Asking the Right Question
The solution to many problems starts with asking the right questions. For investors who actively follow the news, there is a daily fixation about what "caused" the market to blip higher or lower on a given day. This is inevitable. If you or I had the job of daily market commentary we would feel compelled to find and write about the day's market action.
In fact, many (most?) moves are within the range of regular volatility. It is "noise" not "signal."
Let's try a little test.
People saw two things happening at about the same time and inferred causation. Yesterday the market was up about 1%. Much of the punditry attributed the gain to the improved chances of the GOP in the Massachusetts Senate race. Many also opined that if the victory occurred, the market would stage a monster rally.
So the victory did occur, and anyone who wished could have bought S&P futures overnight at an attractive price. What happened? The market opened low, moved lower, and rebounded. The trading wiped out yesterday's gains. Some opined that this was a "sell the news" action, but that is a very lame explanation. The Brown victory was not certain yesterday, and in any case, the gains would not have been completely wiped out. This explanation is often suggested after the fact, since knowing what is already reflected in market prices is difficult.
So much for what people were watching. Now try this question?
Among the pundits yesterday (or last week) who was suggesting a focus on China and bank lending?
Apparently no one had this yesterday, although that was the big explanation for today.
In one of the best articles from my recent reading (and I read hundreds of them) Charles Kirk explained a key concept. One thing I like about the article is that it is based upon independent research, a survey of his readers, and therefore has information you cannot get anywhere else. It is hard work to collect data and do research. Most bloggers do not bother. The next thing I like is his innovative presentation of the results, with a word cloud for fears and hopes. It is a dramatic and effective presentation of the conclusion, and you should read this effective and brief article for yourself.
Putting it into words, he wrote as follows:
In my experience, usually the things we fear the most are the things that impact the market the least. I've seen this happen time and time again. Much like life, the things we don't know to worry about is usually what we should be worried about the most. Likewise, the things we hope from the market, usually work against us like they have for many who've been sidelined or short since last March and who are hoping for a correction now.
There are two investment conclusions — one strategy and one tactics.
Strategically, we can remember to learn a little more about China and keep the relevant indicators in mind. Here is a key quotation from the Merrill Lynch team (now brought to you by B of A). You will need a relationship to get this regularly, but it is very helpful commentary.
China's loan data might be the most important macro indicator in China and one of the most important for the globe in this global crisis. But confusion on this data leads markets to occasionally overshoot or undershoot. Today several media reported that the CBRC (China's banking regulator) asked some banks to stop increasing new loans, but some incorrectly interpreted this as regulators required banks to "stop lending". We think China is to change its policy stance and withdraw from emergency measures (click here for our note on the coming change of policy stance), but it's not a U-turn, and there will be no credit squeeze. – Ting Lu, TJ Bond, Xiaojia Zhi.
So let's get this straight. There are a bunch of pundits who were not even thinking about China. We get a few stories that misinterpret key indicators. Everyone ignores the great earnings stories of today and the reduced chances for tax increases and turns instead to a new source of worry.
Meanwhile, China's fourth-quarter GDP was up 10.7% over last year. And this is supposed to be bad news?
Tactically, the key question is how to participate in a rising market. Any advisors trying to find good entry points for new clients has faced frustration. It is exactly what Charles Kirk describes — the hope for a correction. Whenever there is a dip, I am looking for names that I like at attractive prices.
A Final Thought
The focus for investors is clear and simple: Earnings.
The earnings picture is strong and improving. It is leading the economic indicators because of cost-cutting and leverage. The Bearish Broadcasting Network has a spin for every earnings report. I especially liked the one about Intel (we own it and are buying for new clients).
The idea was that Intel has high gross margins on their products and it can only get worse. I guess if you have enough variables, you can find one to prove any point, but this is really stupid.
Here is a company that is expanding, showing operating leverage, and excellent earnings growth. It is at an attractive part of the cycle. If the economy continues to improve, people will buy more products with Intel chips — a lot more. It is a low point. What is not to like?
If investors focus on the many good earnings stories, there are plenty of great buys.
Instead, many people are obsessed with employment and other lagging economic indicators. An investor focused on employment is like a deer in the headlights. These investors will remain motionless until the rally has passed.
I am truly sorry that people are unemployed. I study the issue in detail, and track the progress each week. I sincerely hope that we can create more jobs.
But it is a lagging indicator for investors. I do not help the unemployed by staying in money market accounts. I can help more by investing in solid companies.