Bears Hibernate During Melt-Up
Here we are 719 days from the market bottom of March 2009, and the S&P 500 has more than doubled from its index low value of 666 to 1343 today. Noticeably absent during the meteoric rise have been the hibernating bears, like economist Nouriel Roubini (aka “Dr. Doom”) or Peter Schiff (see Emperor Schiff Has No Clothes), who blanketed the airwaves in 2008-2009 when financial markets were spiraling downwards out of control. The mere fact that I am writing about this subject may be reason enough to expect a 5-10% correction, but with a +100% upward move in stock prices I am willing to put superstition aside and admire the egg on the face of the perma-bears.
Shape of Recovery
After it became clear that the world was not coming to an end, in late 2009 and throughout 2010, the discussion switched from the likelihood of a “Great Depression” to a debate over the shape of the alphabet letter economic recovery. Was the upturn going to be an L-shaped, V-shaped, square root-shaped, or what Roubini expected – a U-shaped (or bathtub-shaped) recovery? You be the judge — does six consecutive quarters of GDP expansion with unemployment declining look like a bathtub recovery to you?
This picture above looks more like a “V” to me, and the recently reported Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) manufacturing index figure of 60.8 in January (the highest reading in seven years) lends credence to a stronger resurgence in the economy. Apparently the PIMCO bear brothers, Mohamed El-Erian and Bill Gross, are upwardly adjusting their view of a “New Normal” environment as well. Just recently, the firm raised its 2011 GDP forecast by 40-50% to a growth rate of 3-3.5% in 2011.
The Bears’ Logic
Bears continually explain away the market melt-up as a phenomenon caused by excessive and artificial liquidity creation (i.e., QE2 money printing, and 0% interest rate policy) Bernanke has provided the economy. Similar logic could be used to describe the excessive and artificial debt creation generated by individuals, corporations, and governments during the 2008-2009 meltdown. Now that leveraged positions are beginning to unwind (banks recapitalizing, consumers increasing savings rate, state and government austerity and tax measures, etc.), the bears still offer little credit to these improving trends.
Are we likely to experience another +100% upward move in stock prices in the broader indexes over the next two years? Unlikely. Our structural government debt and deficits, coupled with elevated unemployment and fiercer foreign competition are all factors creating economic headwinds. Moreover, inflation is starting to heat up and a Federal Funds rate policy cannot stay at 0% forever.
The Shapes of Rebounds
To put the two-year equity market recovery in historical perspective, the Financial Times published a 75-year study which showed the current market resurgence (solid red line) only trailing the post-Great Depression rebound of 1935-1938.
Although we are absolutely not out of the economic woods and contrarian sentiment indicators (i.e., Volatility Index and Put-Call ratio) are screaming for a pullback, the foundation of a sustainable global recovery has firmed despite the persisting chaos occurring in the Middle East. Fourth quarter 2010 corporate profits (and revenues) once again exceeded expectations, valuations remain attractive, and floods of itchy retail cash still remain on the sidelines just waiting to jump in and chase the upward march in equity prices. Although the trajectory of stock prices over the next two years is unlikely to look like the last two years, there is still room for optimism (as I outlined last year in Genesis of Cheap Stocks). The low-hanging equity fruit has been picked over the last few years, and I’m certain that bears like Roubini, Schiff, El-Erian, Gross, et.al. will eventually come out of hibernation. For those investors not fully invested, I believe it would be wise to wait for the inevitable growls of the bears to resurface, so you can take further advantage of attractive market opportunities.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
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