Who can blame the wary, weary investor? They are faced with markets that swing wildly, the averages gaining and losing more in a day then they usually do in a year. Most have lost a mountain of money and the headlines continue to spew a litany of bad news. The markets are dangerous and yet, stocks are cheap.
Last week I mentioned that there were real values out there and that prices had fallen to absurd levels in some cases. Today, Warren Buffet in a New York Times Op-Ed article echoed my own words. He wrote that he was buying American stocks in his personal account.
“A simple rule dictates my buying,” he wrote, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.”
That’s good advice but the Sage of Omaha also pointed out that in the short-term –over the next day, month or year–anything can happen in the markets. Buffet is a long term investor. He is patient and can afford to wait out the turbulence for what could easily be one, two or three years of difficult markets.
“That’s great for him,” said a client,” but I’m 72 years old and I need my retirement money now to live on. Who knows if I’ll even be alive in three years?”
It is a point well taken, given the breath-taking declines in the market that saw billions evaporate in just two weeks from so many 401(k) s and IRAs. I suspect those who moved to cash will stay there until they see conclusive proof that it is once again safe to go back in the water. So what would be some of the sign posts to look for?
Credit conditions top the list. We watch the three month Treasury bill yield, the LIBOR rate ( London Interbank Offer Rate where banks lend money to each other), the interest rate spread between the two and the yield on overnight commercial paper. The high yield bond market is another indicator we use. I am happy to tell you that all those indictors have improved over the last week except the high yield market; however they are still far from normal.
Real estate values and the rate of new and existing home sales are also on our list. So far we see little positive news coming out of that sector. We’re betting housing won’t see a bottom until next summer.
The decline in energy and other commodity prices have been a positive for the economy. Lower prices not only help the beleaguered consumer but have eased inflationary pressures, which could give the Federal Reserve room to cut interest rates again. They may need to do that as early as the end of the month at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting since recession to most economists is a certainty. They only debate how deep and protracted it will be.
The indexes continued to gyrate wildly all the way up to the close Friday afternoon. Several days the indexes experienced swings of 8 and 9% in one day. God help those naive investors who chased the market up. .No sooner were they invested then the markets turned dropping four or five percent in a matter of minutes. I agree with Buffet. If you are putting money in this market you better be a long term investor!