What Warren Buffett can teach us about handling bear markets

Learn a lesson from the Oracle of Omaha.

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This article was originally published on Fool.com. All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

There are few, if any, people whose names are associated with success in the stock market quite like Warren Buffett, and for good reason. With a net worth of more than $100 billion, Buffett has rightfully earned his spot among investing royalty. And one of the best things about his success is that it didn't take some extravagant strategy to do it.

As we endure a bear market that has shrunk the value of many investors' portfolios, here are some gems from Buffett that can help you better handle it and, indeed, use it as an opportunity.

There's value to be found

Warren Buffett is the poster child for value investing, which is a strategy by which investors look to find stocks trading at prices lower than their intrinsic (true) value. Value investors aim to buy undervalued stocks and profit from the increase in their intrinsic value eventually. For example, if a stock is trading at $100, but an investor believes the intrinsic value is $120, they'd invest, hoping to, at minimum, profit from the 20% increase once the market realizes its true value.

During bear markets, investors can find many great companies trading at a 'discount' or whose stock price may have overcorrected. Let's take Walmart, for example. From early April to mid-June 2022, Walmart's stock price dropped by well over 20% to around $120 per share, which many investors would agree was below its intrinsic value. Investors who took advantage of that dip have made more than 25% returns since then.

Generally, when a stock's price drops significantly, you must ask yourself why it's happening. But, during a bear market, when prices are dropping across the board, many of these declines are just a byproduct of the greater economy and not an indication of something fundamentally changing with the business.

Don't follow the crowd

There are many great investing quotes credited to Buffett, but none may be as relevant to today's environment as: "Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful." Stock prices decline because investors begin selling more shares than people are buying, and demand drops. This is usually a sign that investors are fearful. Instead of following suit, it could be time to get greedy and turn it up a notch if you have the financial means.

History has shown us that bear markets are inevitable, and often necessary. The sooner you learn that the better because it helps you tune out the short-term noise and focus on the long term. It's easy to invest consistently when prices are rising, but not so much when prices are seemingly dropping before your eyes. Slowing or stopping investing can set back your financial progress.

Since going public in December 1980, Apple's stock price has increased well over 100,000% yet during that span, it's had negative returns in one-third of those years (including 2022 so far). Down years happen to even the best of companies; it's virtually inevitable. However, if you're focused on the long term, it shouldn't matter too much if your portfolio fluctuates weekly, monthly, or yearly as long as the results are there in the long run.

Utilize dollar-cost averaging

Buffett has long been a proponent of dollar-cost averaging, stating, "If you like spending six to eight hours per week working on investments, do it. If you don't, then dollar-cost average into index funds." To dollar-cost average, you pick your stocks, determine how much you can invest, and then invest on a set schedule no matter what. The frequency isn't as important as sticking to your preset schedule.

Dollar-cost averaging is good because it keeps you consistent as well as prevents you from trying to time the market -- which investors tend to do during bear markets more so than bull markets. Think about it: If prices are dropping, why buy today when you can get it cheaper later on, right? In theory, yes. But the problem is that's trying to time the market, which is essentially impossible to do consistently over the long run.

Dollar-cost averaging makes it easier to focus on the end goal without getting distracted.

This article was originally published on Fool.com. All figures quoted in US dollars unless otherwise stated.

Stefon Walters has positions in Apple. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has positions in and has recommended Apple, Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), and Walmart Inc. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. has recommended the following options: long January 2023 $200 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple, short January 2023 $200 puts on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), short January 2023 $265 calls on Berkshire Hathaway (B shares), and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool Australia has recommended Apple and Berkshire Hathaway (B shares). The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Scott Phillips.

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