Separating Fact from Opinion

Is the price of oil headed to a negative $100 a barrel? Are stocks going to hit new highs early next year?

These are headlines that have recently appeared. What they have in common is that both are opinions, not facts, about where the specific author believes the future price of oil and the future price of stocks will be. Yet, when reading quickly (as many of us do), they both appear to be factual. The truth is, we cannot know with certainty what the answers are. Nor can anyone else. But given the amount of uncertainty we are dealing with, we tend to want to accept opinions as facts.

Headline writers know that tapping into people’s emotions grabs attention. Given the amount of information available, we tend to gravitate toward headlines that match the sentiment we are hoping to hear. Negative headlines prey on our fears. Positive headlines help bolster our belief that better days are coming. Believing there is a light at the end of the tunnel helps each of us cope and hopefully come to grips with what we are experiencing, which can be therapeutic. In many ways we all share the same feelings of uncertainty and fear. We sift through news reports trying to identify the items that align with what we wish for. And when we find them, we get a sense of relief, even if only temporary.

But there is a difference between someone’s opinion and proven facts, and understanding that difference is important, especially during these tough times. Making emotionally charged decisions based on someone’s opinion inevitably leads to short-term relief, if any at all. When it comes to long-term planning and investment strategies, it is critical that decisions be based on facts and research.

The facts may not be as attractive as opinions right now, but they are a more reliable way of achieving long-term success.

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