Christmas is here and the market action this week indicates the traditional end of the year rally appears ready to begin. About the best one can say is at least we can count on Santa if not anyone else.
In a recent radio interview, the host complained that the bad news just keeps on coming. If it isn’t Europe, it’s the embarrassment of our own political leaders in Washington. If that wasn’t enough, we have tensions in Iran, North Korea and Syria. Yes, I agreed, all of the above is true and yet the stock markets are essentially unchanged from where they were a year ago.
Reading and listening to the chatter that at this time of year is largely focused on what’s next for investors, I find a great deal of confusion. Most strategists are caught up in the continuing gloom and doom pessimism that has pervaded the markets throughout the year. This is despite the fact that the U.S. economy is growing at a rate higher than anyone expected.
No matter where you look—technical charts, momentum, fundamentals—it appears we are heading lower in 2012. Conventional wisdom has it that Europe is heading for a steep recession, China a hard landing and the U.S. by default is dragged down with them. In which case, the stock markets go lower.
After more than a year of faulty starts and disappointments by European leaders, most investors discount any new initiatives coming out of the EU as too little, too late. The joke that we call leadership in Washington D.C. is also well known. And that’s my issue with the bear case. Everyone knows how bad it is—investors, the Fed, politicians, even Main Street. When a crisis is as well known as this one, it is usually addressed.
In my opinion, it is a mistake to get sucked into this malaise. The Europeans are making progress in solving their financial crisis. Granted, we may not like their half-measures, their delays, their posturing and constant policy reversals but in the end things are getting done.
Bond yields in Spain and Italy are coming down. Banks are no longer in danger of going belly-up. The central banks of the world are on record that they will not let the EU or the Euro fail. Just this week the European Central Bank loaned $640 billion in low-interest rate loans to their banking industry. There will be more of the same in the weeks and months ahead. It may not be enough to save Europe from a recession but it could well limit the severity and subsequent damage to the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Pessimism abounds wherever you look and that, my dear reader, should make you sit up and take notice. It is times like this when we have our best rallies. It is times like this that the smart money stays put and does not give in to the overwhelming gloom that is assaulting us at every turn. As a self-confessed contrarian, I remain somewhat bullish on the markets, if not hysterically so.
My strategy is to watch and wait between now and the end of the first quarter. December and January are normally the strongest months of the year. If the Santa Claus rally fails, followed by a down first quarter of 2012, then I will throw in the towel and get much more defensive. Until then I will give the markets the benefit of the doubt even if I keep my enthusiasm on a short leash.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good holiday weekend.