Like hucksters selling hot dogs in the ball park, the media is having a field day with the Japanese nuclear crisis. Americans, fearing for their safety, immediately bought out the nation’s supply of potassium iodide tablets. Investors are panicking worldwide, dumping trillions in equities, commodity and currency investments indiscriminately. There are so many rumors, falsehoods and downright lies flying around the airways that I am astounded we continue to tune into this drivel. I believe we all need to calm down and turn our TVs off.
As a former Fulbright Fellow to Japan, who has lived and spent a great deal of time in that wonderful country, I pray for a successful end to this nuclear crisis and a speedy economic and social recovery for the Japanese people, as I’m sure we all do. Events around the Fukushima reactor in Japan are precarious as I write this. Yet the knee-jerk response of the world’s governments, citizens and investors, as illustrated by the volatility in the financial markets, once again proves my point—the markets are not efficient, never will be and there, my reader, provides the opportunity for you to prosper.
The Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH), a theory concocted by academicians and followed stringently by those on Wall Street, maintains the current prices of securities reflect all information known about the security. They argue that investors cannot expect to outperform the overall market consistently on a risk-adjusted basis. Day-to-day changes in the market prices of securities cannot be predicted with any reliable degree of accuracy. Therefore any trading, security analysis or buy and sell strategies are of no value.
If these same market participants took the time to analyze the information coming out of Japan this week, I can’t see how even a country wide nuclear disaster in Japan will impact stocks in the U.S. or Europe or numerous other countries throughout the world.
Assurances that the fallout from these reactors, in a worst case scenario would not create a Chernobyl-type calamity, have fallen on deaf ears. Dire predictions that this catastrophe will set back economic growth in Japan for years do not square with history, nor do forecasts that Japan’s problems will put an end to our own recovery.
Most studies of similar disasters throughout the last few decades indicate Japan may suffer a quarter or two of slower economic growth followed by a pick-up in GDP as reconstruction spending takes hold. In addition, the disaster occurred in Sendai, in northern Japan which accounts for less than 2% of Japanese output.
The risk of nuclear fallout floating to this side of the Pacific has such a low probability that buying up iodine tablets on eBAY for over $200 (more than 10 times the usual price) may make sense if you lived 25 miles from the Fukushima reactors, but here in the U.S. it makes no sense.
It also makes little sense to talk of abandoning nuclear energy as an alternative fuel source. I find nothing wrong with checking the 104 reactors in this country for possible weaknesses. I think that should be done on a regular basis anyway. America has not built a new nuclear energy unit since the Three Mile Island disaster. It would be a shame to once again abandon this strategic energy source because of events in Japan.
So what are my recommendations in dealing with this debacle?
This sell-off has created so many buying opportunities in so many sectors that this should be called the great global giveaway in equities. In my opinion we are very close to a bottom. In last weekend’s column I wrote that I expected no more than a 5% decline in the S&P 500. We have already dropped 3% of that total. Some obvious places where the selling appears to be overdone are the nuclear energy sector and, of course, Japan. For long term investors, I wish you happy hunting.