Share Price Apocalypse Postponed. Again.

Published in Investing on 22 June 2012

Share prices are depressed, but investors shouldn't be.

Given time, even extreme peril can start to feel routine. I remember the 1980s, when the US and Soviet Union were locked into a world-threatening nuclear stand-off.

We worried about it but, mostly, we got on with our lives.

Since September 2007, the world has been on the brink of a financial apocalypse. That isn't as deadly as all-out thermonuclear war, but it isn't pleasant, either.

Soon it will be five years of waiting for somebody to press the red button marked 'financial meltdown'. And still it hasn't happened. We worry about it but, mostly, we get on with our lives.

But how are investors supposed to behave?

Living from data day

It's unsettling, waiting for the great share price apocalypse. The anticipation keeps building, until you almost feel let down when disaster is deferred once again.

Many expected the big bang to finally come on Sunday, when the Greeks went to the polls. That turned out to be yet another damp squib.

Others get edgy every time Spanish bond yields top 7%, US payroll figures disappoint, Chinese growth projections fall, German manufacturing data dips or the money supply contracts.

Plus there is always the danger that there is a black swan out there, waiting to swim into view just when we least expect it.

This edginess goes right to the top. Just a few days ago, Bank of England policymaker Robert Jenkins warned traders to brace themselves for a Lehmans re-run and devastating market seizure, due to events in Europe.

For exactly how long can you assume the crash position? Five years? 10 years?

Apocalypse deferred

After a while, people get bored. That partly explains why markets are prone to occasional bursts of optimism, rallying on the back of every half-baked EU bailout, Chinese interest rate cut or vague rumour of QE3.

They never last, of course. That's because politicians still aren't facing up to the underlying problems. The euro has failed, and should be divvied up. The banks need to come clean about their losses and consolidate. That will be ugly, of course. So we keep on kicking the apocalypse down the road.

We could have to put up with two or three years of this nonsense before the next great secular bull market finally roars in.

Weird is the new normal

Markets could melt down tomorrow. They could rebound. They could bumble along for ages. Nobody knows.

All of this uncertainty has an extreme effect on your portfolio. I hold a big stake in Aviva (LSE: AV), which is exposed to a eurozone meltdown. It rises 4% one morning, and falls 5% the next. When I log onto my online portfolio, I never know what my stakes will be worth (or my RBS (LSE: RBS) holding, for that matter).

In fact, I've stopped paying attention. What goes up one day invariably goes down the next. Lots of activity, little forward motion. It is all part of today's weird-but-somehow normal routine.

I don't really need to worry, as long as the dividends keep rolling in. At time of writing, Aviva yields 9.3%. Since I have no plans to sell, the share price doesn't rattle me.

Bargains abound

Too many false alarms can rattle your nerves. The uncertainty has driven many private investors out of the market, but not me. You would be crazy to sell at today's depressed valuations.

With so many cheap stocks out there, I reckon it makes more sense to buy, and I'm not the only one. Tony Luckett is going bargain hunting for FTSE 100 (UKX) stocks such as Reed Elsevier (LSE: REL), Royal Dutch Shell (LSE: RDSB), Unilever (LSE: ULVR) and Reckitt Benckiser (LSE: RB).

David O'Hara has spotted plenty of shares trading at near 52-week lows, including Tesco (LSE: TSCO), Glencore International (LSE: GLEN), Resolution (LSE: RSL), Man Group (LSE: MAN) and Halfords (LSE: HFD).

Their share prices are depressed, but investors shouldn't be.

You can't wait for the apocalypse forever, you could be sitting there a long time. And with some great companies trading at low valuations, why would you want to?

Investing is by no means easy in today's uncertain economy. That's why we've published "Top Sectors Of 2012" -- our guide to three favourable industries. This free report will be dispatched immediately to your inbox.

Further investment opportunities:

> Harvey owns Aviva, RBS and Royal Dutch Shell. He does not own shares in any of the other companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares in Halfords and Tesco.

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goodlifer 22 Jun 2012 , 4:58pm

What I find so depressing is that all the experts keep telling us how Footsie's about to collapse but it never seems to happen.

Reminds you of the weather.
Keep forecasting fog every day and sooner or later you can claim you were right.

mzappa70 22 Jun 2012 , 7:29pm

if the euro is to collapse why it is at 1.25 USD? it should be around 0.85 like when it was born....or even less

after 2 years of kicking the can down the road.....maybe the euro project is not so dead?

who wants to leave the eurozone? Greece? Portugal?
Germany? answer: nobody not even greece....

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