The Greek Vote and What It Means for Investors

Greece returned to the polls today, and the country's interior ministry has announced official projection figures. According to The Guardian and as of about 7:30 p.m. Athens time, New Democracy came in first and will receive 29.53% of the vote, which is the equivalent of 128 seats. The left-wing party Syriza will receive 27.12% of the vote, which would result in 72 seats.

New Democracy, which is led by Antonis Samaras, was the party that mostly accepted the eurozone-IMF terms, while Syriza campaigned, according to the Financial Times, to replace those measures with new terms.

While some thought today's election might lead to a dramatic breakthrough, the reality is that there will now be negotiations among Greek parties to form a governing coalition. And that will be followed by weeks of negotiations between Greece and its creditors. Today was an important day for Greece, but the election results reveal an extremely divided electorate. Whether an effective governing coalition will emerge is a huge unknown right now.


What does this mean for stocks?
For U.S. investors, this will probably mean increasing volatility for both the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) and the S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC) . The Dow surprisingly delivered a 1.7% gain last week, but it's not clear how it will respond to the very close result in Greece.

The larger eurozone crisis seems to be worsening by the day. At the moment, it's hard to see a positive outcome to the troubles facing Europe, and that will continue to act as a brake on global economic growth. Equity markets in the United States and abroad will ultimately reflect that pessimism over the next several months at least.

Now what
Earlier in my career, I pursued a Ph.D. in European history, and I previously worked as a researcher on European fund management issues. I'm also an Irish citizen who lived in London for six years. Despite my background, I have absolutely no idea how this crisis will play out in the end. Martin Wolf of the Financial Times -- who is one of the finest commentators on European economic affairs -- feels equally uncertain about what will happen next. He wrote recently:

How much pain can the countries under stress endure? Nobody knows. What would happen if a country left the eurozone? Nobody knows. Might even Germany consider exit? Nobody knows. What is the long-run strategy for exit from the crises? Nobody knows. Given such uncertainty, panic is, alas, rational. A fiat currency backed by heterogeneous sovereigns is irremediably fragile.

With all of this uncertainty around a crisis that could eventually lead to a depression in Europe and another severe recession around the globe, here are three possible ways investors might protect themselves from the worst-case scenario in Europe:

  1. Have a long-term time horizon: Fool co-founder Tom Gardner made the point recently that "long-term thinking is our greatest competitive advantage." And he's been telling investors to hold stocks for at least five years and beyond. In my opinion, markets are likely to be extremely volatile in the coming months, so having a long-term strategy will be critical to riding out a near-term market downturn. Now more than ever, investors should commit to a long-term holding period.
  2. Look for dividends: 10-Year U.S. Treasuries are paying yields of 1.75% at the moment, while the average yield for the stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average is more than 2.5%. This presents great opportunities for investors looking for stable American businesses that deliver large yields. That's why my colleague Dave Meier and I recently bought shares of Intel (NAS: INTC) for our real-money portfolio. We saw Intel as an extremely well-managed business that was also providing us with a yield of 3.1%.

    Energy stocks ExxonMobil (NYS: XOM) and Chevron (NYS: CVX) are two other Dow stocks that will provide you with both solidity and high yields. ExxonMobil promises a growing dividend, while also possessing a rock-solid balance sheet. Chevron has a large and growing dividend and has been extremely shareholder-friendly to investors in recent years. All three of these stocks are good possibilities for an uncertain and volatile market environment.
  3. Don't panic. Despite Martin Wolf's opinion that panic might be quite rational right now, investors mustn't go down that path. Selling at the bottom of the market is the one thing you should never do. There may be a few days in the coming months when it feels like the global economy is spiraling out of control. That would be precisely the time to stand firm. I can remember never feeling as gloomy as I did during the first week of March in 2009. And that was exactly when the market began its very steep rise upward again.

So, what's next?
I think most of us would agree that things look pretty grim at the moment. The eurozone is on the verge of collapse, and China appears to be slowing down. America's political and economic problems are extremely serious, too.

That's why I'm pessimistic in the short term. In the long run, though, I remain an optimist -- which is why I'm continuing to invest, even though it looks scary out there. If you'd like to learn more about some promising, high-yielding companies that are perfectly suited to the current environment, have a look at our brand-new special report, "The 3 Dow Stocks Dividend Investors Need." Accept this invitation to get your copy right now.

At the time this article was published John Reeves owns no shares in any of the companies mentioned in the article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Chevron and Intel. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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