Monday, November 25, 2013

Stocks Rise, Then Fall, End Flat; Dow Up 16X in 31 Years Though Not the Same

Stocks flew at the open, making the highs of the session, then backtracked, recovered and finally flat-lined until 3:00 pm ET, when selling commenced, taking the indices back to break-even for the day.

It was mostly a senseless trade, kicking off a holiday-shortened week which will feature lower volume than usual (if that's possible) and giddiness surrounding the holiday shopping season, which almost always produces an up session on the short Friday after Thanksgiving.

A few friends were commenting on the wisdom of a buy and hold strategy for the long haul as the Dow Jones Industrials crossed the 16,000 threshold this past Friday. One idea was that holding an index fund of Dow stocks from late 1982 to the present would have resulted in a 16X return on your money, or $10,000 invested in the Dow in 1982 - the last time the Dow crossed the 1000 mark and did not fall below it - would be worth $160,000 today.

It's an interesting concept, but, in case somebody wanted to just buy all the individual stocks in the Dow 30 blue chips, it would have probably been a more profitable, albeit time-consuming endeavor. Of the 30 stocks in the Dow today, only 10 of them were part of the index back in late 1982.

Those ten are AT&T, American Express, IBM, duPont, 3M, Proctor & Gamble, GE, United Technologies, Merck and Exxon (merged with Mobil to form ExxonMobil).

In those 31 years, the composition of the Dow changed 13 times, including eight times since 2003. Not to say that the stocks in the Dow are all magnificent winners, but how one gets a 16X return is by taking out under-performers and replacing them with stocks which have a better chance of appreciation, kind of a shell game, though one could have done well just holding any fund indexed to the famous average.

By way of comparison, the S&P 500 rose from about 140 to the current level just above 1800 in the same time period, a gain of just over 13X. Of course, the S&P has even more movement in and out of the index, and weightings are changed periodically. Overall, it gets re-jiggered more often than the Dow.

It's how Wall Street produces outsize profits for investors; they change the game constantly or as conditions warrant. It begs the question of the wisdom of individual issues and fast money trading.

"It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning." --Henry Ford

DOW 16,072.54, +7.77 (+0.05%)
NASDAQ 3,994.57, +2.92 (+0.07%)
S&P 1,802.48, -2.28 (-0.13%)
10-Yr Note 100.10 +0.09 (+0.09%)
NASDAQ Volume 1.74 Bil
NYSE Volume 2.99 Bil
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 2701-2954
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 532-96
WTI crude oil: 94.09, -0.75
Gold: 1,241.20, -2.90
Silver: 19.88, +0.02
Corn: 431.25, +2.00

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