When Investing, Look Past 'Outlook' For 2007

FINANCIAL FOCUS

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It's time for all the financial experts to make their predictions for 2007. Some will say the stock market will keep rising over the next year, while others will claim the market will fall.

But what about interest rates, inflation, oil prices and any number of other factors? You can find conflicting opinions on all these subjects. How can you base your investment strategies on such an uncertain forecast?

You can't. And you shouldn't.

In fact, you'll be better off if you stop asking questions that have no answers. No one can really tell you where the Dow Jones Industrial Average will be in 12 months, nor the price of a barrel of oil, nor the interest rate on a 10-year Treasury note.

Even more importantly, the specifics of the financial markets over the next year are just about meaningless to you if you will be investing for another two or three decades.

Consequently, instead of pondering what lies ahead for the financial markets, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my asset allocation suitable for my risk tolerance? You'll need to periodically review your portfolio to make sure your investment mix is still appropriate for your individual needs. You don't want to take on too much risk, but, at the same time, you don't want to invest so conservatively that you can't attain the growth you need. And, over time, some of your goals may change along with your family situation, so you'll want to make sure your investments reflect your new circumstances.
  • Do I need to upgrade the quality of my investments? Year in and year out, through market volatility and political turmoil, quality investments never go out of style. Take a close look at your holdings. Do you own stocks of companies with strong management teams and competitive products?

Have your bonds received high "grades" from the independent rating agencies? In any given time period, the highest-rated investments may not offer the best returns, but, over the long haul, they are likely to provide you with the greatest potential for rewards.

• Can I reduce my investment expenses and taxes? Most people don't realize just how much expenses and taxes can eat into investment returns.

By buying quality investments and holding them for the long term, you can help reduce transaction costs. And you can gain greater control of your tax situation by focusing on tax-advantaged vehicles, such as your 401(k). Roth or traditional IRA, fixed annuities and some types of municipal bonds.

  • Do I own investments that can offer the potential for reliable and rising income during retirement? This question is especially applicable if you are nearing retirement. To supplement your Social Security and the distributions from your 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan, you will need to count on income from your investment portfolio.

To maintain a steady source of income that can also keep you ahead of inflation, you may want to explore a mixture of fixed-income vehicles and dividend-paying stocks. Keep in mind, though, that dividends can be increased, decreased or totally eliminated at any point without notice.

You can't predict shifting political winds, geopolitical unrest, new tax legislation and the fortunes of specific industries. But by following the steps outlined above, you can quit looking for a crystal ball -- because you won't need it.

-- Ross Hage is a licensed investment representative with the firm of Edward Jones. For more information, call (928) 468-2281.

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