Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Still no conviction in the stock market...

So how is it that the Dow can top 15,000 while the place---the bond market---that captured the money of the folks who brought it to its knees (back in 2008) remains more flush than ever? If you had told me, say a year ago, that stocks would be at these levels, I would have told you that bonds would be getting trounced. I mean it makes perfect sense, right?

If back in October 2007 stocks were priced at X (all-time high), and bonds were priced at Y, and by March 2009 stocks were priced at Y (multi-year low), and bonds at X, for stocks to once again be priced at X, bonds---to provide the liquidity to push stocks back to X---would have had to sell off back to Y (or, at a minimum, somewhat lower than X), right? Well, as I stated above, no...

There are two factors at play that circumvent this seeming commonsense: One being the Fed, which, with its quantitative easing ("printing" money and buying bonds), has effectively put a lid on bond yields (or a floor under bond prices) to this point. The other being a general lack of conviction: This, as many a pundit has declared of late, has been the most hated rally in history. Meaning there's been no storming of the market's gates. Stocks have eclipsed old highs with no battering ram-wielding buyers pounding liquidity into equities (and out of bonds).

The latter essentially means volume (the number of shares actually changing hands) has been somewhat light. Which means the holders of stocks have been, for whatever reasons---perhaps exceptional corporate earnings, lots of sideline cash earning nothing, record low bond yields and a slightly better-trending economy---reluctant to unload their shares at yesterday's lower prices. But if those reasons are indeed legitimate, why aren't buyers coming in in droves? Well, perhaps it's uncertainty over tax and regulatory policies going forward, or post traumatic stress resulting from the 2008 bear market, or the fact that, while better-trending, this recovery has been the slowest on record, or any number of other reasons I can't think of at the moment.

The good news (maybe) if you're bullish on stocks is that with such little participation from the retail investor (think, for example, 401k accounts), a skeptical tone from many an institutional investor (the ones who missed the rally that is), and a bulging bond market, there's more than ample liquidity to make Warren Buffet (on CNBC yesterday) look like he knows what he's talking about.

As for me, I'm not that interested in where the market goes in the short-run (which keeps me sane since it makes no sense to take great interest in something that, at times, makes no sense). I guess if I had a short-term want, I'd want stock prices to as accurately reflect the real world of earnings as possible. And based on present price-to-earnings ratios, and other valuation metrics, stocks---my indifference (and the political environment) notwithstanding---make short-term sense to me. As for my long-term (what counts) want, I want to own stocks: because I believe I'll be typing future essays with better technology, that (politics notwithstanding) I'll be finding abundant global opportunities---and for all those other reasons I mentioned in Why You Eat Bugs and Own Stocks...

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