philosophy:

1. Stuff happens. This is the family version of the popular bumper sticker and a regular refrain in our home. Everyone has a bad day, and maybe that’s what recently happened on Wall Street.

In our house we shrug it off, go to bed early, and wake up hoping for a better day. Usually it comes.

2. Take a deep breath. The”circuit breakers”that halted trading when stock prices dropped too fast got mixed reviews. This is Wall Street’s version of”time out,”a method employed by most parents, also with mixed results. While”time out”tends to halt immediate bloodshed by siblings, it also offers a chance to plot an even more destructive second attack.

In our house we have instituted the”deep-breaths”policy. An out of control child must stop and take five deep breaths. Boys, in particular, cannot plot and breathe deeply at the same time.

So, traders, forget about circuit breakers. OK, all together now: Take a deep breath. Slowly, slowly. Don’t those Blue Chips look better now?

3. Don’t be greedy. Most of us know that investing our 401(k) money in mutual funds is not going to make us rich. We just want a little stability.

We don’t take all of the candy in the bowl anymore, either. Even if no one sees you do it, it makes you fat. Those of us who once wanted to have it all now see that everything has a price attached. We want just enough. And we think that greedy people are not very nice or even very smart.

4. Life is risk. Sure, we knew that putting money in the stock market wasn’t a sure thing. But what is? By now most of us have seen childhood sweethearts divorce, healthy friends die young and stable companies lay off key employees. We walk out the door every day knowing we could be the victim of an aggressive driver or a random act of violence. The stock market looks pretty tame compared to most of life.

5. We are all connected. No, it does not come as a big shock to most of us that instability in the Hong Kong market affects Wall Street. We watch the weather reports every day, remember? We understand a volcano in the Philippines can give us a cold winter. Why should the world economy be any different?

6. Quality counts. Some people may have speculated in companies they don’t understand, but I bet most average investors are like me: I buy stock in companies that make products I use. Of course, I try to read enough to know whether they have poor management. But I’m buying a piece of a quality company when I buy stock, not playing the lottery.

7. When in doubt, do nothing. When I was younger, I reacted to everything. Now I know that doing nothing often leads to a resolution of its own. I have waited out frustrating jobs, irritating friends and my children’s unfair teachers. Most of them turned out better than I thought they would. I’ll probably wait out this market, too.

8. We all have choices. I try to teach my children every choice needs to be weighed against the potential cost. Playing outside after school means doing homework in the evening instead of watching television.

Sure, I could have put my money in bonds or buried it in the back yard. But I chose to put some of it in the stock market. Even if I lose it all, it was my choice.

9. Something bigger is going on. Our family’s faith in God helps us recognize there is a bigger plan in life. Sometimes we see a pattern after weeks or months or even years. At times we recognize that what seemed like something bad turned out to be good and what seemed good wasn’t so great after all.

10. Count your blessings. OK, maybe I lost some money on paper. But I am blessed to live in America, to have food in my cupboards and extra money to save and invest. I can still hear my father talking about the Great Depression and my grandparents telling of people starving in Russia. My life has never been as hard as theirs, and probably never will be.

Perhaps each day the traders should leave the New York Stock Exchange, walk a few blocks and gaze upon the Statue of Liberty. The heart and soul of America is not on the trading floor, but in the opportunity represented by freedom. Most of us are just a generation or two removed from the oppression, poverty and prejudice that held our forbears back. No matter what happens to the stock market, we should never forget how very far we have come.