Friday, July 9, 2010

Forget Double Dip, the Next Bottom May be Deeper

Stocks continued their now four-day rally with the weakest volume of the week on Friday. Most of the buying - mostly positioning for earnings releases beginning next week - occured in the final two hours of the session.

Nonetheless, it was a stellar performance for the holiday-shortened span, with stocks rebounding sharply after two months of relentless selling.

Dow 10,198.03, +59.04 (0.58%)
NASDAQ 2,196.45, +21.05 (0.97%)
S&P 500 1,077.96, +7.71 (0.72%)
NYSE Composite 6,808.71, +52.90 (0.78%)

Advancers buried decliners, 4901-1497, and new lows were trampled by an onrush of new highs, 168-72. Volume was the lightest it has been in weeks, typical for summer trading, though potentially disconcerting to some trend-watchers who have noted many recent higher moves on inadequate volume. It's called speculation, and there's still plenty to go around.

NASDAQ Volume 1,601,902,625
NYSE Volume 3,999,371,000

Commodities were again positive for sellers, with oil up 65 cents, to $76.09, gold rocketing higher by $13.80, to $1,209.60 and silver tacking on 20 cents to the price of an ounce, at $18.05.

Following up on a recent post - June 1, US Markets the World's Laughing Stock; Second Great Depression Still Looming in which I compared current stock market conditions to those of the Great Depression, along come two esteemed commentators, Donald Luskin of Trend Macrolytics LLC, writing for the Wall Street Journal, and Daryl Guppy of to solidify my position and rationale.

Luskin's article, Why This Isn't Like 1938—At Least Not Yet, carries my argument about the similarities a step further and somewhat in another direction, comparing today's stock market, and economy, to that of 1937-38, a recession within the Great Depression which exhibits an eerily-similar pattern to the recent S&P 500. Offering an over-imposed chart of the two periods, it's difficult to argue against his analysis, especially when he mentions:
In 1937 the economy was in a strong recovery from a severe crisis, and there was complacency that the worst was over—much like the exuberance about a "V-shaped' recovery this April. But after 1937 the economy relapsed into what historians call "the recession within the Depression," a downturn so severe that in any other context it would qualify as a depression itself.

It was triggered by a set of very specific policy mistakes. The Fed tightened by raising reserve requirements. Consumers were hit with new taxes to pay for the then-new Social Security program. Worried about excessive deficits, Roosevelt cut government spending. At the same time, his administration accelerated antibusiness rhetoric and regulation.

Those conditions sound quite a bit like what is directly ahead for the US economy, some of the same policies already set in motion.

Guppy's point is that there's a head-and-shoulders pattern developing that looks just like the one at the start of the Great Depression, the period to which I referred in my June 1 post. His analysis was released on July 5, when most of us were still enjoying the tail end of a three-day weekend, so it's unsurprising that many missed it.

Whether or not anyone agrees with history repeating itself, charting or comparisons, it certainly seems worth considering what might happen over the next 6 months to 6 years. Using reasonable market assumptions being a key tenet of any sound financial plan, might it not be time for people to begin using models which predict lower rates of return, possible deflation - instead of inflation - and benchmarks taken from actual conditions rather than the rosy assumptions (7-9% y-o-y gains, 3% inflation) usually thrown around by "respected" financial planners and analysts?

Which brings up yet another point of contention. Bull or Bear, optimist or pessimist, everyone has to have some kind of time horizon for investments, and, there being no better time than the present to plan for the future, one wonders just how long it might be before stocks return to the all-time highs of October, 2007.

I'll toss out a number here, just for argument's sake. With the Dow right around 10,000 today, I'll say that the index won't return to the 14,164 number (October 9, 2007) for maybe thirty years. How's that for perspective? Too gloomy? Bear in mind that it took more than 25 years years from stocks to recover from get back to the previous pre-crash high. The Dow Jones Industrials closed at 381.17 on September 3, 1929 and didn't rise back to that level until November 23, 1954, when they closed at 382.74. Surely, conditions were dire during the Great Depression and through world War II, but, considering the massive amount of debt overhang (still growing) and unfunded liabilities of around $130 Trillion (unfunded and unresolved), one might suggest that economic conditions are far worse, by degree, than they were some 80 years ago.

Just using a simple formula of 7% gains, compounded annually, it would take five years to retake the 14,164 level, and is anybody predicting five straight years of 7% returns? None that I know of, and if you know of any, do yourself a favor and seek out other opinions. With the ten-year treasury hovering around 3% and the 30-year around 4%, we all should be well aware that explosive growth is not in the near-term cards.

That's why I keep saying that cash is king, because if stocks and other assets decline in value, your cash will buy more down the road. That's what deflation is all about.

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