MONEY holiday shopping

13 Halloween Costumes for Finance Geeks

Actress Katie Seeley as a bear (left) and Sacha Baron Cohen as a bull (right)
Combine a bear costume (as worn by actress Katie Seeley, left,) and a bull suit (see Sacha Baron Cohen, right) for a punny stock market couples costume. Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic (left);Fotonoticias/WireImage (right)

Look like a million bucks—literally—with these creative costumes.

Still not sure what you’re dressing as for Halloween? Don’t despair. We’ve got a bunch of costume ideas that are right on the money. These finance-themed getups are accessible for a general audience (so you don’t have to spend your evening explaining, “No, the other kind of black swan…”), cheap, and quick to pull together.

For some tried-and-true ideas, you could go as Zombie Lehman Brothers, the London Whale, or characters from Dave Chappelle’s classic “Wu Tang Financial” sketch. Or you can try one of the more timeless 13 suggestions below. Then again, you could just dress up as prerecession government regulations and stay in for the night.

1. Money. Let’s be honest: Dressing as a giant bill or stack of bills is kind of boring. The concept is improved if your homemade costume is a reference to the “made-of-money man” in those Geico ads—or if you are an adorable baby swaddled in a sack of money. (Mom and Dad, throw on a mask and a badge, and voila! A cop-and-robber duo.)

2. A market crash. If Halloween season sneaked up on you like the October stock swoon did on traders, you can craft a “market crash” costume in five minutes by taping a fever line on a t-shirt with some masking or electrical tape. Use light-up accessories, and you’ve got a flash crash. This costume can be modified for a couple or group—just extend the fever line across your torsos—and it pairs nicely with a “broke broker.”

3. The Federal Reserve Chair. Mimic Janet Yellen’s signature white bob with a wig and her go-to outfit with a black blazer over a black dress or pant suit. Don’t forget a gold necklace. If people ask who you’re dressed as, throw fake money at them and yell, “Loose monetary policy!” To turn this into a group costume, grab yourself a Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan. Wear matching “chair” shirts for solidarity.

4. Bull & Bear (couples costume). Like salty-sweet snacks and Brangelina, this costume combination is greater than the sum of its parts. Relatively inexpensive store-bought costumes are easy to find, assuming you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars, or you can always build a DIY ensemble with homemade horns and ears. Hang little signs with upward and downward trending fever lines around your necks for extra clarity. The only hard part will be deciding who gets to be which animal.

5. “Bond” girl. Personify this pun by dressing as your favorite 007 lady-friend and adding a hat, sign, or other accessory that reads “T-Bill” or features an image of a (now-technically-obsolete paper) Treasury bond. Jill Masterson’s “Goldfinger” look might be most recognizable: You can do it with gold spandex or body paint.

6. Wolf of Wall Street. See bull and bear, above. You just need a suit and tie, a wolf mask, and pockets brimming with fake money. And maybe some fake Quaaludes.

7. Cash cow. Unless your name is actually Cash (like this little guy), channel the Daily Show’s Samantha Bee and decorate a cow suit with dollar symbols.

8. A mortgage-backed security. This one might seem a little 2007, but there’s evidence these investment vehicles are coming back in vogue. Start with a shirt that says “security” in front. If you’re handy, you can then turn a small backpack into a “house” and wear that around. If not, just write “mortgage” on your back, and you’re done.

9. Gross domestic product. Just wear a “Made in America” t-shirt covered in dirt and fake blood.

10. Dogs of the Dow (group costume). Grab up to ten of your friends and dress as dogs. Wear tags with ticker symbols for each of the current Dogs of the Dow.

11. Distressed securities. Similar to #8, start with a shirt that reads “securities,” then layer on some dramatic makeup, to make yourself look, well, distressed.

12. Naked position & hedge (couples costume). This idea is pretty inside-baseball, but will be a fun challenge for your finance-savvy friends to guess at. The person dressed as the “naked position” can wear flesh-toned spandex, while his or her partner dresses like a hedge, as in shrubbery. Here are DIY instructions.

13. Spider / SPDR fund family (group costume). This one is pretty easy, since instructions for homemade spider costumes abound. You could go as a solo arachnid, with “ETF” painted across your chest, but dressing up is always more fun with friends. In a group you can each represent different funds; for example, the gold fund spider can wear a big gold chain and the ticker symbol GLD, and the high-yield bond spider can glue candy wrappers and bits of tinfoil all over himself and wear a sign that says JNK.

MONEY Markets

The Dow Moved Triple Digits Today. Here’s What You Should Do.

Arrow cut out of piece of paper
Gregor Schuster—Getty Images

Nothing. You should do absolutely nothing. Here's why.

[Update: The DOW went up 216 points on Oct. 23.]

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has long been held up as the stock market index to follow. Now that the Dow Jones is at such a high level, even moves that are small on a percentage basis allow for attention-grabbing headlines like “Dow Jones Today Skyrockets Over 200 points!” or “Dow Jones Plummets 150 points!”

While these headlines lure in readers, they do nothing to make us better investors. Read on to see why the best investors ignore the daily movements of the DJIA.

Dow Jones today

Do you remember when the Dow jumped 220 points after tensions with Ukraine moderated? How about the 200-point drop after Chinese industrial production slowed, or the 180-point jump following the release of minutes from the secret early-March meeting of the Federal Reserve?

I doubt it.

And don’t get me started on early October. The Dow Jones Industrial average dropped 272 points on a Tuesday — its biggest drop of the year to that point. The next day, the Dow jumped 274 points — the Dow’s biggest gain of the year. Then, on Thursday, the Dow fell 334 points.

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The headlines would have you think the world is ending or that you won’t be able to retire because of these market dips. The stock market is one of the few places where, whenever things go on sale, no one wants to buy.

However, these moves only amounted to a 2% drop from the end of the previous week. To put that in an even bigger-picture perspective, the Dow is basically flat year to date.

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What you should do now?

Nothing. You don’t have to do anything. If your investment strategy changes based on one day’s market movements, you’re doing it wrong. Your focus should be to stick to your plan, constantly educate yourself, and invest for the long term. And if you don’t have a clear strategy, this is your wake-up call.

Research has shown that process is one of the biggest determinants of success in the market over the long term. While your process can yield good or bad results in the short term, those with a proven process do better than the average investor over the long term.

For total beginners, I would first suggest learning about how the market works and how you can do at least as well as the market through index investing. I highly recommend The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by John Bogle as a great place to start.

If you understand the basics of the market as well as index investing, check out The Motley Fool’s 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly, which will teach you the process The Motley Fool has used to consistently beat the markets over the long term.

Everyone can learn from this

For every investor, focusing too much on daily market movements is a mistake. Things happen for no discernible reason. Rather than wasting time wondering why the market is up or down by a percent or two, we should focus on business fundamentals and continue to search for quality stocks trading at bargain prices.

We also must keep calm and not make rash decisions based on short-term market moves. Research has shown that it is far better to focus on minimizing mistakes, rather than overreaching for greatness. As economist Eric Falkenstein wrote: “In expert tennis, 80% of the points are won, while in amateur tennis, 80% are lost. The same is true for wrestling, chess, and investing: Beginners should focus on avoiding mistakes, experts on making great moves.”

And as Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner Charlie Munger said: “We try to profit more from always remembering the obvious than grasping the esoteric. It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.”

My Dow Jones Industrial Average prediction for today

The Dow Jones Industrial Average will continue to fluctuate. That’s a given, and we have no control over it. What you can control is your reactions to those fluctuations — and the best reaction is usually no reaction.

Dan Dzombak can be found on Twitter @DanDzombak, on his Facebook page DanDzombak, or on his blog where he writes about investing, happiness, life, and success in life. He has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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MONEY Markets

The Word on Wall Street Is It’s Okay to Be Bullish Again

After the market's triple-digit rebound on Friday, the bulls came out in force — on TV and social media. Here's how the talking heads explain the state of the market after one scary week.

After dramatic drops on Monday and Wednesday, the market took a turn for the better at the end of the week.

And the bulls started coming out of the woodwork.

“…the mid-week storm in the market was really a passing sun shower — though we did not know it at the time,” — Jonathan Lewis, chief investment officer, Samson Capital Advisors.

“…we remain steadfast with our multi-year bull-market scenario, as corrections and periods of consolidation are necessary ingredients to any prolonged bull market.” — Brian Belski, chief investment strategist BMO Capital Markets

“Whether the complete correction is over I’m not positive yet, but there looks to be some relative calm. I think the next leg is going to be higher.” – Jim Iuorio of TJM Institutional Services via CNBC

“The time to rebalance [and buy stocks] is when doing so requires courage and when things look ugly. Right now, investors are worried and see things as being ugly.” – David Kotok, chairman of Cumberland Advisors

A common theme from the bulls is that for all the worries about the global recovery, the U.S. economy looks solid:

“Ironically, the pullback in stocks has occurred against a backdrop of a strengthening U.S. economy.” — Gregg Fisher, chief investment officer at Gerstein Fisher

“The question is whether it is actually the beginning of a bear market. I don’t think so because I don’t expect a recession in the U.S. anytime soon.” — Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research

Of course, Yardeni goes on to add that:

“the Eurozone and Japan may be heading in that direction now. So is Brazil. China is slowing significantly.”

Shouldn’t investors be worried, then, that a recession in the European Union could reverberate in the U.S.?

Fear not, the bulls have an answer for that:

“The impact of an E.U. slowdown on U.S. growth would be minimal: U.S. exports to the E.U. are a small proportion of GDP (2.8% in 2013)…” notes UBS economist Maury Harris.

Many point out that economic factors have not really shifted since a month ago, when the stock market seemed just fine.

“You can go deep in the weeds in this if you like, but the fact is that nothing fundamental has changed in recent weeks or months or quarters,” writes Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

In fact, global economic worries, which have led to lower oil prices, may end up being a boon.

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Many experts are saying that this week’s wild market swings are actually just the result of “narrative fallacy,” which leads investors to come up with explanations for market moves where they don’t necessarily exist — in this case placing blame on external forces like Ebola and fears of rising interest rates.

But who’s to say that the bulls aren’t the ones who are now coming with plausible-sounding explanations for why the rally should keep going?

For the record, the bears have more entertaining explanations in their quiver. For instance, there’s the McDonald’s theory. As in, “as the Big Mac goes, so goes the global economy.”

Permabear Marc Faber, who edits the Gloom Doom Boom site, noted the following:

“Now, McDonald’s is a very good indicator of the global economy. If McDonald’s doesn’t increase its sales, it tells you that the monetary policies have largely failed in the sense that prices are going up more than disposable income, and so people have less purchasing power.”

And Mickey D’s sales have been slumping badly lately.

Then there’s the so-called dental indicator.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported a nifty theory that says that the rate at which Americans cancel scheduled follow-up visits offers a good clue about the real state of the consumer — and in turn the financial markets.

“This is a forward indicator signifying lack of consumer confidence.” — Vijay Sikka, president of Sikka Software, as told to Bloomberg Businessweek

And the follow-through rate on follow-up dental visits has sunk to about where it was in 2007, just before the last downturn/bear market.

At this stage, it’s impossible to tell whether this is the start of bear market or a buying opportunity. However, what’s absolutely clear is that big dips are just a normal part of being a stock investor.

Despite anxieties about the Dow’s sudden plunge this week, if you look at historical performance, the index typically turns negative for the year often enough that it’s not a good doomsday indicator, says author and investment adviser Josh Brown.

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And at the end of the day, who’s to say which wacky theories wind up being right or wrong?

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MONEY Markets

Four Reasons Not to Worry About the Stock Market

Waterfall
Roine Magnusson—Getty Images

Take a deep breath and consider some historical context.

The funniest thing about markets is that all past crashes are viewed as an opportunity, but all current and future crashes are viewed as a risk.

For months, investors have been saying a pullback is inevitable, healthy, and should be welcomed. Now, it’s here, with the S&P 500 down about 10% from last month’s highs.

Enter the maniacs.

“Carnage.”

“Slaughter.”

“Chaos.”

Those are words I read in finance blogs this morning.

By my count, this is the 90th 10% correction the market has experienced since 1928. That’s about once every 11 months, on average. It’s been three years since the last 10% correction, but you would think something so normal wouldn’t be so shocking.

But losing money hurts more than it should, and more than you think it will. In his book Where Are the Customers’ Yachts?, Fred Schwed wrote:

There are certain things that cannot be adequately explained to a virgin either by words or pictures. Not can any description I might offer here ever approximate what it feels like to lose a chunk of money that you used to own.

That’s fair. One lesson I learned after 2008 is that it’s much easier to say you’ll be greedy when others are fearful than it is to actually do it.

Regardless, this is a critical time to pay attention as an investor. One of my favorite quotes is Napoleon’s definition of a military genius: “The man who can do the average thing when all those around him are going crazy.” It’s the same in investing. You don’t have to be a genius to do well in investing. You just have to not go crazy when everyone else is, like they are now.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you along.

Unless you’re impatient, innumerate, or an idiot, lower prices are your friend

You’re supposed to like market plunges because you can buy good companies at lower prices. Before long, those prices rise and you’ll be rewarded.

But you’ve heard that a thousand times.

There’s a more compelling reason to like market plunges even if stocks never recover.

The psuedoanonymous blogger Jesse Livermore asked a smart question this year: Would you rather stocks soared 200%, or fell 66% and stayed there forever? Literally, never recovering.

If you’re a long-term investor, the second option is actually more lucrative.

That’s because so much of the market’s long-term returns come from reinvesting dividends. When share prices fall, dividend yields rise, and the compounding effect of reinvesting dividends becomes more powerful. After 30 years, the plunge-and-no-recovery scenario beats out boom-and-normal-growth market by a quarter of a percentage point per year.

On that note, the S&P 500’s dividend yield rose from 1.71% in September to 1.82% this week. Whohoo!

Plunges are why stocks return more than other assets

Imagine if stocks weren’t volatile. Imagine they went up 8% a year, every year, with no volatility. Nice and stable.

What would happen in this world?

Nobody would own bonds or cash, which return about zero percent. Why would you if you could earn a steady, stable 8% return in stocks?

In this world, stock prices would surge until they offered a return closer to bonds and cash. If stocks really had no volatility, prices would rise until they yielded the same amount as FDIC-insured savings accounts.

But then — priced for perfection with no room for error — the first whiff of real-world realities like disappointing earnings, rising interest rates, recessions, terrorism, ebola, and political theater sends them plunging.

So, if stocks never crashed, prices would rise so high that a new crash was pretty much guaranteed. That’s why the whole history of the stock market is boom to bust, rinse, repeat. Volatility is the price you have to be willing to pay to earn higher returns than other assets.

They’re not indicative of the crowd

It’s easy to watch the market fall 500 points and think, “Wow, everyone is panicking. Everyone is selling. They know something I don’t.”

That’s not true at all.

Market prices reflect the last trade made. It shows the views of marginal buyers and marginal sellers — whoever was willing to buy at highest price and sell at the lowest price. The most recent price can represent one share traded, or 100,000 shares traded. Whatever it is, it doesn’t reflect the views of the vast majority of shareholders, who just sit there doing nothing.

Consider: The S&P fell almost 20% in the summer of 2011. That’s a big fall. But at Vanguard — one of the largest money managers, with more than $3 trillion — 98% of investors didn’t make a single change to their portfolios. “Ninety-eight percent took the long-term view,” wrote Vanguard’s Steve Utkus. “Those trading are a very small subset of investors.”

A lot of what moves day-to-day prices are computers playing pat-a-cake with themselves. You shouldn’t read into it for meaning.

They don’t tell you anything about the economy

It’s easy to look at plunging markets and think it’s foretelling something bad in the economy, like a recession.

But that’s not always the case.

As my friend Ben Carlson showed yesterday, there have been 13 corrections of 10% or more since World War II that were not followed by a recession. Stocks fell 35% in 1987 with no subsequent recession.

There is a huge disconnect between stocks and the economy. The correlation between GDP growth and subsequent five-year market returns is -0.06 — as in no correlation whatsoever, basically.

Vanguard once showed that rainfall — yes, rainfall — is a better predictor of future market returns than trend GDP growth, earnings growth, interest rates, or analyst forecasts. They all tell you effectively nothing about what stocks might do next.

So, breathe. Go to the beach. Hang out with your friends. Stop checking your portfolio. Life will go on.

For more on this topic:

Check back every Tuesday and Friday for Morgan Housel’s columns. Contact Morgan Housel at mhousel@fool.com. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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MONEY stock market

3 Ways a Market Swoon Can Put Money in Your Pocket

Money in jeans pocket
Image Source—Getty Images

Though the stock market tumble has been scary, there are some upsides to all the bad news.

With the market down more than 7% in the last month, it’s easy to feel fearful for the parts of your life most immediately affected by a rocky financial world — like retirement savings and job security.

Certainly, there are plenty of good reasons to be cautious about the future, including high valuations and other signs the current bull market may be aging.

But a downtrodden market like this one can create pockets of opportunity for investors and consumers alike. Here are just a few ways you can benefit from the recent pullback.

1. Cheaper gas prices

Thanks to a supply glut and low demand, gasoline prices are hovering at less than $3 a gallon across the United States. And that’s despite international geopolitical unrest, which usually keeps oil expensive.

2. Low interest rates on mortgages

The Fed is keeping short-term rates low, and the sell-off has sent investors into Treasury bonds, driving down the yields that serve as a benchmark for borrowing costs throughout the economy. So mortgage rates have taken a big dip in the last month.

Interest on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is now 4.01%, which means that if you’re sitting on a much higher rate from buying a home a few years ago, now could be a very opportune moment to refinance. Though the paperwork might be intimidating, letting inertia get the best of you could mean leaving literally tens of thousands of dollars on the table.

3. Stock-buying opportunities

When the market takes a big dive, it can be a good moment to purchase stocks, especially if your goal is to buy and hold for the long term. This is particularly true for younger people who have time on their side, as they stand to lose very little in the short term (even if stocks continue to drop) and can gain much more when the market eventually recovers.

So if you are a millennial and have been putting off opening (or upping contributions to) that 401(k), now is your moment to choose a plan. And even Gen X-ers generally have enough years ahead to take on some risk in their retirement portfolios.

Finally, if you’re not a driver, homeowner, or investor, there’s always that trip to Paris you’ve been putting off: Thanks to economic uncertainty in Europe, the Euro is trading for less than $1.30—the cheapest it’s been since last summer.

TIME Markets

European Stocks Tumble as Market Rollercoaster Ride Continues

Dow Jones Industrial Average Drops Over 200 Points
An information board on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shows stocks dropping on Oct. 1, 2014 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

‘Dead-cat bounce’ fails to hold, despite better-than-expected data from China

European stock markets turned lower again after a bright opening, as the prospect of deflation in the Eurozone returned to center stage.

Consumer prices rose only 0.3% in the year to September, Eurostat said, reinforcing fears that neither the European Central Bank nor Eurozone governments are doing enough to stop the 18-country currency union from falling into a deflationary spiral.

The figures instantly wiped out the gains of a “dead-cat bounce” at the market opening, which followed the general rout on Wall Street Wednesday.

U.S. stocks were down sharply again Thursday morning, but were lately working off their early losses.

In what was a roller-coaster ride for the U.S. markets on Wednesday, the Dow Jones index fell over 300 points at the open, and then recovered, only to dip about 460 points at one point in afternoon trading, finally closing down more than 173 points, or 1.1%.

By mid-morning in Europe, the U.K.’s FTSE 100 and Germany’s DAX were both down 2.0%, while yields on ‘safe haven’ government bonds such as Germany plummeted to new all-time lows. Oil prices also stayed close to three-year lows at just over $80 a barrel.

Data out of China earlier had given a modest degree of encouragement, suggesting that the world’s second-largest economy isn’t about to fall off a cliff. But it didn’t take long for fear to reassert itself at the expense of greed.

Analysts at Bank 0f America Merrill Lynch said in a note to clients that the markets have started to price in another recession and/or “a financial event” such as the collapse of a major market player. They said that markets were only likely to stop panicking “when policymakers start panicking.”

The day had started with the modest hope that there could be some progress in de-escalating the Ukraine crisis when Russian President Vladimir Putin meets his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko at a summit meeting in Milan, Italy later in the day. Putin is also due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders there.

In a sign that investors may be starting again to bet on the Eurozone breaking up, bond yields have risen far more sharply in those countries where the combination of high debt and low growth is most acute–particularly Greece (and, to a lesser extent, Portugal and Italy).

Greece’s 10-year borrowing costs have risen by a shocking 2.43 percentage points since the end of last week, as markets signal they’ll refuse to finance a government that wants to dispense with the safety net of Eurozone and International Monetary Fund funding.

The tone in Asian markets earlier Thursday had been equally rough, with the Japanese Nikkei falling over 2% to a six-month low in the pull of Wall Street. Tokyo’s mood was still clouded by data on Wednesday showing that industrial output had fallen nearly 2% in August, adding to fears that a big rise in the country’s sales tax in May had after all been too much for the economy to withstand.

However, figures from China later underlined that the economy is only slowing moderately, rather than facing a “hard landing”.

Figures released by the People’s Bank of China showed that new loans by the official banking sector rose to 857 billion yuan ($140 billion) from 702 billion yuan in August, comfortably beating consensus forecasts of 750 billion.

However, there was no euphoria, as other elements of the PBoC’s figures were less reassuring. Foreign reserves fell, suggesting that capital has been leaving the country amid falling investment by foreign companies.

Moreover, aggregate financing–a measure of lending that takes in the vast ‘shadow banking’ system which has more exposure the country’s shaky real estate sector–stayed at historically low levels. Analysts at ANZ said that, overall, the figures suggest “shadow banking activities have been diminishing amid property weakness, and the genuine demand for credits still remains soft.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Economy

What You Need to Know About the Stock Market Sell-Off

For the last few years, markets were from Mars, and the real economy was from Venus. The two literally occupied different worlds, as stock prices kept rising, even as wages were stagnant and growth was slow. As of yesterday, that divide has been bridged. Stock prices finally plunged into a real correction of the kind we haven’t seen since the apex of the European debt crisis three years ago.

The question is, why now? The answer comes in two parts. First, with Europe in danger of tipping into recession, and China’s growth much lower than the official statistics would indicate (that’s one of the big reasons oil prices are down since China is now the world’s major consumer of energy), investors have realized that a wimpy recovery in the U.S. isn’t enough to buoy global growth. Sure, growth numbers were a bit better this year than last, but we’re still in a 3 percent economy that doesn’t look or feel much different than the 2 percent economy (see my Curious Capitalist column on that topic). If you think of the global economy as three legs on a stool, the legs being the U.S., Europe, and the emerging markets led by China, what’s becoming very clear to markets is that a 3 percent economy in the U.S. isn’t enough to sustain global momentum. Indeed, the U.S. may grow faster than the world as a whole this year, which is an odd thing for a developed market. It speaks to how weak the global economy as a whole still is.

Second, markets have realized that this recovery has been a genetically engineered recovery. It’s been engineered by the monetary scientists at the Fed, who’ve pumped $4 trillion into the economy since 2009 in an attempt to strengthen an economy that is fundamentally not as strong as it looks. Despite the Fed’s best efforts (and I agree that they needed to do something, especially in the beginning), the real economy simply hasn’t caught up to the markets. Unemployment has ticked down, but wages still haven’t ticked up. It’s no accident that weak retail sales in the U.S. were one of the economic indicators that triggered the sell-off. As I’ve said many times before, you can’t have a sustainable recovery, one markets can really believe in, until you have the majority of the population with more money in their pockets.

The reality is that this hasn’t happened in the last few years, and for many people, decades (the average male worker today makes less in real terms than he did in the early 1970s).

So does this mean we are in for a long, slow slide? Not exactly. I’d bet more on increased volatility (if you are a subscriber, you can read this piece I wrote on the coming Age of Volatility, back in 2011). Markets will go up and down, but as long as the U.S. is the prettiest house on the ugly block that is the global economy, money may stay parked in the largest American multinationals longer than you’d think. Whether or not our economy deserves the vote of confidence is another question.

TIME Markets

Stock Markets Are Waking Up to Economic Reality

An investor holds a child in front of an electronic screen showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shenyang
An investor holds a child in front of an electronic screen showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shenyang, Liaoning province, Oct. 16, 2014. Sheng Li—Reuters

Misguided policy is undermining growth and creating new risks

Stock markets are supposed to be indicators of where economies are headed. The recent sell-off in global equities, however, shows investors are just catching up with the headlines. Wall Street had powered through the gloomy news emanating from much of the global economy for most of the year, with indices scoring one record after the next. But now investors seem to have finally woken up to the world’s woes, causing the bulls to stampede. On Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged by as much as 2.8%, and even though it later recovered, it has still fallen by 5% in five days. That followed a terrible day on European bourses, with the German and French markets suffering large losses. The trouble continued Thursday in Asia, with losses in Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Financial markets are reacting to what should have been obvious to investors for some time — growth is stumbling in just about every corner of the planet. And we can blame some pretty gutless policymaking for it. From Beijing to Brussels to Brasilia, governments are failing to implement the reforms we need to finally lift the global economy out of the protracted slump tipped off by the 2008 financial crisis.

The situation is most infuriating in Europe. The International Monetary Fund recently cut its forecast for euro zone GDP growth to a mere 0.8% this year. Germany, the largest and supposedly strongest economy in the zone, is projected to expand only 1.4%, while Italy, the zone’s third-largest economy, will likely contract again in 2014. Unemployment remains stubbornly high at 11.5%. Meanwhile, the leaders of Europe seem unconcerned and have done little to encourage growth or job creation. At a European level, the process of forging greater integration and bringing down remaining barriers to cross-border business has stalled, while the record of individual governments in liberalizing markets and fixing broken labor systems is at best mixed. Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, has fallen behind the curve in preventing prices from falling to dangerously low levels, raising fears of deflation, which would suppress consumption and investment even further. No wonder more analysts are worried Europe is facing “Japanification” — a potentially destructive, long-term malaise similar to what has been experienced in Japan.

Speaking of Japan, the program of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — dubbed “Abenomics” — is being exposed as a failure. Massive monetary stimulus from the Bank of Japan has not jumpstarted growth, while Abe, with government finances increasingly under strain, has had to hike taxes, dampening consumption and denting growth even further. The promised structural reforms that could raise the economy’s potential, from loosening up labor markets to opening protected sectors, have barely gotten off the ground. The IMF sees Japan’s GDP expanding a meager 0.9% in 2014.

The story in emerging markets isn’t much better. Once high fliers have crashed down to earth. Brazil’s economy will likely grow a pathetic 0.3% this year, while Russia, plagued by sanctions, will be lucky to avoid a recession. Even China is struggling. Though growth remains above 7% — at least officially — economists are just now starting to realize such rates are probably the country’s “new normal.” Facing a property slump and excessive debt, the economy will continue to slow down in coming years. Beijing’s policymakers have promised a lot of the liberalizing reforms that could fix China’s growth model, but they have implemented almost none of that program. A free-trade zone that was to be a critical experiment in more open capital flows, launched with great fanfare in Shanghai a year ago, has languished as policymakers drag their feet on implementation.

There are occasional bright spots, though. It looks like India is rebounding, while growth in some other developing nations, such as the Philippines, remains healthy. But that won’t be enough to stir prospects globally. And while the U.S. is better off than most other advanced economies, the inability of Washington to confront problems like income inequality or sagging infrastructure is holding the economy back.

What we are witnessing around the world is a slowdown created to a large degree by bad policymaking and political inaction. In fact, you could make the argument that what steps have been taken have only made matters worse. The long-running easy money policies of the Federal Reserve probably helped to propel the prices of stocks and other assets upward, detaching them from the underlying fundamentals of the global economy and making them vulnerable to sudden shocks and shifts in sentiment.

Perhaps what we’re seeing in global stock markets is a temporary correction or short-term adjustment. Or perhaps markets are telling us things will be much worse than we expect in coming quarters. Either way, it seems like investors are finally swallowing a dose of economic reality.

MONEY Markets

A Financial Pundit’s Guide to Financial Pundits

201411_TBQ_BROWN
Joe Pugliese

Joshua Brown, a.k.a. the Reformed Broker, explains when to pay attention to the investing media and when to tune them out.

Joshua Brown, 37, is an author and investment adviser who writes the Reformed Broker blog. The CEO of Ritholtz Wealth management, Brown is also the co-author with Jeff Macke of Clash of the Financial Pundits, about how the media influence investors, and the author of Backstage on Wall Street, which recounts his experiences in the hard-sell retail brokerage business. MONEY Assistant Managing Editor Pat Regnier interviewed him for the October 2014 issue, from which this Q&A is adapted.

Am I better off just ignoring financial news?
Good luck with that. Most likely, you have to converse with people you do business with, people you work with, people who work for you, or people you report to. You have to be fluent in what’s going on in the economy. It isn’t a feasible solution to say, “Okay, I own the Vanguard 500 index fund. I’m going to go to a South Pacific island, so to speak, and my performance will be fine.”

My take instead is to be exposed to financial news all the time, so you can wink at it. Then when you hear a prediction that scares people, you can say, “Yeah, I hear stuff like that every day, and it never matters.” That’s how you deal with the noise.

What should I just wink at?
Predictions. Forecasts. Also, don’t necessarily act on information that’s maybe more valuable just as context. One thing financial media does that it shouldn’t is to make everything “actionable” for everyone.

What’s context good for?
[At my firm] our default is to do less—to have a high hurdle before ­doing something. What enables that, without a lot of stomach-churning and consternation, is paying attention to what’s going on. The more I do that, the more I realize, “Hey, most of this stuff does not demand a reaction.” It’s just the news of the day.

Some would say, “Brown’s a pundit himself—of course he sees value in what he does.”
Most of what I’m doing on my ­website is not saying, “Here’s why I know everything about this topic.” I’m linking to other sources of opinion or information I think are valuable.

What about when you appear on a CNBC panel? It’s a noisier medium.
I’m on a specific show [Halftime Report], and I’m biased, but I think it’s the best show on the network. And the reason why is the guests—people I respect, whose stuff I read—not necessarily because of us on the panel. We try to have a fast-paced, exciting discussion around the food for thought those guests feed us.

Do the media create bubbles?
The media are the delivery mechanism of the excitement that draws people in. In my book I talk about how the media were used to blow up the South Sea bubble in the 1700s. Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift, famous writers, were writing in newspapers, the Internet or CNBC of their day, bringing in people who had never heard of a stock before in their life.

Are the media doing any bubble-blowing now?
I actually think the media are working too hard at skepticism now. They’re playing catch-up because they were blamed for missing the crisis.

It’s not abnormal for the stock market to be going up. It’s normal. Here’s a fun fact. Fifty years of history, pick any day of any month of any year going back, and it turns out you have a 75% chance of the market being higher one year later.

Some investors worry about stocks’ high price/earnings ratios.
It’s good to be aware of valuations. But no one has been successful trying to time the market based on the P/E ratio. It’s not like physics, where if you run the same experiment in a lab, every time you’ll get the same result.

That said, I don’t get the sense from reading your blog that you are a pure buy-and-hold investor.
We don’t look at ourselves as market timers. But if we see something and we know it’s stupid, we’re just not going to do it.

We don’t think that U.S. Trea­suries are a great buy. [Ten-year securities are yielding only 2.2%.] We recognize the value of Treasuries to a portfolio in terms of stabilizing it. But we think we can do that better with other kinds of fixed-income investments, even including money-market funds—or anything outside of just saying, “The model says hold long-term Treasuries, so we have to buy them.”

You write about how financial pundits tend to fall back on simplistic rules of thumb.
In real life, rules of thumb are helpful. They’re a shortcut way to impart a bit of wisdom or to remind someone of something that he already knows. But in investing, rules of thumb tend to contradict each other. So you get “Let your winners run,” but also “Pigs get slaughtered.” Those kinds of aphorisms are cool. They’re like nursery rhymes. But they’re not particularly helpful.

Your blog is called the Reformed Broker. Why “reformed”?
I began my career as a retail broker [selling investments for commission]. I thought I was helping people, and the markets were going up, so I guess I was. Then when the markets started not to go up, the conflicts that had been masked became apparent to me. When you sell financial products and get paid on a trans­actional basis, your bias is toward selling the products that pay the most and pushing more transactions.

The name was tongue-in-cheek, but within two years of starting the blog, I quit being a broker.

What should consumers know about the conflicts of people they read and see in the financial media?
Assume everyone has a bias. That bias may be driven by their politics or the way they get paid or the firm they work for. It’s that simple. People probably believe what they are saying most of the time. But why do they believe it?

MONEY Markets

Warren Buffett Tells You How to Handle a Market Crash

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett
What would Buffett do? Nati Harnik—AP

Are you starting to panic? Heed the advice of the Oracle of Omaha.

Warren Buffett has never been shy about packing lessons for successful investing into his annual letter to shareholders. That letter is a treasure-trove of insight, presented in a folksy manner that is not only easy to read but incredibly entertaining.

With the market tumbling we’re all likely in need of a few doses of Warren’s unpretentious advice, so I dug through his past shareholder letters to find some gems that may help us navigate the current market drop and build a bigger nest egg for retirement.

1. “It’s better to have a partial interest in the Hope diamond than to own all of a rhinestone,” wrote Buffett in 2013.

Buffett is always hunting for great companies that he can buy for Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, but if he can’t buy the whole company, he’s OK with owning a smaller piece of it instead. Applying this advice to our own investments means spending less time considering how many shares of a company we can buy and more time figuring out where we believe the company will be in ten years. Doing that will help us avoid the pitfall of foregoing investments in great companies like Amazon AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -8.3403% ) or Priceline THE PRICELINE GROUP INC. PCLN 0.6587% when they’re on sale to buy lower quality companies with smaller share prices.

2. “A ‘normal year,’ of course, is not something that either Charlie Munger, Vice Chairman of Berkshire and my partner, or I can define with anything like precision,” wrote Buffet in 2010.

Sure, the average annual return for the S&P 500 has been 8.14% over the past decade, but assuming that will be our return this year, next year, or any year is folly. Returns are volatile and will continue to be volatile, so we should focus less on the returns for any one period of time and instead focus on buying great companies and socking them away. Consider this point: While the S&P 500 has experienced plenty of fits-and-starts over the past 10 years, those who have owned it all along are up 103%.

3. “Long ago, Charlie laid out his strongest ambition: ‘All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there,'” wrote Buffett in 2009.

Buffett avoids businesses whose future he can’t evaluate. Instead, he focuses on finding businesses that offer a predictable profit for decades to come. Taking the long-haul approach to finding great companies goes far beyond identifying the next big thing — after all, during the Internet boom there were plenty of Internet companies that soared on expectations rather than profit, and many of those companies have since gone bankrupt. Instead, we should be investing in companies we can understand that are likely to remain winners.

4. “We will never become dependent on the kindness of strangers. Too-big-to-fail is not a fallback,” wrote Buffett in 2009.

Warren’s cash stockpile is a thing of legend, and while that cash hoard holds back his returns in periods of growth, it also protects him when markets turn sour. Importantly, it also gives him the financial flexibility to take action and buy when prices are right. That plan-ahead mentality is something every investor can embrace by making sure there’s always some dry-powder around to deploy during the market’s inevitable declines.

5. “We would rather suffer the visible costs of a few bad decisions than incur the many invisible costs that come from decisions made too slowly — or not at all — because of a stifling bureaucracy,” wrote Buffett in 2009.

Buffett doesn’t hesitant when he’s presented with an idea that hits the mark. He recognizes that he won’t be right every time, but he also believes that taking action is critical to realizing the potential of an opportunity. As investors, we can emulate Buffett’s approach by making sure that once we’ve done our due diligence and picked our favorite investments we take action and buy, regardless of the market’s short-term machinations.

6. “Unlike many business buyers, Berkshire has no ‘exit strategy.’ We buy to keep. We do, though, have an entrance strategy, looking for businesses in this country or abroad…available at a price that will produce a reasonable return. If you have a business that fits, give me a call. Like a hopeful teenage girl, I’ll be waiting by the phone,” wrote Buffett in 2005.

Buffett keeps strictly to his investment discipline, but he also keeps an open mind to great ideas that fit into his strategy. Those ideas can come from various places. His acquisition of Clayton Homes, for example, was sparked by an autobiography of Clayton’s founder Jim Clayton which had been given to him as a gift by some University of Tennessee students. Keeping open to opportunities, regardless of their origin, may help us find worthwhile investments for the long term, too.

7. “Investors should remember that excitement and expenses are their enemies. And if they insist on trying to time their participation in equities, they should try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful,” wrote Buffett in 2004.

Buffett knows that emotion is a dangerous weapon that, if used incorrectly, can result in significant loss — and, if used correctly, can result in significant gain. Emotional reactions to surging or descending markets can make people buy when they should sell and sell when they should buy. Buffett often compares taking advantage of market slides to shopping for groceries. Last week on CNBC he summed it up by saying, “If you’re buying groceries, you like it when prices go down next week. And you like it if they go down further the next week.” Just as we like getting a good deal on the items at the grocery store we would be buying anyway, we should also be fans of getting a good deal on our favorite companies.

Following in Buffett’s footsteps

Buffett has no idea whether he’ll outperform the S&P 500 over the next year, but he does know that Berkshire Hathaway’s book value has grown a compounded annual 19.7% over the past 49 years. Similarly, we don’t know if our investments will outperform the market daily, weekly, or yearly, either. What we can feel pretty good about is the knowledge that investing in great companies like Coca Cola THE COCA COLA CO. KO 0.4161% and Wells Fargo WELLS FARGO & CO. WFC 1.1858% — two companies that are long-standing Buffett holdings — may help put us on a path to a less-worrisome retirement.

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