Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ignore Short-term Headlines,
Invest for the Long-Term

Pundits focusing on the individual investor and the independent voter proclaim the pains of uncertainty. They explain the lack of attention to the shortage of retirement funding throughout the world. Compared with their appetite for stocks over the last generation, individual investors’ purchases of equity mutual funds beyond their tax-sheltered retirement plans is pathetic. Capital growth is not their answer to recognized long-term needs. Capital preservation through the ownership of bonds is where their smaller-than-normal excess investment dollars are going. The low apparent inflation rate is not a concern for them.

Upbeat notes

In contrast, the non-committee focused professional investor is becoming increasingly attracted to equities and equities with coupons known High Current Yield bonds, or if you will junk bonds. Their purchases are providing the upward momentum we have seen since the dog days of August. They are being reinforced by strategic and financial acquirers’ announcements or rumors.

One of our advantages in helping sizeable institutional and substantial net worth investors in mutual funds is that we talk with lots of very smart and aware portfolio managers and analysts. Without exception they expect better revenues and earnings to be generated by their investments than past comparisons. (To be fair, some are moderating their estimates for 2011, but still see them higher than their 2010 estimates.) Occasionally we supplement this research by interviewing operating corporate executives who report that business is better than in the recent past and that their order books are getting fatter. As many members of this blog community know, my wife Ruth and I regularly check-out one particularly glitzy mall and other stores. There is a discernable “buzz” in the air as we see more shopping bags leaving the mall on the arms of many different types of consumers.

Three upcoming events

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is an old expression that the viewer sees what he or she wants to see. There are three opportunities that will give consumers/investors an opportunity to use their dollars to express whether these events are viewed as good or bad for them.

The US elections

The first will be the results of the mid-term US elections, which may lead to significant changes in the critical unelected, but extremely powerful staffs on the various Congressional committees and to some extent the so-called independent agencies. One might suggest that the stock market rise since Labor Day is discounting the favorable change. The second and third events are somewhat interrelated.

Attempts to manipulate Balance of Payments

The second item is the government's attempted manipulation of balance of payments among the countries of the world. If this practice was done in the private sector it would be illegal. The US government wants to create an artificial ceiling to the size of balance of payments surpluses (read: limit the size of the US balance of trade deficit). We know the reality of international trade, that constraints do not work. In the historic example of the Smoot–Hawley Tariff of 1930, enacted by a panicked US Congress, the world was plunged into a depression from a severe recession. The futility of limiting trade is evidenced by the fact that during almost every war in recorded history, the opposing sides traded with each other through third parties.

Gold vs. paper currencies

The third event or events is the pattern of learned experts predicting that the price of gold will rise to $1500, $2200, and $10,000. This is the wrong way to look at the price of gold according to a very smart friend of mine who has headed two major research departments. His contention, along with others, is that the price of gold is a contrary indicator which measures the decline of the value of paper currencies, led by the dollar.

The link between the government attempts to manipulate trade flows and the decline in the value of paper currencies is the governments’ induced inflation. When people trade using currency (as distinct from barter), on one side of an international trade, both the amount and the value of the currency play a role in setting price. The US along with many European governments is trying to answer unemployment problems by the injection of taxpayer funds to support the economy through the expansion of debt.

In November we will learn about the election, the ill-advised quantitative easing by the Fed (discussed in my blog last week), the meeting of the G-20 leaders, and the likelihood of further legislative actions in the “rump’ session of the US Congress. Whatever actually happens, the key to the near-term outlook for the stock market is what beauty will investors, particularly individual investors behold in the post-November world?

What to do?

What should intelligent long-term investors do in the face of the November issues? I would suggest that you ignore all of the headlines and focus on building a portfolio that is appropriate to your needs for at least the next ten years. Over that period we will get one or more major winds to fill our sails. This wind will give us ample opportunities to jettison any poor investments that we have made and to rebuild our reserves for future storms. Sail on...
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