December 5th, 2012 11:12 EST
Stock Market Rally vs. Fiscal Cliff: Is This the Real Thing?
This morning`s classic E-mail question wondered: "Is this the real thing?" --- referring to the media-applauded spurt of the popular market averages toward the highest levels in recent years, but still miles from an All Time High (ATH). The meaning inside was much, much greater --- speaking as it does to some basic misconceptions many people have in their approach to equity investing.
Investors believe that 1) the DJIA and S & P 500 accurately reflect the direction of the entire stock market; 2) that the Dow contains only the best of the best US companies; 3) that most professional money managers are unlikely to outperform the market averages; 4) that personal investment portfolio market values are married to the market averages.
Actually, the market averages reflect what investors expect from the economy, interest rates, politics, etc. They are also trailing indicators of what investors actually know about things like corporate earnings, tax policy, unemployment rates, and regulation. Market averages report the direction and show the trend of past prices of the securities they contain, and are subject to massive short term gyrations caused by all kinds of current events and speculations about the future.
The DJIA contains just 30 stocks, twenty-seven NYSE and three NASDAQ. The S & P 500 is much more diverse, but neither is designed to reflect the price performance of any particular mix of securities based on the quality of their earnings or the safety of their dividends. Fifty seven percent of "blue chip" Dow companies carry lower than an S & P "A" rating; about 13% are rated below investment grade.
The Investment Grade Value Stock Index (IGVSI) reports the price movements of NYSE, B+ or better, dividend paying US companies. At the moment, there are only 344 companies that qualify --- so at least 31% of the S & P 500 cannot possibly contain IGVSI companies. The actual number is less than half. Over the past several years, the IGVSI has outperformed the popular averages, and is the only equity index anywhere near an ATH right now! by wide margins.
Most professional money managers run open-end mutual funds. Their decision making is influenced by investment committees, performance ranking agencies, and an investment public that is up to its armpits in self directed IRA, 401(k), and other investment products. Most investors are required to use open-end mutual funds; the remainder are encouraged to use passive speculation vehicles --- go figure!
When the lemmings head for the cliffs, managers must sell securities; when greed infects the masses, managers must buy into bubbles. It is not the managers who underperform the averages, it is their bosses on Wall Street and on Main Street who are always push-pulling in the wrong direction. Market Cycle Investment Management (MCIM) users are likely to outperform the markets over the course of most market cycles.
Personal portfolio market values are a function of investment plan, content, and management. Those that are passively managed and/or run by the mutual fund mob can expect only to mirror the averages. MCIM portfolios can have far better results.
There is no reason for anyone to have had negative growth in market values over the past dozen years. Investors don`t need "experts" to determine when it is safe to enter or tax-wise to leave the investment markets --- they need a reasonable plan for their investment program.
The stock market is the only place on the planet where higher prices are a "call to the mall". The higher the averages soar, the more furious the feeding frenzy, and the more IPOs and other exotica are brought to market.
Another misconception is the notion that someday there will be a market rally that never ends --- stock prices will go forever higher. This predicted by the very same experts who, just months ago, were certain of a return to financial crisis lows!
Finally, and rarely even mentioned, there is the between the lines "conventional wisdom" that a person`s retirement income needs can be dealt with later --- because your portfolio will be at an ATH at retirement. Right.
There is more in those five little words (Is this the real thing?), but the point of this message is not. "The Market" has never and will never be a one way "ticket to ride" (smiling?) --- well don`t, if you can rememember the many times you failed to take profits in previous rallies.
None of the important aspects of the "ride" (length, breadth, height, duration, sector participation, or decline) are predictable by anyone, no matter how overpaid or well credentialed. It has become clear to me over forty plus years of muddling through, that most mistakes are made by people who either over complicate the process or who seek to avoid as much of the work as possible.
There is no need for rocket science in investing --- no correlations, standard deviations, coefficients, Alphas, Betas, or Zetas are required. Similarly, passively managed, index derivatives are just a lazy man`s way of reinforcing the myth that active management is ineffective.
One can have science without creating complex, inexplicable monsters. One can be creative without manufacturing hedges, swaps, games, and probability scenarios. One can learn enough about actual investing to figure out when he is being conned.
Successful investing requires some knowledge of business operations, and market, economic and interest rate cycles, management techniques, a touch of retailing, some psychology, a dash of organizational skills, and a pinch of rudimentary economics. It`s also helpful to be focused, decisive, and disciplined.
Simply put, your portfolio is a two stroke businesses model. On the retail side, you inventory quality merchandise for later sale at a reasonable profit. On the office side, you accumulate income producing instruments designed to pay current expenses and to prepare for future income needs.
As the owner of the enterprise, you must have a disciplined plan, rules, procedures, and controls. The only additional feature needed is the time to guide the enterprise to a predetermined destination. You may just have to find a qualified manager to do this --- a direct decision-making employee, as opposed to a product salesperson. But you need to understand the process being used.
So yes, this is the real thing --- a high priced stock market that will eventually correct. No one knows when, but there is no question that it will --- and no person ever became poorer by taking a profit.
During stock market rallies, when market values approach all time highs --- always, yes always, sell too soon.