No Shame in Cash
BALTIMORE – After a year of wandering the globe, we are back in the homeland… and ready to turn in our passport. Travel can be fun. It can also be “broadening.” But the most interesting thing about it is not so much what you find out about other places. It’s what you discover about your home.
You return to the land you once knew, as T.S. Eliot put it, and know it for the first time. So, we are ready to rediscover Baltimore – a place where children refer to handguns as “school supplies.”
The new school year begins in Baltimore…
And what’s this? Judging by yesterday’s mailbag, many of our dear readers are Sarah Palin fans. Several helped us decipher Ms. Palin’s gnomic remarks about Donald Trump, which we covered in Tuesday’s Diary. Several more canceled their subscriptions. They must have thought our admiration for the former Alaska governor was insincere.
But, let’s move on. First, we return to questions put to us in Mumbai two days ago.
“What should an investor do?” asked an old man in a Nehru jacket.
“Should I stay in the stock market? After all, staying in the stock market always seems to pay off over the long term. Or should I move to gold and cash?”
We have been telling people there is “no shame in staying in cash” until the market finds a bottom. If we’re wrong and prices shoot upward, we will miss the upside. But the risk of missing substantial gains seems slight. Earnings are going down. Almost all the signals from industry and commerce seem to be pointing down, too.
Meanwhile, U.S. stocks are still expensive. The CAPE ratio looks at the inflation-adjusted average of the previous 10 years of earnings relative to stock prices. On that basis, the S&P 500 has been a worse deal only three times in the last 100 years. Those were just before the 1929 Crash… the dot-com bust in 2000… and right before the 2008 meltdown – hardly auspicious precedents.
Where we are: the current PE/10 is in the 92nd percentile of market valuations since 1871 – exceeded only by 1919, 2007 and 2000.
Not only that, but also global debt levels are higher today than ever in history. Wouldn’t it make sense to stay in cash… on the sidelines… until prices go down and debt issues are resolved?
March to Hell
Not according to the newsletter writers at The Motley Fool. The Fool’s Matthew Frankel gives us “three reasons you shouldn’t worry about the stock market in 2016.”
“Don’t panic,” he goes on. The late Richard Russell, of Dow Theory Letters, taught us there are short cycles and long cycles. The long cycles are the ones that count. You can miss a rally now and then; it won’t make much difference. But miss a major, long-term bull market, and you have missed an opportunity of a lifetime.
On the other hand, riding through a major bear market can seem like a march to Hell. The worst thing that can happen, Russell used to say, is that you take a “ruinous loss” – one you can never recover from.
Major market swings take time. The Dow reached a peak in 1929. It didn’t regain that peak again until the late 1950s. Since then, we’ve cycled through booms and busts, reaching the latest top in 2015, when the Dow rose over 18,000.
The DJIA from 1920 to 1956 – in nominal terms, the average only regained its 1929 peak level in 1954. Apart from a short time in the 1950s-1960s, it only got back to its 1929 valuation in real terms in the mid 1990s. The vast bulk of the stock market’s nominal gains are simply a reflection of monetary inflation – click to enlarge.
The questions to ask yourself: Where are we now? Have we passed the top? Are we in a long decline? Then there are the personal questions: How long will you live? When will you need the money? How much volatility can you withstand?
Although top to top is a long time, it can also take a long time just to break even. The 1929 high was not reached again until 1956 – 27 years later. In Japan, they’re still waiting to recover half the losses from the crash of 1989 – 26 years on. How would you feel about waiting until 2042 before we return to last year’s high?
Whenever someone tells you that “stocks always go to new highs in the long run”, be sure to ask for a precise definition of “long run”, because it can sometimes be a lot longer than you’d expect – click to enlarge.
No Mountain Left to Climb
The other thing to realize is that the long-term performance of the stock market is mostly a myth. Yes, you could have made about 10% a year if you’d gotten in 100 years ago and stayed in. But that figure is subject to some important qualifications.
First, you don’t really make a steady 10% a year. That’s just what you get when you go back and average out your annual gains over a century. It looks as though you have steadily marched up the mountain and now sit high and dry. But when you’re at the top, the only way to go is down! Do the math again when you get to the bottom. You will find your average rate of return looks awful.
Second, who lives long enough to make it work? Compounding is great in theory. But it only works its magic at the end. Compound a penny at a 100% a year – from one to two… two to four… four to eight, etc. – and at the end of 10 years, you have just $10.24.
Compound $1,000 at 10% a year, and after 10 years, you have $2,593. Not bad. But hardly the sort of stuff dreams are made of. And that assumes that you get 10% a year. At today’s prices, stocks are already so high, there’s not much mountain left to climb.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller estimates the average annual return on U.S. stocks the next 10 years at only 3%. Vanguard Group founder Jack Bogle puts it at a little more than 1%. And Rob Arnott at Research Affiliates looks for a return of less than 1%. At those levels, you can forget about the magic of compounding.
Dr. Hussman’s market cap/GVA valuation parameter with actual subsequent S&P returns overlaid predicts a 12-year nominal S&P 500 return of 2.5% following the recent market losses. As you can see, this is abjectly low from a long term historical perspective – even the 2007 projection looked better.
Whacked by the Big Bear
Then, you have to worry about those drawdowns – the peak-to-trough losses you experience in your portfolio. If you compound at a rate of 10% a year but have a 40% drawdown in year three, you have to go for another three years just to get back where you started.
Worse, your lifetime of savings and investing gets whacked by a big bear market. You take the “ruinous loss” Russell warned about, with no time to recover. Most investors don’t have enough time to make compounding work as advertised. Most are already over 50 when they begin investing. They don’t have 100 years. They’re lucky if they have 15 or 20.
Over that kind of time frame, if there are any substantial setbacks, they’re finished. That’s why it’s so important to get in when the market is low. Then double-digit gains, compounded over many years, can at least be a theoretical possibility.
But if we’re right about where the economy is… how expensive the stock market is… and how difficult it will be to sustain further gains, then this is probably not the best time to begin a program of retirement financing via stocks.
On our scales, the balance between risk and reward in U.S. stocks falls heavily toward the risk. We see a reasonable likelihood of a ruinous loss against a remote possibility of a big gain.
So go ahead and panic. You may be glad you did.
The big bad bear – there’s no point in sticking around when he makes his entrance.
Photo credit: WVG Medien
Charts by: Doug Short / Advisorperspectives, Acting Man, BigCharts, John Hussman
Chart and image captions by PT
The above article originally appeared at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.
You may have noticed that our so-called “semiannual” funding drive, which started sometime in the summer if memory serves, has seamlessly segued into the winter. In fact, the year is almost over! We assure you this is not merely evidence of our chutzpa; rather, it is indicative of the fact that ad income still needs to be supplemented in order to support upkeep of the site. Naturally, the traditional benefits that can be spontaneously triggered by donations to this site remain operative regardless of the season - ranging from a boost to general well-being/happiness (inter alia featuring improved sleep & appetite), children including you in their songs, up to the likely allotment of privileges in the afterlife, etc., etc., but the Christmas season is probably an especially propitious time to cross our palms with silver. A special thank you to all readers who have already chipped in, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Regardless of that, we are honored by everybody's readership and hope we have managed to add a little value to your life.
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
Most read in the last 20 days:
- India: The World’s Fastest Growing Large Economy?
Popular Narrative India has been the world’s favorite country for the last three years. It is believed to have superseded China as the world’s fastest growing large economy. India is expected to grow at 7.5%. Compare that to the mere 6.3% growth that China has “fallen” to. India's quarterly annualized GDP growth rate since 2008, according to MOSPI (statistics ministry) - click to enlarge. The IMF, the World Bank, and the international media have celebrated...
- Don’t Blame Trump When the World Ends
Alien Economics There was, indeed, a time when clear thinking and lucid communication via the written word were held in high regard. As far as we can tell, this wonderful epoch concluded in 1936. Everything since has been tortured with varying degrees of gobbledygook. One should probably not be overly surprised that the abominable statist rag Time Magazine is fulsomely praising Keynes' nigh unreadable tome. We too suspect that this book has actually lowered the planet-wide IQ –...
- Gold Sector Update – What Stance is Appropriate?
The Technical Picture - a Comparison of Antecedents We wanted to post an update to our late December post on the gold sector for some time now (see “Gold – Ready to Spring Another Surprise?” for the details). Perhaps it was a good thing that some time has passed, as the current juncture seems particularly interesting. We received quite a few mails from friends and readers recently, expressing concern about the inability of gold stocks to lead, or even confirm strength in gold of...
- What is the Best Time to Buy Stocks?
Chasing Entry Points Something similar to the following has probably happened to you at some point: you want to buy a stock on a certain day and in order to time your entry, you start watching how it trades. Alas, the price rises and rises, and your patience begins to wear thin. Shouldn't a correction set in soon and provide you with a more favorable buying opportunity? Apple-Spotting – a five minute intraday chart showing the action in AAPL on February 1, 2017 - an...
- Incrementum Advisory Board Meeting, Q1 2017 and Some Additional Reflections
Looming Currency and Liquidity Problems The quarterly meeting of the Incrementum Advisory Board was held on January 11, approximately one month ago. A download link to a PDF document containing the full transcript including charts an be found at the end of this post. As always, a broad range of topics was discussed; although some time has passed since the meeting, all these issues remain relevant. Our comments below are taking developments that have taken place since then into...
- Gold and Silver Divergence – Precious Metals Supply and Demand
Gold and Silver Divergence – Precious Metals Supply and Demand Last week, the prices of the metals went up, with the gold price rising every day and the silver price stalling out after rising 42 cents on Tuesday. The gold-silver ratio went up a bit this week, an unusual occurrence when prices are rising. Everyone knows that the price of silver is supposed to outperform — the way Pavlov’s Dogs know that food comes after the bell. Speculators usually make it...
- Trump and the Draining of the Swamp
Swamp Critters BALTIMORE – The Dow is back above the 20,000-point mark. Federal debt, as officially tallied, is up to nearly $20 trillion. The two go together, egging each other on. The Dow is up 20 times since 1980. So is the U.S. national debt. Debt feeds the stock market and the swamp. What’s not up so much is real output, as measured by GDP. It’s up only 6.4 times over the same period. Debt and asset prices have been rising three times as fast as GDP for 36 years! Best...
- Making America Great Again – How to Judge Policy
A Simple Formula MIAMI – How do we know if new programs will make the economy better... or worse? Here’s a simple formula: W = rv (w-w – w-l) That is, wealth is equal to the real value of win-win exchanges minus the loss from win-lose exchanges. Yes, dear reader, it’s as simple as that. Like a whittler working on a piece of wood, we’ve shaved so much off, there is nothing left of it... except the essential heartwood. When devising a win-win,...
- When Trumponomics Meets Abenomics
Thirty Year Retread What will President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talk about when they meet later today? Will they gab about what fishing holes the big belly bass are biting at? Will they share insider secrets on what watering holes are serving up the stiffest drinks? [ed. note: when we edited this article for Acting Man, the meeting was already underway] Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe, a dyed-in-the-wool Keynesian and militarist, meets America's...
- The Great Wailing
Regret and Suffering BALTIMORE – Victoribus spolia... So far, the most satisfying thing about the Trump win has been the howls and whines coming from the establishment. Each appointment – some good, some bad from our perspective – has brought forth such heavy lamentations. Oh no! Alaric the Visigoth is here! Hide the women and children! And don't forget the vestal virgins, if you can find any... You’d think Washington had been invaded by Goths, now...
- Receive a One Percent Gift When Buying or Selling a Home
How to Save Money When Buying or Make More When Selling a Home In your professional capacity and perhaps also in your private life, you may be closely involved with financial and commodity markets. Trading in stocks, bonds or futures is part of your daily routine. Occasionally you probably have to deal with real estate as well though – if you e.g. want to purchase an apartment or a house, or if own a home you wish to sell. The people who took this photograph probably want to...
- Silver Futures Market Assistance – Precious Metals Supply and Demand
Silver Is Pushed Up Again This week, the prices of the metals moved up on Monday. Then the gold price went sideways for the rest of the week, but the silver price jumped on Friday. Taking off for real or not? Photo credit: NASA Is this the rocket ship to $50? Will Trump’s stimulus plan push up the price of silver? Or just push silver speculators to push up the price, at their own expense, again? This will again be a brief Report this week, as we are busy...