The stock market has been fairly flat since the beginning of December, and that means its a good time to assess your relationship with your investments.This is a good time to look at your entire relationship with the market. It doesn’t matter whether you trade stocks, options, commodities, or even Forex. It’s a good time for a little self reflection.
The first thing to do is determine what your actual motivation for trading is. What is the reason behind your specific strategy? Maybe your strategy is to hand your money to a major broker like Smith Barney, AG Edwards, Fidelity, or any of the others. Does that mean that your main strategy is to not deal with investing… to just give your money to someone else and let them hopefully make money for you. Maybe your strategy is to put your money with a company like Scottrade, eTrade, or Ameritrade and actually make the trades yourself. Are you doing that for the thrill of winning and losing kind of like Las Vegas? Maybe you do it to have something to impress your friends and co-workers with. It’s importantthat you understand your underlying motivations. The ones beyond the automatic response of wanting to make riches.
With that bit of self analysis under your belt, it’s an excellent time to ensure that your trading mode is in order because the market will not stay flat forever. Now is the time to put together a winning trading methodology. Here are some ideas to help you be ready for the up swing in the market.
No matter why you trade, you’ve got to divorce your emotions from your investing. If you get excited when you win and sink into the pits of depression when you lose, then you will find out that you lose and lose and lose. Really, this emotion-based trading is a lot like a compulsive gambler. So act like an android and get your emotions out of the picture.
Now that you are clear about your motivations and have your emotions out of the picture, decide on your goals for trading. There are a few basic things to think about. How much time are you ready to spend on your investments? How much ROI are you looking for? How much risk will you assume on the money you invest… in other words, how much are you willing to lose? How much are you willing to spend on learning to invest? Come up with a statement of objectives in the form, “I am ready to invest ____ dollars and I am looking for a ____ percent annual return on my investment where I spend ____ hours per week/month managing my investments after spending _____ dollars and ______ hours learning how to invest.”
Next you need to do some reality checking on your goals. If you are looking for a risk free investment returning 100% annually, that is not likely to be found. This is also a great time to see how effective the investment techniques you have been using really worked.
Next, come up with your overall investment strategy for moving forward. Are you going to put your money in a bank? Are you going to put some money into guaranteed municipal bonds and some into mutual funds? Get specific about how you intend to reach your objectives.
Before you actually invest a dime, you’ve got to have an investment plan. The investment plan defines when you will actually put your money into an investment and when you will take your money out of an investment. If you are investing in a stock, then this plan will tell you when you should invest in the stock. What value should it be at? What should it’s recent history look like? Does the performance of the stock meet certain technical analysis criteria? Does the company meet some fundamental analysis criteria? Your plan should also tell you when to sell the stock. That tells you the risk you are taking. If you purchase 100 shares of a stock for $ 50 and are only willing to risk 100 dollars, then you must exit if the stock drops by $ 1. That’s not a very good plan, but it gets the idea across.
Many people don’t think they need a plan for things like mutual funds or 401K plans with their company. Frankly, those are the people that lost the most between June and December 2008. The plan that you make should get you the results that you seek in terms of ROI and risk. That’s why it’s called a plan.
Successful traders follow their investment plans to the letter… and this is where the android mind comes in. If you prepared your plan correctly, then if you follow it to the letter you will get the results that you seek. It’s really strange though, that most people stop following their plan. The winning technique consists of three steps. Follow the plan, follow the plan, and follow the plan.
After you exit the investment, then you need to do a de-briefing in your own mind. Take a look at what happened, how your plan served your objectives, and what you could have done better. With this simple analytical approach to investing you will be much more successful no matter what your overall investment strategy.