Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why Bother? Stocks Are Volatile and May Be Overpriced

With nearly two trillion dollars having been shifted out of stock funds into bond funds and elsewhere over the past four years, wealth managers and their clients might look at today's results and question whether stocks are worth even bothering with at all.

Besides volatility and inherently high risk that stocks present, there are also event risks, especially within the framework of recent politics, the European debt crisis and the so-called fiscal cliff which continues to approach without resolution from either the president or the current do-nothing congress.

What's amazing about the current state of US markets is how wonderfully they engage in self-levitation, despite crumbling profitability and dubious upgrades. Now 41 months into the cyclical bull market, the risk/reward scenario for anyone thinking about taking the plunge into stocks offers a mixed bag, at best, and questionable fundamentals at worst.

Take, for example, the two stocks of the day. McDonald's (MCD) had some horrendous numbers for the month of July, missing their targets, with a special nod to Europe, where sales and revenue were far below the mark. The stock was damaged by the news, though not badly, losing 1.48, to 87.53, on the day, though the multiple of 14 has some analysts worried about a global slowdown which would affect even such a stellar performer.

Priceline (PCLN), a momentum stock par excellence was a bit of a different story, losing 117.48 points (17.28%), to 562.32 today, after citing Europe as the main cause for revising its third quarter estimates lower.

Similar stories have rolled through the investment landscape with regularity over the past six months. The business climate has grown more challenging than ever with so much uncertainty about the future, both in the US and in Europe. It's difficult for companies to meet expectations for revenue and profit in such an unstable environment.

Many have already thrown in the towel on stocks and, at these levels, many more may see cashing out before the fall as a viable plan. The macro picture is still cloudy and murky, fraught with dangers, some of which are largely unseen. The bull market may be nearing the end of its course, making stocks less attractive for long-term investors.

Dow 13,175.64, +7.04 (0.05%)
Nasdaq 3,011.25, -4.61 (0.15%)
S&P 500 1,402.22, +0.87 (0.06%)
NYSE Composite 8,018.24, +0.53 (0.01%)
NYSE Volume 3,227,711,500
Nasdaq Volume 1,881,049,000
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2535-2886
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 208-51
WTI crude oil: 93.35, -0.32
Gold: 1,616.00, +3.20
Silver: 28.08, -0.01

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