All that glitters / The bears come out of the woods
This doesn't look like the sunniest of weeks on the stock market. On Friday it turned out that the mood among American consumers, at least as measured by the Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of consumer sentiment, is still pretty bad. New York's stock exchanges reacted to the report with a retreat of about 1%. Since Israeli equities largely behave like their American counterparts, we can expect Tel Aviv shares to droop as well.
Naturally, a day in the doghouse here or there means nothing, trend-wise. This year stocks rallied with a strength that left pretty much everybody slack-jawed. Low interest rates, the markets awash in liquidity and the herd effect added to fond expectations that the worst was over, and what we got was a boom, as far as share prices were concerned at least.
From the lowest point in March, American stocks have risen by nearly 50%. From the start of the year Chinese shares have gained 71%. Tel Aviv stocks are up 59% this year. But the higher the gains, the louder the voices of doubt predicting a savage spate of profit-taking, even a crash.
Some even dare to give the timing. Namely, next month, which is traditionally a bad month on stock markets, though there's no logical reason for the September blues. If not September, say the doomsayers, then October, which was a terrible month last year.
What is the basis for these pessimists' grim forecasts? Here are five opinions that might give you pause if this was the time you thought to get into the market.
Robert Prechter is president of Elliott Wave International, the world's biggest vendor of technical analyses. Elliott Wave sells its analyses via Reuters and Bloomberg.
Prechter is a star in the world of technical analysis, which is a method for predicting asset prices and index behavior based on past performance. The analysis is based on the assumption that patterns tend to repeat themselves because so does the behavior of traders and analysts. Prechter, who has written 13 well-regarded books and edits a journal on technical analysis, was crowned "guru of the decade" by the financial television network CNBC.
He has an impressive record of accurate forecasts, including the crash of 1987 and his advice to clients this February to wind down their short positions and prepare for steep gains.
Prechter isn't optimistic now. His advice to investors is to get out of the stock market. His advice to speculators is to go short. Prechter is predicting a drop of more than 30%. Moreover, he suspects, based on technical analysis, that declines will dominate the stock market in the years to come. "The extreme overvaluation, the manic buying and bubbles in the late 1990s [and] mid-2000s are for the history books - they're very large," Prechter said. "The bear market is going to have to balance that out with some sort of significant retrenchment."
Mohamed El-Erian is also a guru in the making. He manages Pimco with founder and president Bill Gross. Pimco is the world's biggest bonds management company. Gross, El-Erian and Pimco don't believe that America can restore economic growth of 5% a year, let alone 6%. It will have to settle for 2% to 3% a year for a long time, high unemployment, thrifty consumers and wave after wave of bankruptcies.
Simply, El-Erian says investors have become too optimistic and that the future will be characterized by lower profit multiples. He thinks share prices have overshot the state of the economy he predicts for 2010 and recommends that investors get out of high-risk American stocks and bonds. He suggests that they move their money into government bonds and shares of companies rich in cash that pay dividends, or securities issued in other countries where GDP is growing faster than in the United States.
Niall Ferguson, a Scottish historian at Harvard University, has studied the Rothschild family and financial bubbles. He thinks that U.S. President Barack Obama has now peaked and is headed for a fall.
Ferguson, who advised Noam Gottesman's hedge fund GLG Partners and counseled investors to short banks stocks ahead of the 2008 crash, compares Obama to Felix the Cat, the lucky daredevil feline from the comic strip who manages to escape every battle intact. But Ferguson thinks Obama's luck is running out.
The United States is controlled by Congress, he explains, which is driven by public opinion, and the public is growing frightened of the mounting national debt. With a budget deficit of $1.8 trillion and counting, with households owing 130% of their disposable income, and with bankruptcies mounting by the day, Obama may yet find himself mired in a miserable reality of zero economic growth and a complete loss of public confidence. In that situation, the slightest untoward event, says Ferguson, could tip America and the rest of the world into an economic nightmare.
Remember Nassim Taleb, the former options dealer turned philosopher who won fame by writing "The Black Swan", in which he predicted the economic meltdown? Well, he hasn't mellowed.
Last week he told CNBC that we're all still in denial. Instead of weaning ourselves off credit, he said, we're replacing personal credit with public credit. We have learned nothing, says Taleb. We aren't carrying out the structural reforms we need and the banks are back to their old tricks and are taking over the system again. If he's right, this augurs ill for investors.
Few would argue against the view that Goldman Sachs is the foremost, smartest and most successful investment bank in the world. Even during the implosion, Goldman Sachs bet against subprime mortgages and wielded its influence in the corridors of government to escape the crisis not only unharmed, but stronger, with rather less competition over fees.
And what is Goldman Sachs counseling today? It counsels its clients to beware: If you believe that the economy will remain weak and consumption feeble, you should buy long-term, five-to-seven-year CDS (collateralized debt obligations) to hedge against bankruptcies among retailers, or put options on the indexes of these stocks. A grim suggestion indeed.