Thursday, December 31, 2009

So What?

Here is a chart of the Investor's Intelligence Advisor's survey that comes to us courtesty of Elliott Wave International. I want to use this chart to illustrate the futility of drawing anything other than relatively short term conclusions from sentiment data polls.

A large number of blogs and opinion makers I follow cite the current high level of bullish sentiment among newsletter writers as evidence that another bear market leg is about to start. Some even think it will drop the averages below their March 2009 lows.

I remember a similar situation back in June of 2003, about 8 months after the October 2002 bear market low (first vertical green arrow on the chart). At the time bullish sentiment was even higher than it is now (blue dotted line). But the market advanced an additional 50% during the subsequent four years, a bull market punctuated by reactions of less than 10% in the averages during that time.

So what can we conclude about the future course of the averages from the current level of bullish sentiment among investment newsletters? Not a thing! At worst it suggests that a reaction of perhaps 10% or so is likely to develop within the next few weeks. But even that is not a forecast that can be written in stone.

What matters most for the market's longer term direction is that the general public still hates stocks and is pessimistic about the economy. Until that gloom lifts this bull market will continue.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Big Ben

Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, is Time magazine's 2009 person of the year. I have been thinking about the significance of this cover. Here are my conclusions.

First, I think that this marks the high point of the public awareness of Bernanke's economic role in the U.S. and world economy. If I'm right about this there will be no more financial or economic crises that require the Fed's emergency intervention for the foreseeable future, i.e. for the next several years. This means that the March 2009 low is in all likelihood a once-in-a-generation low point for stock prices.

It also means that interest rates are about to return to more normal levels, levels which reflect expectations for average economic growth and growing employment in the U.S. and the world. In particular, the gap between short term rates and the 10 year note yield should start to shrink significantly and the yield curve should start to flatten a great deal.

Finally, since interest rates are likely to rise in the U.S. and since the Fed is likely to scale back its support for the securities markets, I think the U.S. dollar is likely to begin a long and extended bull market, one which will carry the dollar index to the 100 level. In this connection I would bring your attention to the background for the cover image of Bernanke you see above. It is an image of the U.S one dollar bill with Bernanke's picture in place of George Washington's.

Sell your villa on the Riviera and buy one in Palm Springs!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A few more bricks for the Wall Of Worry

Here are three recent items from the news media that show the Wall Of Worry on Wall Street is still getting higher. The top image is the latest cover of Newsweek. The story is by Niall Ferguson, a very talented historian, author, and financial journalist. Over the past year he has also found a big audience among doom and gloomers. The thrust of his Newsweek story is that the U.S. budget deficits, current and projected, and the resulting projected increase in the Federal debt are unsustainable. He offers no solutions, but does assert that the U.S. in well along the road to disaster. Why similar disasters won't afflict the rest of the world he doesn't say.

The middle item is a chart from Floyd Norris' New York Times column this past Saturday. It is a chart of one of the major surveys of consumer confidence. You can see that it has reached the lowest level seen during the past 30 years.

Right above this post is the front page of the Chicago Tribune's business section of November 25. The headline speaks for itself.

As you know I think the U.S. stock market is in the middle of a bull market which I expect will last through the end of 2010. By that time I expect to the the S&P 500 close to its 2007 high of 1576. The articles and images above reinforce my view that public sentiment is still quite bearish, despite a 60% advance in the market averages during the past 9 months. While a drop of 5-10% in the S&P can occur at any time, I think it would present another buying opportunity for the contrarian investor.