Thursday, April 21, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Lote the Stock Market

There's no typo in the title. "Lote" is a combination of love and hate. Here's a precis of why that's my current attitude toward the stock market.

By the 'stock market', I mean operating companies as opposed to funds of various sorts, preferred stocks, and other securities that would not qualify for consideration for entry into a stock index such as the S&P 500 or the Russell 2000.

From my start in the financial markets in 1979, I was always oriented toward the stock market, taking a brief timeout only in 1981-2, when bonds were very high-yielding and a severe recession raged and triple-tax exempt New York City bonds made sense for a professional couple earning the munificent combined income of $40,000 yearly.

That pro-stock posture continued until the tech-growth stock/"Nifty Fifty" stock bubble peaked in 2000, and the revelation of widespread corporate fraud at such companies as Worldcom and Enron, plus my own experience with some high-flying local companies, led me to swear that never again would I go all in with common stocks.

I did go half in in spring 2003 and then all out in the summer of 2007.

At this point, with money rates still at or below the price inflation rate in most countries, my posture toward stocks is that I would want to see what would happen if governments simply taxed as much as they spent. What would the effect on economic activity and corporate profits be? I suspect there would be a severe shrinkage of the percentage of reported corporate profits to GDP.

For example, about one out of every six dollars in the U. S. goes to the health care "industry". What would that ratio be without government support? Much less, I suppose.

In fact, the tech sector receives little in the way governmental subsidies. It has to prove its worth to businesses and its attractiveness to consumers every day. Perhaps that is why it has rebounded strongly.

So you can sense the hate part.

Now for the love.

Companies have proven to be decent stores of wealth in high-inflation states, though not as good as gold, silver, or oil. If one is in the (amazingly still small) minority that "gets" what the central authorities are up to, and especially if one is in the yet smaller minority that "gets" that central banks generally do as they are told by their political masters, one will be able to direct one's stock investments more appropriately than people who continue with traditional balanced portfolios or people who make the mistake of looking at dividend yields as indicating value.

When governments are directing their central banks to create money at below-market interest rates, that is usually the time when yield plays start to not work. Think the 1940s and the mid-1960s through January 1980.

Bulls on the stock market will tell you that historically nothing beats the stock market.

As a reliable predictor of the future, of course that statement is irrelevant. Perhaps the historical outperformance of the stock market has used up its future outperformance. Perhaps it's all a random walk. What will tomorrow bring, and tomorrow, and tomorrow? That is the question.

The government of the U. S. has changed. When the Fed was being formed, the issue of issuing currency tied to the issuance of debt was criticized. The Federal government had, after, almost no outstanding debt. Would there not be insufficient debt issuance to allow enough currency to be created?

We all know the answer to that question.

So I would paraphrase Edgar from King Lear (Act V, Scene II), to continue the Shakespearean theme. When I look at the financial markets on a tomorrow-tomorrow-and-tomorrow basis, I think that money-printing is all. Everything else is secondary.

Companies can raise prices over time to adjust for changes in the general price level, and with good fortune an investor may do OK even with companies that see shrinking margins, such as price-takers in the inflation rather than producers of the products (such as precious metals, usually) that see strong price increases.

Thus I lote the stock market.

Copyright (C) Long Lake LLC 2011

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