Buying Stocks at the End of the World
Well, they don’t make it easy for you.
Yesterday, the Dow rose 225 points. Enough to keep people guessing. Enough to keep people in the market. Enough to give the ‘recovery’ spotters something to look at and investors something to hope for.
Is the market really headed down…or not?
Most likely, yes…it’s a real bear market. And it will probably continue for years.
And even if it isn’t, it’s probably best to think it is.
Because most stocks have still not hit their ultimate lows. If you can’t see the bear market’s final lows in your rear view mirror, they must be ahead of you. Remember, the broad pattern of the stock market is from an epic high to an epic low…with years of up and down movement in between.
When you buy stocks in the middle of the market’s pattern…when they’re not cheap…you’re completely at the market’s mercy. If it goes up, you do all right. If it goes down, you lose money.
Since we don’t know what direction the market is going, we’ll just wait until stocks are cheap. Then, we won’t have to worry about which direction the market takes.
Besides, if we don’t know which direction the market is going, we have to assume that there are even odds it will go down or up. Even odds aren’t good enough for us. We don’t want a level playing field. We want a playing field tipped in our direction. We don’t want an honest card game; we want a deck we stacked ourselves.
Which would you prefer, dear reader: to make a dollar…or not lose one? If the odds are even, it assumes one is as a good as the other. But they’re not. If you hold onto a dollar, you keep 100% of it. If you make a dollar, on the other hand, you pay taxes on it. After tax, it could end up being worth only 50 cents. That means you’d have to believe a bull market was twice as likely as a bear market before you should invest.
Do you think that? We don’t. We think this market is more likely to go down than up. By our reckoning, the bear market began in January 2000. The feds fought it with every weapon in their arsenal. Monetary policy. Fiscal policy. Booby traps. Propaganda. Scorched earth. Everything. And the market responded…for a while. Greenspan’s ‘emergency’ low interest rates caused a huge bubble. Stocks rebounded.
And then the bubble blew up.
The Dow fell below 7,000 in March 2009. This time, the feds brought out another, even more powerful weapon. They blasted away with “quantitative easing” – adding $1.2 trillion directly to the Fed’s reserves. And once again, the market bounced…until about a year later, when the quantitative easing program came to an end.
You can fight a downturn. You can hold off a bear market – for a while. You can distort a correction – making it much more twisted and nasty. But you can’t stop it. One way or another, mistakes will have to be reckoned with. Markets will eventually discover what things are really worth. And in a real downturn, they’ll always discover that they are worth less than people thought.
History shows that after a peak is reached, stock prices will keep falling until they become bargains again. So, if you knew that a stock would eventually sell for less, why buy now? Why not wait? What’s the hurry?
The reason given for yesterday’s big bounce was a pleasant report from the housing market. More houses are being sold, said the news.
Does that get you excited, dear reader? It doesn’t do anything for us.
Another report tells us that inventories of unsold houses are still building up.
Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that there is a crisis brewing in student loans. We didn’t have to read the article. Students get out of school. They can’t find a job. How do you expect them to pay back their loans?
A report in the local paper tells us that more students than ever are enrolling in community college.
Overall, the economic reports are broadly encouraging…but still consistent with our Great Correction hypothesis. This is NOT a normal recovery. Nor is it the end of the world.
Our strategy is to wait ’til the end of the world comes; then, we’ll buy stocks.