What a week. Traders must be reeling. The rest of us are staggering.
And nobody knows anything.
Is this market going up or down? We don’t know. But wherever it is going, it seems to be in a hurry to get there.
It collapsed on Monday, soared on Tuesday, collapsed again on Wednesday and soared again on Thursday. The Netscape News report:
The Dow Jones industrial average soared 423 points. It had already fallen 634 points Monday, risen 429 Tuesday and fallen 519 Wednesday. Never before has the Dow had four 400-point swings in a row.
The pieces of news that sent Wall Street rocketing higher were not exactly blockbusters: Cisco Systems said its profit was better than expected, the job market got a little better, and France tried to raise confidence in its shaken banking system.
But this is a week in which any move by the market — higher or lower — seems to touch off an investor stampede. So it was on Thursday, when stocks shot higher at the opening bell and never turned around.
So, nobody knows why the stock market went up yesterday. Of course, they don’t know why it went down the day before either.
That’s why a lot of old market hands get tired of wondering about it. “Just show me the chart,” they say. They don’t believe it’s worth trying to figure out the why…they just look at the pattern.
But when we’ve looked at the charts we still don’t know anything. Maybe the seasoned pros can see things we don’t. To us, they’re just as confusing as everything else.
Mr. Market is a cagey fellow, no doubt about it. And if he has a story to tell, he keeps it to himself. That said, he’s only natural. And there are certain natural laws that even he has to obey.
For example, he can’t allow debt to build up forever. There always comes a moment of awful recognition, when lenders realize they’ve been idiots…when they see that they won’t get their money back. Savvy speculators try to sell the debt short before lenders catch on.
Nor can asset prices run too far ahead of real values for too long. Sooner or later comes a moment of reckoning, when asset values and asset prices converge. Savvy speculators bet on convergence. They buy when a stock is far below its real value…and sell when it is far above.
But Mr. Market is a fooler. He doesn’t make it easy.
All over the world stocks are down about 20% from their recent peaks and about 5% to 10% for the year. But they’re far from cheap. Shiller’s normalized earnings put the P/E on US stocks today at about 20. Major bear market bottoms come with the P/E down at 6 to 8. The typical bottom, according to Shiller, comes at about 13.
So, if this were a bear market (we don’t know)…and if it were a typical bear market (we don’t know that either)…it would bottom out at about 8,000 on the Dow (now, 11,143).
If this were a major bear market, we’d look for a bottom in the 4,000 to 6,000 range.
We don’t know what game Mr. Market has in mind. But we know he can play a cruel hand. It’s not that he has no sense of pity. He just wants to teach a lesson that investors won’t soon forget. Here’s what we think he’s up to:
First, he will dally around a bit. Let investors recover their breath and their nerve. Then, he’ll move prices back up….this would draw more money into the stock market.
When most of the seats in the theater are full look for a furry creature sneaking around with a can of gasoline in one hand and a pack of matches in the other. He’ll set fire to it. Stocks will go down…stabilize…then go down again. Then, Warren Buffett will announce that he is buying. The Fed will announce another QE program…perhaps with a different twist.
What ho! Stocks will soar…and then fall again. Down, down, down…they’ll drop to their level of March ’09…and keep falling until they have finally found their bottom – maybe 3…maybe 5…maybe 10 years from now.
The bear in the stock market will send investors fleeing to the shelter of the bond market. In a stagnant, Japan-like economy, even with trillion-dollar deficits, bond yields will stay low. Investors will get 2% on 10 year T-notes. “Better than losing money in the stock market,” they’ll say.
Households will put their savings into US Treasury debt – something they can count on. Businesses will store their cash in US Treasury debt, after all…no point in investing in new plant and equipment. Financial institutions, too, will seek out US Treasury bonds as the only place where they can still place money safely. Ben Bernanke has pledged to keep the key lending rate near zero. Bankers now know they will be given free money for the next two years. All they have to do is take it…and lend it back to the US government!
And then, when the bond market is fat and happy…and the nation’s savings have been transferred to the government and consumed by it, Mr. Market will creep up again – like a thief in the night – and give it a wallop.
Just in the last few weeks, stock market investors lost about $3 trillion of wealth – on paper. How they will look back on these days with pleasant nostalgia! Mr. Market’s next attack on stocks will wipe out $10 trillion. And when he whacks the bond market, he’ll take out another $10 trillion.
And this time, it won’t be just ‘paper’ wealth. It will be real wealth…the savings built up over millions of lifetimes of hard work.
And more thoughts…
Have the riots reached New York or Boston yet?
As Dear Readers know, we have wondered what this Great Correction really intends to correct. At a minimum, it seems destined to correct the 50+ year build-up of debt. But maybe it will destroy modern social-welfare governments too.
The model is simple enough: citizens give up a portion of their freedom and a portion of their money. In return they get safety…protection…and something for nothing. The typical voter believes he will get more than he paid for…he counts on his government to rob those richer than he is and transfer the loot to him.
The system works – for a while. But as these governments mature they become more expensive, rigid, and zombified. More and more people find ways to get something for nothing. More and more join the underclass, because it is easier to live at someone else’s expense, even if you can’t live very well. Pretty soon, there are zombies all over the place.
The Cameron government in the UK – like almost all social welfare governments – spends more than it can afford. It realized it had to stop feeding the zombies so much. It announced cut backs. This week, the zombies counterattacked.
‘They don’t treat me right,’ said one zombie quoted in the International Herald Tribune. ‘They just give me enough money to eat and watch TV.’
When they are not eating at taxpayer expense…or watching TV at taxpayer expense…in an apartment paid for at taxpayer expense…wearing clothes furnished at taxpayer expense, they are likely communicating by cellphone or Blackberry or I-phone, also provided at taxpayer expense. This week, the zombies got in touch with one another and decided to upgrade their lifestyles by breaking into shops and stealing things. That too, was at taxpayer expense. But it wasn’t an expense authorized by the peoples’ representatives in Parliament. The zombies had declared war.
The British feds were outraged. They had spent so much money on these people. Why were they biting the hands that fed them? Ah…you know the answer, Dear Reader. Because the system had turned almost a whole generation of people into zombies. Zombies are used to getting something for nothing. If they get it from the feds …or take it directly, what is the difference?
And what else do they have to do? Watching TV all day is boring. For a brief time this week, zombies were on the march.
It probably won’t be the last time. The Zombie Wars have begun.
Mr. Market’s Next Attack originally appeared in the Daily Reckoning. The Daily Reckoning provides 400,000+ readers economic news, market analysis, and contrarian investment ideas. Follow the Daily Reckoning on Facebook.