Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Private Client Commentary - 777 point drop

Dear Clients,

Yesterday's 777 point drop was the biggest one day point decline in the history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Some say it felt like black Monday, October 19, 1987, when the Dow dropped 508 points. There is a subtle difference however in the magnitude of each decline - yesterday's amounted to a decline of 7+%, while the drop on October 19, 1987 was a whopping 23%. For yesterday to have matched Black Monday, the Dow would have had to drop 2,300 points. Now how do you think that would have felt? Talk about the end of the world!

So, as you can see, as unsettling as yesterday was, we've seen worse. I was there in '87, it was the third year of my career, and yes I know what you're thinking - I am a lot older than I look.

Of course the question now is, do we hang in there and continue to ride this roller coaster, or do we jump off and wait for the ride to end - without us on it. I think the roller coaster is a fitting analogy, in that about the only way to get seriously hurt during a roller coaster ride is to jump off right in the middle of it. By the way, for the twelve months immediately following that "Black Monday" in '87, the Dow was up 22.9%.

It's very clear; the stock market wants the rescue package. And, based on the current state of the credit markets, Main Street may not think so, but (in the short-run anyway) they may need it even worse.

As odd as this may sound, and assuming Wall Street has it right (not that they do necessarily), the best thing for everyone may very well be another big sell off in the stock market today. As I suggested in my last commentary, yesterday's decline had nothing to do with fundamentals and everything to do with emotion - the market sent a strong message (right or wrong) to the politicians that they need to stop politicking and get something constructive done.

So, for just this moment, think of the market as an emotional barometer, or perhaps a messenger to Washington - and keep that thought if you decide to take a look at your September brokerage statement.

Everything you owned back when the market peaked last October is still there. In fact, since most of you reinvest your dividends and capital gains, you have noticeably more shares than you did at that time. Which means you've been doing what smart investors do - buying more as prices decline. And you youngsters who are putting money into your 401(k) plans (as long as you're well diversified) should be grinning from ear to ear - opportunities like this (to pile up shares) don't come very often.

You'll no doubt be hearing from me again soon.

Take care,

Monday, September 29, 2008

Private Client Commentary - Emotional market

Dear Clients,

Only on days like today will you hear from me twice. That means you would have heard from me twice on just a handful of occasions over the past twenty four years. Today, those other occasions are nothing more than (as a good friend of mine put it earlier today) footnotes in history. That

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Private Client Commentary - bailout

Dear Clients,

What interesting times we live in. As I write this, the politicians have yet to agree on the details of the "bail out" package they've been working on for the past week (but I suspect that by the time you read this, there will be a plan). They're simply doing what politicians do - desperately weighing the political ramifications of whatever deal they strike.

How is it that we find ourselves in these predicaments? I mean both the financial predicament that presumably calls for a bail out, and the political predicament that I feel exacerbates the emotions around the issue.

As for the financial predicament, in a nutshell; the trouble with the economy today is that it's suffering a hangover from the real estate party. And for many players in the financial industry (the big substance abusers) it's much worse than a hangover - in fact, they partied so hard that, if we don't pump their stomachs very soon, they're dead. The problem for the rest of us is that we rely heavily on these drunkards. And if Hank Paulsen and Ben Bernanke are right, if we let them die, the ramifications for the consumer and the economy as a whole are severe.

But what of the moral hazard of rescuing these addicts, aren't we just setting them up to do it all over again? And wouldn't such a bail out fly in the face of the basic tenets of capitalism? As for the "moral hazard", expect any deal from Washington to include major regulatory reform aimed at keeping this kind of thing from happening again anytime soon. As for, "does this fly in the face of capitalism" - that would be a big fat yes. But the seven hundred billion dollar question is - what happens if we don't do it?

According to Paulsen, Bernanke and Warren Buffet, to name a few, if we don't do this bail out, our financial system, as we know it today, will virtually collapse right before our eyes (I must add however that not all economists agree with this dire prediction). And the ultimate cost of a crashing economy, lost jobs, etc., will make this bail out look like peanuts. On the flipside, if what Paulsen, Bernanke and Buffet say is true, the deal not only bails out the banks and gets them back into the business of lending - it ultimately turns a profit for the taxpayer in the long-run.

They say the stuff we would pull from the stomachs of these banks would not be at all fatal if it were in a stronger stomach. So what they're proposing is a purchasing of the mortgage investments from the banks at a discount, then holding and managing them until such time that the market improves and they can be auctioned back into the private sector - for potentially more than what we paid for them. Last week Buffet went so far as to suggest that if he could, he would do the deal himself.

The bottom line seems to be, like it or not, that some sort of bail out package will be passed - and it may in fact prove to be a step in the right economic direction. Longer term however, it's the precedent we're setting that we need to be concerned with.

As for the political predicament, I honestly feel the consumer deserves some of the blame. Mr. Consumer says he wants the government to stay out of his business; he wants to be free to become the best he can be. He wants free markets where he can invest in the creativity and innovation that will make richer the world and his portfolio. He wants all the upside, but oh how he hates the downside.

Our politicians are scared senseless (literally). They're deathly afraid of the very capitalist system they've sworn to protect. Yes, they profess out loud their undying commitment to Mr. Consumer's freedom, to protect his right to work for the things he wants in life - because that's precisely what Mr. Consumer tells them he wants.

But what happens to that thinking during those inevitable times when the freedom of capitalism combined with previous government intervention (like the huge stimulus the Fed pumped into the banking system during the 2001 recession) allows a bubble to form, a bubble dangerously expanded by excess and greed? Suddenly the politicians, out of fear of the consequences of the bubble's inevitable bursting - out of the fear that Mr. Consumer will blame them for all of it - try desperately to patch it.

(In reality, what we have is a situation where previous government intervention may have over-stimulated capitalisms creative juices, and consequently, more government intervention may be needed to fix the resulting problem. It


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Monday, September 22, 2008

Private Client Commentary - RTC bailout

Dear Clients,

The final comment of my last letter was to look for an RTC type program to come out of Washington that would be viewed as the ultimate answer to the current financial crisis

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Private Client Commentary - redundant

Dear Clients,

I keep waiting for the return email that says "jeez Marty you are one redundant son of a gun". But until I get one, I'm going to keep on recycling the same message in many of these commentaries. Fact is, even if I get one, I'm going to keep recycling the same message in many of these commentaries.

As I write this, it's Friday morning, fifteen minutes before the market opens, the Dow Jones Industrial Average futures are pointing to a triple digit decline, oil futures are trading at $3+ over yesterday's price, and the talking heads on CNBC are telling me why all this is going on this morning. I think back a few years when we first got the internet in our office; our service provider was called Compuserve, or was it Prodigy? I remember how excited I got when we were able to print a, twenty minute delayed, market update anytime during the day. I thought wow, can you believe it? We can actually get the scoop on what's making the market move, even during the trading day. And oh how we were able to use that valuable information. Uh well, we didn't really have a use for the information, it was just cool that we could get it and talk about it.

My how things have changed, today I can pull up a stock quote and watch it tick up and down minute by minute. I can get dozens of commentaries any time of day that give me the authors' opinions on what exactly is moving the markets at that particular moment. I can watch a so called mad man scream about stocks for an hour every afternoon. And oh how I'm able to use all this valuable information. Uh well, I don't really have a use for the information, other than it gives me something to write about.

At the end of the day, it just doesn't matter, what the stock market does by the end of the day. The only thing that truly matters is what the stock market does over longer periods of time, and I'm not talking by the end of the month, the quarter or the year.. In the short-term the only thing the market can do to you, if you let it, is get you excited, in a good or bad way, depending on whether it's up or down. Case in point: it's now 6:38am, the Dow is off 115 points, no make that 107, no make that 110. Wow, it can really bounce around in the course of a few seconds. I would sure feel better if it bounced to the positive by the end of the day. I wish someone would just say something that gives traders the incentive to buy big time before today's close. I wish someone would read last month's report from Standard and Poors that said the worst is over - S&P made an intelligent argument, backed by some compelling statistical data that suggested that the market is in a bottoming phase and we'll see sunshine soon.

I was tempted to forward that S&P report to you (the Dow is now down 138), but I decided against it for the simple reason that I want you to get comfortable with being in a bear market, for bear markets are a reality that we (The Dow is now down 120) have had to, and will continue to, learn to live with. The market has its seasons, and if we're looking for a beautiful spring (a spring back in stock prices), then let's hope for a really cold winter (a bigger pull back), because the market works just like nature, the greatest springs (when the market springs back) always follow the harshest winters. And forget about the market forecasters, they're more clueless than your local weather forecaster, and you know how you feel about him.

I'll bet there are a few of you out there who are thinking I spend all this time writing these commentaries - why the heck aren't I trading something or reacting to what's going on? To you I would say, spending my time on these commentaries, if it keeps me from reacting to what's going on, is an extremely good thing for your portfolio. These commentaries are designed to keep you from reacting to what's going on, which history has proven time and again, along with lack of diversification, can be a huge investment mistake.

I'm going to close here, having typed for 45 minutes and given you nothing new to hang your hat on, except for the good news that the Dow is now down 157, make that 167 (good news because the bigger the pullback the bigger the eventual spring) and wish you a great weekend.

Take care,

PS. All kidding aside, don't hesitate to call if you're feeling nervous.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Private Client Commmentary - Freddie-Fannie

Dear Clients,

Well they did it (or I should say we did it, or perhaps I should say - they did it with our money), the U.S. Government has seized control of the two mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Whether this bail out ultimately turns out to be a good thing, in my opinion, is not worth discussing here. It's a done deal and any comments I may have on the plusses or minuses at this point would be purely rhetorical. Unlike my recent comments regarding the ludicrous notion of a win fall profits tax on oil companies - which hasn't happened yet, thank goodness!

The significance of the Freddie/Fannie issue that's worth noting is the simple fact that these drastic measures "needed" to be taken at all. This is important in that, if indeed the bail out averted a looming crisis, it tells us that we may finally be getting to the inevitable "darkest before the dawn". As I've suggested for the past few weeks, bear markets tend to end with a big, stock-slide inducing, bang. While the bailout may have, in effect, helped the market sidestep capitulation (big sell off on high volume) for now - it no doubt would have occurred had Freddie and Fannie been allowed to fail.

This shows us, conclusively, that it is indeed really bad out there for the mortgage/real estate market (as if we had any doubt). And it proves that the stock market has been doing its job quite well these past ten months (the market began selling off last October in anticipation of this bad, if not worse, case scenario). You see the market serves as a discounting mechanism that, through the predominate directional trend in share prices, anticipates the direction of the economy going forward. And it generally begins to discount the economic future long before the economy itself signals a change in trend. Who would have thought that last October, when the euphoria of Dow 14,000 hit the market that just ten months later it would be flirting with 10,000?

At some point in the future, you'll likely read a commentary where I'll say; "who would have thought that the Dow would be setting a new record, when just X months ago it was flirting with 10,000". And we will find that the market began discounting the move out of the current recession months before the economic indicators gave us anything positive to hang our hats on.

So in the end, an unwinding of all the bad stuff out there is a good thing. Think of it like we've been teetering on the edge of a cliff, wondering whether or not a strong wind is going to come along and blow us off - which just perpetuates the uncertainty. Once we finally "fall" and hit bottom (this fall won

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Private Client Commentary - Long Term means Long Time

Dear Clients,

For today's commentary we'll eavesdrop once again on a conversation between our Investor and Advisor duo.

As I've suggested before, virtually all of you have been very patient as this now ten month old bear market has done a number on the value of your equity positions. I know this isn't the first bear market for most of you, and I'm guessing that's one reason why no one's getting too excited. Nonetheless, I'll bet there are times when you can relate to our Investor friend below.

Take care,

Ps: always keep in mind; if you'd ever like to chat between review meetings about the market, the economy, etc., we welcome your call.

Investor: Man this market frustrates me. Up one day, down the next. It seems like lately we're just not getting anywhere!

Advisor: I know what you mean.

Investor: You know what I mean? Don't you have anything pithy to offer me?

Advisor: Nope, I simply agree - it seems like lately, we're just not getting anywhere.

Investor: So how long do we keep doing this?

Advisor: How long do we keep doing what?

Investor: How long do we keep doing what we're doing? Which seems like absolutely nothing! And are you messing with me again?

Advisor: Nope, not messing with you, just want to be clear what you're asking. Because, as you suggest, we're not really doing much - other than sticking with our long-term plan.

Investor: Okay, so how long do we stick with our long-term plan?

Advisor: Okay, I swear I'm not messing with you, but my answer is - we'll stick with our long-term plan for a long-time, otherwise it's not a long-term plan, now is it?

And you see, this bear market we're in began just ten months ago, which at this point makes it about average in length (as past bear markets have gone). And, in investment terms, ten months is very short-term.

Investor: All right, I get it. I guess I'm just getting impatient - tired of getting my monthly statements showing my declining balance.

Advisor: I feel ya, but that's what happens when we're in a bear market. And always keep in mind - you're monthly investment statement is not like a bank statement.

What I mean is; when your bank statement shows a decline, it's because you spent some money and you truly have less of what you had the previous month. When your investment statement shows a decline, and you haven't taken a withdrawal, you still have all the stuff you had the previous month. It's just that this month's appraisal of the stuff is lower than the last month's. You indeed haven't lost unless you sell some of your stuff when the price is down - which again, you wouldn't do if you have a long-term plan. The beauty of thinking long-term is you simply never have to sell in a down market.

Now, do I need to remind you of all the underlying benefits that bear markets bring?

Investor: Oh please don't! You've made your points very clearly, over and over again with all your commentaries!

Advisor: I thought you might say that