It never fails to happen. Whenever events such as the current US government shutdown or the impending debt ceiling deadline arise, the media declare these crises and speculate regarding their impact on our lives.

Reporters often solicit advisor opinion at times like these regarding the advice we would give an individual investor. My replies to these requests are typically a variant of the one below, from an actual exchange I had recently with such a reporter.

Prudent advice to “hold the course” does not sell a lot of ads. I therefore doubt this reporter will use my input in her piece. I believe this is unfortunate and one of the reasons why it is so hard for individual investors to overcome the fear and emotion that lead to bad investment decisions.

I offer the following as my attempt to add a small voice of reason to the echo chamber. I hope it helps you tune out the pundits and stick to your strategy if you have one or seek out the help of a good advisor if you don’t.

Reporter Question:

“Right now I’m working on a follow up piece about the Doomsday Portfolio.

I know advisers tend to tell clients to stay the course – but wondering if you have any thoughts on what should someone do if they really think the sky is falling and the U.S. will default on its debt??? Gold, silver, short the market?

World War Z, I realize, but an interesting question to ponder.”

My Reply:

I hate to sound like a broken record but the reason individual investors underperform the market is that they allow emotion and media noise to dictate their actions. I am sure you have seen the annual Dalbar studies demonstrating that the typical investor would have done better by staying consistently invested rather than by timing buy and sell decisions based on their perception of where the market was heading next.

There is a market premium for a reason. Being invested at times like these is, in a sense, the cost for reaping greater returns over the long run. You cannot enjoy the return without “paying” for it by enduring the risk.

A key to success is modulating the level of investment risk such that it is easier to ride out the inevitable rough patches. Making sure one has sufficient liquidity to avoid having to sell depressed assets to meet current expenses is also critical.

The alternative strategies you mention are all different forms of speculation, not investing. Engaging in this kind of speculative behavior is akin to gambling and is a recipe for failure.

Staying the course is not easy and requires a lot of fortitude and perspective. This is where a good advisor can add great value.

The above is definitely not sexy or what a lot of folks want to hear but IMHO is the kind of advice called for in times like these.