Short attention span no help in investing

Your Money

August 05, 2007|By Andrew Leckey | Andrew Leckey,Tribune Media Services

Our modern world suffers from short attention spans when money is involved.

People wait in line for hours and hours to buy Apple's iPhone or the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Hype and anticipation are overwhelming and contagious - for a short period.

Once that purchase is consummated, whether the result is a hit or a miss, it is on to the next big thing. Their minds cleared of one nagging consideration, people feel the urge to fixate on something new and exciting.

Remember the Segway, which after much fanfare was unveiled as a battery-powered two-wheeled scooter that wouldn't tip over? You do see some around, but they became forgotten news in a nanosecond.

Our investment attention span is also short. The stock market booms to record highs, so it is generally considered to be a good market. Then the market takes one of its worst hits in years and stocks become darkly suspect.

Adding complexity, China is increasingly calling the shots.

For example, it whacked all the world financial markets in late February when its stocks had a vast sell-off. China, an upstart in the world investment community, became a serious problem.

More recently, as most other world markets tumbled, Chinese stocks have continued their ascent that began after that February stumble. China is considered good again because even its higher interest rates aren't deterring intense growth. Other economies don't measure up.

The robust Brazilian Bovespa, Indian Sensex and Mexican Bolsa indexes also have eclipsed the performance of stock markets in the United States, France, Britain and Japan.

The only sane way to view domestic and world markets is to accept continued volatility based on nervousness about anything you can name. Attempts to view a day, a week or a month as a true indicator will be foolhardy.

The fact that this uncertainty had been predicted makes it no easier to swallow. Investors generally prefer even flat markets to any heart-stopping up-and-down movement. No one likes recalculating the value of his individual retirement account holdings or junior's college fund.

As coming days lurch between hype and doom-saying, keep long-term results in mind. An investor with a short investment memory is asking for trouble.

yourmoney@tribune.com

Andrew Leckey writes for Tribune Media Services.

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