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Oil catches a huge bid, stocks march in lock-step

Written By | Feb 22, 2016

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2016 – Brief column today, as we have much to do away from our computer screen. That said, however, Wall Street is enjoying another strong relief rally today with all major averages up well over 1 percent in fairly active, bullish trading.

What’s making a difference this Monday? Simple: The linkage of oil prices to stocks seems to have returned, at least for a day. West Texas Intermediate is up over 6 percent as of 3 p.m. EST, perched at an encouraging $31.43 bbl. after topping the $32 mark earlier, sending stocks off to the races at Monday morning’s opening bell.

The usual news has been sloshing around in background, including the ongoing back-and-forth between Apple (symbol: AAPL), the FBI (symbol: FBI) and the courts; China’s monetary and interest rate dilemma; immigration, illegal or otherwise; the Middle East; and any other really depressing thing you can think of.

It’s too early to say that today’s action, coupled with last week’s relatively bullish mood, has halted the market’s slide into bear market paradise. But it does feel kind of good to harried traders who made zero or less in 2015 only to get slaughtered right out the opening gate of 2016.

With the Dow up well over 200 points right now, we’re feeling a little bad that our portfolio is right at the flatline. But that’s because we’ve loaded it with a large cash position plus decently conservative, mostly dividend-paying companies that seem relatively safe in a storm.

In truth, pretty much the entire universe of stocks, including those dividend-payers, will dive for the bottom in a bearish market environment. It’s just that those paying a decent dividend will tend to go down slower and go down less. And again, remember, the game in a bear market for a conservative investor is to still extract some income while losing as little as possible.

Traders can make hay with short sales, of course. But if you don’t have the time or the ability to sit in front of your computer all day, conservative and boring is the way to go.

Even so, that means that on an irrationally exuberant day like today, you get to sit there and watch all the kamikaze traders make big money. It’s frustrating. But as Aesop once told us, “Slow and steady wins the race.” We agree, although we’d add “usually” to the end of this moral.

We’ve bought a few small international ETFs at the suggestion of one of our investment services. But aside from that, we’re in and out running neglected errands today. It’s too early to get excited yet, so let’s just see if today’s bullish action has any legs at all. Call it “watchful waiting” if you wish. No point in chasing hot stocks when they’re rallying.

Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17