Hill of Hope


Just about now everyone is confused as to which way the stock market is going to go - up or down. For the past 3 years it has been headed south, but the Wall Street experts have told us that the market never goes down 4 years in a row so this has to be an up year. But no guarantees.

The old saying is that the stock market climbs a wall of worry. We watch sharp moves up followed by days, sometimes weeks of weakness and then another shot to higher prices. From 1982 to 2000 this went on until we absolutely, positively knew it was going to continue forever. The current mindset is you can't lose if you just "hang in there". Mr. Average-stockholder has lost about 50% of his money so far and has chewed his fingernails to the nub. Now what?

I hope you don't need a house to fall on you to realize we are in a long-term bear market, one that could last for years. In a bear market the action is exactly opposite what you see in a bull market - sharp declines followed by slow agonizing rallies that don't quite make it back to the previous high prices. This is called climbing the Hill of Hope. This is a slippery hill to which you will not make it to the top. Hope is the most expensive word in an investor's lexicon.

The smartest (?) analysts (?) and talking heads on TV continue to tell us the market always comes back - if you live long enough. They fail to tell you that every bull market is followed by a bear market of about equal length. This last bull ended after 18 years and if cycles repeat we have 15 more years of the downward path to follow. I know - "this time it is different". Let's hope so, but I don't want to have my money on hope.

The DOW Industrial Index has been down 3 years in a row and only once in history has it gone down 4 times to newer lows. Did you know that the DOW Transportation Index has been down 5 years straight? Can there possibly be a sixth year? Your answer is as good as mine.

There has recently been some liquidation of mutual funds from 401Ks and IRAs, but the amount is small. It has been reported that there is about 3 trillion (with a T) in mutual funds. The talking heads speak of 10 and 20 billion leaving the so-called "safe haven". As a percentage of total assets this is a spit. One of these days not too far in the future (probably this year) investors will suddenly get the idea to head for the door. And they all seem to do it about the same time like lemmings headed over the cliff.

This will look like a major bottom in the market - and it might be if the P/E ratio can get down to around10 or less. Until it does they will still be trying, unsuccessfully, to climb that Hill of Hope.

Copyright 2005


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