A Turn to Dollar-Cost Averaging?

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By Tim Paradis
Associated Press
Sunday, August 5, 2007

NEW YORK -- With the stock market resembling more bronco than bull in recent weeks, some investors accustomed to a steadier ride might be tempted to step aside and wait for calm to return.

But the market's mostly smooth run in the past year was a break from more normal levels of turbulence. So if volatility begins to visit Wall Street more regularly, some investors might consider a strategy known as dollar-cost averaging. It's designed to let people wade into an investment gradually, without the risk of making one lump-sum investment only to see the market pull back the next day.

Investors planning to buy a stock, for example, would determine a schedule and then invest the same amount each time, regardless of the share price.

The fixed contributions are meant to help investors look past fluctuations in the market. And while the recent tremors likely caused a lot of angst, those who let emotions dictate their investment decisions could ultimately be left feeling the biggest regret.

"Dollar-cost averaging sort of helps work against human nature, those emotions of greed and fear. Greed and fear are your worst enemies in the market," said Timothy Krause, director of risk management at Zecco Trading, an online brokerage.

Financial advisers often counsel investors to maintain a diversified portfolio and remember that stocks generally work best as long-term investments.

Adam Bold, chief investment officer of the Mutual Fund Store, an investment management company, contends investors who sell because of a sudden market movement are often doing themselves harm.

"They say, 'When the markets look good then I'm going to put the money back in.' The problem is the markets never look good," he said, adding that Wall Street either recovers and makes it more expensive for the investor to jump back in or it moves down and makes hesitant investors miss a market bottom.

"What ends up happening is they never get reinvested. It's too subjective and too difficult," he said, referring to forecasting the market's day-to-day moves. "You're much better off to set your schedule and stick to it."

So for people who determine that they acted hastily in taking their money off the table or who are making new investments, dipping their toes in the market with incremental investments might help allay concerns about short-term movements.

"If you put a chunk in and things go up then you're happy because you got a portion of your money in, and if things go down then you have some of your powder dry for when prices go lower," said Bold.

While the merits of dollar-cost averaging can stir debate, one of its pluses is that it relies on the widely praised idea of making regular contributions.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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