Over the past two weeks, while the Greek Prime Minister tested the patience of Germany, France and other countries in the European Union, there was another drama playing out.
MF Global Holdings is described on its web site as a brokerage firm that provides ‘indispensable, well-timed insights and hedging solutions’ for its clients. They go on to say their ‘relentless pursuit of market opportunity separates us from the pack. We help clients find an edge in today’s fast-paced, ever evolving markets.’ In so many words – we don’t just sit around and watch the market, we DO something!
The company’s CEO and Chairman, Jon Corzine, was the former Chairman of Goldman Sachs, and had decades of industry experience. He also had significant hubris about his ability to invest based on his ‘well-timed insights’.
Last Friday Corzine resigned from the company after a $6.3 billion bet the company made on European debt did not go the direction his insight told him it would. Now the company has declared bankruptcy, and the FBI is investigating $593 million in client funds that remain missing.
You’re probably tired of hearing about Wall Street financial failures; but MF Global along with the Merrill Lynch, Lehman brothers, and Bear Sterns failures that came before all share a common lesson.
Even the smartest, most well connected investors in the industry are wrong about which way the markets will move, when they will move, and what you should do about it.
Sometimes our clients ask where we think the market is headed and what we should do to prepare, and they are frustrated when we tell them we refuse to offer up predictions or opinions. We don’t refuse just to be difficult; we do it because we realize the next logical step after a prediction is the temptation to do something to avoid what you think is going to happen. But for each and every economic or political issue, there are multiple known and an even greater number of unknown possible outcomes. When Greece agreed to a debt bailout deal with the EU, and the Dow responded with a whopping rally, who anticipated the Prime Minister would decide to put a referendum vote on the decision – causing another drop in the market? We realize that we cannot anticipate every outcome, and we are honest enough to admit it. It doesn’t mean you can’t be a successful investor.
Investors have been taught to look for advice on when to jump in and out of stocks, and the media has reinforced it. Over and over again we have seen people hurt by promoters who sell products that promise to out-perform the market based on an ability to out-maneuver the market. We’ve even seen people hurt by attempts to avoid losses by moving their funds into ‘safe’ investments that can’t keep up with their spending or inflation. None of these tactics are successful, long-term strategies for growing and maintaining your wealth.
Building an investment plan based on what you want to accomplish financially; using low cost investment options to implement your plan to keep more of what your investments earn; and using the jumps and drops in the market to rebalance works. You will rarely hear someone on TV or radio talking about it, because it does not provide the same excitement and drama that MF Global’s strategy did. Somehow I don’t think you would miss it.