Monday, January 25, 2010

Dead Cats Don't Bounce, At Least, Not Very High

All those guys in their pinstriped suits went down to lower Manhattan today wondering if the market would recover from its worst week in 9 months. A few minutes into the trading session, there were probably more sighs of relief than pictures of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in today's newspapers, as stocks took off right out of the gate and posted healthy, though uninspired gains early on.

The Brangelina episode notwithstanding, the stocksters were to be found mostly standing around, wondering still. Somewhere in the deep recesses of the collective brains of these Harvard whiz kids who populate the trading desks and exchange floors must be thoughts of rebellion. Thoughts that somehow tick up in the night and are pushed back into dreams, only to resurface just under the consciousness during the daytime speak of cashing out and buying a farm, or opening a franchise business out West, or maybe just dumping it all into a sailboat in the Florida keys.

Certainly, we all have these thoughts, about the day our annual investment income becomes greater than our yearly take-home pay, about retirement and lingering, lounging and Early Bird specials with the wife. But the market is cruel, or lately, has been. We've just endured the worst decade of returns on equities since the Great Depression, and some say the 2000s weren't even as good as the 1930s. Being that you'd have to have a pretty good memory and generally be over 90 today to accurately recall what the stock market was like during the depression, there aren't many opinions like that, though charts and history offer clues.

The last ten years were by no means anything even closely resembling a depression, though we did burst two bubbles - dotcom and housing - and suffer the downdraft afterwards on both. 2010 ought to be better, we believe, but we're still unsure. Besides, there are other ways to save and invest outside of stocks, aren't there?

Coin collectors have been having field days of late, such with the prices of gold and silver up so much. Art seems to still be appreciating in certain circles, and for the rest of us, there are always baseball cards, Barbie dolls and eBay. The answer is a resounding "yes," and more and more people are discovering a world outside of IBM, Apple and Microsoft.

Certainly, some people make money in stocks. Many small investors, lacking in patience, experience and wisdom, do, however, end up with losses, sometimes larger than they'd like. It is because of those who have tried and failed that I write about money, stocks, cash, commodities and such. There are other options. You just have to know the rules, and which of those can be broken or bent enough for you to make a small - or maybe sizable - fortune.

More on that tomorrow, when I discuss the creation of your own currency, but for today, stocks were slightly higher. Everybody's indexed portfolios show a profit. Good thing, too, because they've been losing for the past few days, but they didn't make much in the end, and participation (volume) was light, so cash still looks really, really good.

Dow 10,196.86, +23.88 (0.23%)
NASDAQ 2,210.80, +5.51 (0.25%)
S&P 500 1,096.78, +5.02 (0.46%)
NYSE Composite 7,073.13, +42.52 (0.60%)

Advancers were barely ahead of decliners, 3586-2954, with new highs surpassing new lows, 145-51.

NYSE Volume 5,164,265,500
NASDAQ Volume 2,148,828,000

Commodities rebounded, with oil up 72 cents, to $75.26, gold higher by $6.70, to $1,096.40, and silver gaining 19 cents per ounce, to close at $17.12. Commodities were the place to be on Monday. While stocks gave up most of their gains late in the day, precious metals held well, and could be setting up for some spirited buying, since souring on stocks is all the fashion this Winter.

Getting yourself away from stocks isn't a bad idea. Somebody reminded me of the old rule that says to subtract your age from 110, and the result will be the percentage of your investments that should be in stocks. The concept sounds reasonable enough, until you start asking questions.

Does that include my home? Let's say you have $100,000 equity built up and you're 55, and have another $100,000 in cash. Since your number would be 55% (110-55), you'd have to take out some of your home's equity to get your stock percentage up to the proper speed, so, I say, exclude your home from your investment ideas. The equity you have in your home, you earned, and you're going to keep it. Besides, we all need a place to live, so why put it at risk?

So, adding our caveat, you've got $100,000 in equity in your home, $100,000 in cash, $55,000 of it which should be in stocks, according to the formula. The rest, I suppose, would go into CDs or bonds or both. Still, 12 years from retirement (yes, it's 67 for this age group, thank you, congress), do you really want to put $55K into stocks, and which ones? Especially after the decade from hell we've just gone through, it sounds pretty risky.

But, hey, says your broker, it's only money.

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