9 strategies if the worst-case scenarios come true

MIAMI, Fla. (MarketWatch) — I have two friends, one a doctor and the other ex-military, who believe that the U.S. stock market is going to crash. People will riot in the streets, we’ll run out of food and crime will spiral out of control.

Ironically, everything they fear did happen this year in some form — just in other countries.

Although I don’t agree with most of my friends’ predictions, it makes sense to be prepared in case they are right. After all, 2012 could be a rough year, what with a no-holds-barred U.S. presidential election and the Mayan calendar’s December 21 end date.

Like all prophecies, these latest ones and others will play havoc with people’s emotions and portfolios. Even if the predictions are wrong, your finances could still be at risk.

To help you prepare for worst-case scenarios, here are nine steps to consider:

Basic strategies

1. Get ready mentally and physically for a dangerous year

Don’t lose your head when others are losing theirs. Read books such as “The SAS Survival Manual” by John Wiseman. In 2012, get in physical shape and focus on helping family and friends. Do not panic or become too emotional. Listen to advice, but do your own research before following anyone. Also, be flexible in case events unfold differently than you think.

2.Stock up on canned goods, water, batteries, and a backup generator

Even if dire predictions don’t come true, many people think they will. This could create a run on essential items, similar to what happens before a hurricane.

3. Prepare for a stock market crash

If too many investors believe the market will crash, it could. Use put options to protect major stock positions, and have cash on hand to re-enter the market after the crowd sells in a panic. If the market crashes based on emotion, not fundamentals, it could be a fantastic buying opportunity, but the timing won’t be easy. It’s never easy to buy when everyone else is selling.

4. Buy gold and silver

If people get nervous about the U.S. dollar and the economy, especially if the U.S. election is tight, they’ll buy gold and silver. Just be careful. It’s possible that gold could end its 11-year bull market with a sudden spurt of irrational exuberance. If gold soars too high and too fast, prepare to sell.

5. Keep money outside of the U.S.

Consider opening a second bank account in a stable country such as

Canada. You never know when you might need to transfer cash assets to a foreign bank. Anything less than $10,000 can be done with ease, although you have to open the account in person.

6. Stash cash

Always have spare cash available if the ATMs stop working. If you’re really expecting the worst, you can purchase gold coins.

If It really gets crazy

If you truly believe that 2012 will be a catastrophe, consider these steps:

7. Own a ‘safe house’

If you have the money, you could build a “safe house” in the U.S. or in another country that will be stocked with all the essentials. Also consider a farm stocked with seeds, fertilizer, canned food, medicine, and clothes.

8. Wilderness survival

If you can’t afford a farm or safe house, prepare to go camping: stockpile freeze-dried food, a portable stove, tents, a hand-crank radio, and rechargeable batteries, to name a few items you’ll need. My ex-military friend suggests that people buy, and learn how to use, a firearm.

9. Leave the country

If the most extreme doom and gloom predictions come true (which seems unlikely), there could be an economic depression or even a breakdown of civilization, including a collapse of the U.S. banking system and perhaps a dollar meltdown. In that case, gold would soar and we’d probably revert to a barter system. You then might want to move to neutral countries such as the Dominican Republic, Brazil or Costa Rica until world order is restored.

By the way, have a happy new year!

Michael Sincere is the author of Start Day Trading Now (Adams Media, 2011), All About Market Indicators (McGraw-Hill, 2010), and Understanding Stocks (McGraw-Hill, 2003).

College Student Beats the Market With Options

Every week, I receive a lot of letters from readers about my books and articles. I answer all the letters, and usually don’t post them. However, in my latest article for Marketwatch, “5 Trading Strategies If You Have Less Than $3,000,” (http://bit.ly/tzoP3J) people left over 150 comments. Many wrote that college students had no business learning about the stock or options market.

Then I received a letter from Daniel Dombroski from the University of Connecticut. As you’ll see below, Daniel has been successfully trading options while going to school. Although it’s not easy, it is possible to make money with a little money. I’m sure that more than a few financial firms will be interested in speaking with him about a job or internship.

Here’s his complete letter to me:

My name is Daniel Dombroski, an undergraduate student at the University of Connecticut. I read your article, “5 trading strategies if you have less than $3,000”, and laughed a little when I read your suggestion on implementing option strategies. I started trading options about three years ago, right out of high school. The markets have been less than friendly over the past few years to many investors and traders but this increased volatility has provided many profitable strategies utilizing options.

My experiences over the past few years have provided me with many unique opportunities, the most important of which is my understanding of the markets. Comprehending and capitalizing on movements has differentiated me from other students who are simply being lectured in the class room. This is a huge competitive edge in the minds of other traders and potential employers. I have also been given the opportunity to educate other students about options trading and how creating a well planned strategy can protect investments in ways simply buying and selling equities cannot accomplish.

I fully support students learning about options and how they can protect and leverage themselves when using a well thought out, discipline trading strategy.  What is important to point out is that results will reflect how the trader views options . If you treat this vehicle like gambling then your account will reproduce similar results. You may win in the short run but the house always gets its money.

As a disclaimer, my primary trades are credit and debit spreads to generate steady income. Correct sizing allows me to adjust my positions accordingly. I plan on continuing to grow and adapt my strategy and rules over time to reproduce results I am comfortable with.

In short, thank you for recognizing this investment vehicle for people with small accounts (particularly college students.) I look forward to reading more articles that encourages eager young prospective traders my age to take active steps in creating their own financial independence and securing a profitable future.

Warm Regards,

Daniel Dombroski

5 trading strategies if you have less than $3,000

MIAMI (MarketWatch) — Recently I gave a talk at Colgate University, a liberal arts college in Hamilton, N.Y., about understanding stocks and studying the market.

It was homecoming weekend, and I was amazed that so many people attended the seminar. By the way, Colgate beat Cornell in overtime.

But in learning to be a successful investor, even a little bit of money can go a long way.

If you have less than $3,000 to invest or trade, it’s possible to participate in the financial markets. Learning about the market is a lifelong pursuit, so this initial investment is your “tuition.” Here are five strategies, ranked by risk level, to consider:

1. Think, plan, and study

What is the secret to the stock market? Above all, believe in yourself and what you can achieve.

Next, study the financial markets and talk to people to obtain investment ideas. Read up on the risks and rewards of stocks, bonds, and options. Join an investment club at your school or in your community to discuss ways to increase income. Finally, trade and invest online in practice trading accounts. Your goal is to not to just make money, but to find ways to make money work for you.

Risk: None.

2. Buy mutual funds

Buying and selling mutual funds is the easiest way to invest without a lot of money. Mutual funds are diversified, relatively inexpensive, and make sense for long-term investors.

Buying mutual funds can help you learn about stock sectors, indexes, diversification, and dividends. If you do invest in mutual funds, choose no-load funds, which are less costly than load funds. Although many mutual funds are professionally managed, you can still lose money if the stocks in the fund do poorly.

Risk: Medium. If you’re a novice, learn stock market basics with mutual funds.

3. Buy exchange traded funds

Many people prefer exchange-traded funds, which are similar to mutual funds but trade like stocks.

Stick to non-leveraged ETFs. The most popular ETFs are index funds such as the stocks that make up the Nasdaq 100, the S&P 500, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average. As with stocks, prices of ETFs change continuously during the day. The advantage of ETFs is they are relatively inexpensive, liquid, and provide instant diversification.

Risk: Medium to high. Like stocks, trading ETFs can lead to sudden and dramatic losses.

Trade or invest in one stock

For $1,000, you can open up a live trading account at a brokerage firm. When you use your own money, you experience the pain and joy (and greed and fear) of trading.

One strategy is to invest or trade in the stock of one company that you know. Learn all the nuances of the market through this one stock. If trading, learn when to enter, exit, and escape stock positions using support and resistance. If investing, study a company’s fundamentals such as earnings.

Although it’s tempting to buy penny stocks (stocks under $3), it’s also easy to lose all your money on that trade.

A sophisticated strategy is to sell short (you profit when the stock goes down) vulnerable stocks that rise on momentum, not fundamentals. This strategy is not recommended for beginners because you must use margin (i.e. borrow money from the brokerage) to finance your trades. You can also lose more money than you started with. Nevertheless, it’s important to know that you can profit when a stock goes down in price.

Risk: High. Owning one stock is risky because you are not diversified. Therefore, you’ll need to initiate a stop limit order to avoid major losses. Trading penny stocks and selling short are not recommended for novices.

5. Consider options

Once you’re knowledgeable about the stock market, consider investing in options. Although some people believe that options are too risky, many option strategies are less risky than buying or selling stocks. With options, you often know exactly how much you can make, or lose, before you make the trade.

One of the most understandable option strategies is to sell “covered calls” on a stock you own, and receive consistent income. You can also speculate by buying calls or puts, although most speculators lose money.

As you gain experience and knowledge, you can use option strategies to protect stock positions, or buy option spreads. Before trading options, it’s essential you learn about all the potential risks, especially if you are using more sophisticated strategies.

Risk: High. It’s possible to lose all of the money you initially invested when trading options. When buying options, you have to be right about the timing and direction of the underlying stock, and that’s difficult to achieve.

Michael Sincere is the author of Start Day Trading Now (Adams Media, 2011), All About Market Indicators (McGraw-Hill, 2010), and Understanding Stocks (McGraw-Hill, 2003).