What about that crazy equity market?
Okay, it’s time to have “the talk.” About the stock market, and all the insanity on all the financial websites. After all, investments are the one place where we’re all in this together, right?
Whether we invest in hedge funds like our failing public-employee pension funds, or own scads of Berkshire-Hathaway. (Which, by the way, has compounded 20 percent per annum over the life of the company.)
Every day, there are dueling posts on the same websites: The bull market will continue for years! This month’s 2-percent correction is just the beginning!
One of the most succinct — and funnier — posts we’ve read lately is at MarketWatch.
In “Here’s my obligatory column that says stock will crash in 2014,” Jeff Reeves — a solid writer and analyst — leads us past the conflicting headlines.
Sure, the S&P 500 is up 180% from the March 2009 lows. And, yes, unemployment is the lowest since late 2008.
But those statistics matter only if you’re looking at the facts and worried about being “objective.” I mean, who’s interested in what economists, government agencies and famous investors think anyway?
Part of the post is tongue in cheek, part solid analysis. And that analysis sides solidly with the bulls. But let’s look at the core issues that move markets:
• Personal debt: As they say in the movies, “It’s complicated.” Post recession, revolving debt is static as Americans eschew credit cards. Though there’s a lot of buzz about increasing sub-prime auto loans, the share of used sub-prime loans was lower for Q1 of 2014 than in the first quarters of 2013 and 2012.
• P/E ratios: In the 1990s, there were price-to-earnings ratios in the 100s, maxing out in 2009 at 124. Now, the median is about 14.5.
• Company debt: The Wall Street Journal had a detailed post at the end of last month. The WSJ found two things going on in this period of cheap money: U.S. companies have issued record amounts of debt — both in nominal terms and as a percent of GDP — while they hold record amounts of cash overseas. Kind of a wash, there.
• Black swans: The known unknown in 2014 is what Black Swan event is on the horizon. There are wars and showdowns including Gaza and Northern Iraq. Those events, as defined by Nassim Taleb in his seminal book “Fooled by Randomness,” could have dramatic impacts on equities and commodities.
But here’s the rub. If you go to cash, even in a low inflation environment, cash loses buying power every single day.