How to Love a Falling Stock Market and Stop Worrying

“When the stock market falls as far and as fast as it has in the last three weeks, it is perfectly natural to be terrified.” This according to a recent article in The New York Times that explains, however, that when people tend to avoid stock market investing due to this fear, they also often “fail to jump back in quickly enough when the market finally bottoms out.”

The article  suggests a way to think about share purchases that might calm these fears: When you buy a share of stock, it explains, you are buying a “claim on an infinitesimal portion of the profits of that company for the rest of time.” History shows that earnings tend to rise over time—although the price that investors have to pay for a share of those earnings can fluctuate wildly (as we’ve seen in the last several weeks).

“The moments when sentiment shifts from optimism to fear, like the last few weeks, are scary when you have an accumulated pile of savings declining in value,” the article notes, “but it also means that the value you’re getting on any future earnings has increased.” To illustrate, the article notes that the ratio of earnings to share price for the S&P 500 when the market reached a high on February 19 was 3.1 percent. As of the sell-off on March 12, that number rose to 4.2 percent—meaning it was a lot cheaper to buy a share of the same earnings.

The article concludes that if have you have short-term spending needs right now, that money probably shouldn’t be in stocks. However, “for retirement or other long-term savings, the sensible approach is to set an asset allocation that makes sense for your level of risk tolerance and stick to it. And think of the sell-off of the last few weeks as the kind of episode that isn’t so much something to fear, but a moment of opportunity—even if an unnerving one.”