So there I was, standing at the bottom of a broken escalator on Scotts Road. If you know the Orchard area, you will probably know the one that I am referring to.
That particular set of moving-steps seems to break down quite regularly, for some inexplicable reason. I sometimes wonder if it has ever worked at all.
So as I patiently waited for the people in front of me to slowly ascend the sorry-looking metal steps, I watched the reaction of the other passengers.
Two people decided that stair-climbing was just too much effort. So after grumbling about the defective contraption and groaning about incompetent mechanics, they decided to take an alternative route.
But have you noticed how defective escalators can provoke a range of emotions from people? Utter despair is probably the most common response. Such, I guess, is the high expectation of excellent service that we have become accustomed to in Singapore.
So, when something such as a set of moving-steps stops moving, people get noticeably frustrated, while others are at a loss as to what they should do.
Something similar happens in the stock market.
The market is, according to some people, supposed to move higher over time. Some people even expect it to move higher every day. But when it doesn’t, people get discouraged.
Little do people appreciate that there are many non-listed companies in Singapore that go about their daily business without any guidance or interference from the market, whatsoever. These businesses generate income, they produce cash and they deliver profits to the owners of those companies.
But when a company is listed on the stock exchange, we somehow expect the market to accurately reflect the prospects of the business on a day-by-day basis, if not on a minute-by-minute or second-by-second basis.
And when it doesn’t, we get frustrated. We somehow think that the market has broken down, just like a broken escalator.
How many times, for instance, have we seen city scribblers moan about the lack of trading activity in the market? But have you ever wondered why there should even be any activity in the market at all?
Warren Buffett once said: “I never attempt to make money on the stock market. I buy on the assumption that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years.”
That should be the attitude that we adopt when we invest.
We don’t need constant confirmation from the market that our decision to buy a stock has been correct. Benjamin Graham said: “You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right.”
Price fluctuations should only have one significant meaning for investors. They merely provide us with opportunities to buy sensibly when prices fall. They might also provide opportunities to sell should prices rise significantly.
At other times, it would be much better if we forget about the stock market altogether.
Instead of fretting over volatile market movements, we should focus on the things that really matter. These could include the returns we reap in the form of dividends and the operating results of the companies that we are invested in.
That is a far better use of our time.
Markets have a terrible habit of making mountains out of molehills. Just like those who make a mountain out of broken escalators.
For me, an escalator can never be broken. It merely becomes a staircase.