Monday, February 5, 2018

Where Is the Stock Market Headed?

With the Dow Jones Industrial Average having dropped over 2,000 points since its peak a week and a half ago, this is the $64,000 (or more) question.  The recent market surge resulted to a large degree from too much optimism.  Market players have selectively focused on the good news (strengthening economy, big corporate tax cut, rising employment levels), while shrugging off the bad news (growing signs of inflation, rising interest rates, and increasing political discord).  Life is like a rose--pretty petals, but thorns as well.  If you ignore the thorns, you'll get an ouchie sooner or later.

So what happens after today's ouchie (1175 points off the Dow)?  The recent market surge seems similar to the valuation-driven bull markets of 1987 and 2000, which resulted in sizable drops of 25% to 30% in the Dow followed by gradual recoveries that took two to three years.  But we should bear in mind an earlier drop off. In 1973, the stock market (measured by the S&P 500) peaked after a long run up, not unlike the one we've had since 2009.  Then, it declined some 40% or more and didn't recover until some seven years later.  The 1970s were also a time of rising inflation and political scandal (Watergate), with the only resignation of a President.  Political turmoil affects economies and stock markets (look at Venezuela, where a lot of folks can't even get a square meal because of political strife).

Expect more market turmoil tomorrow, the next week, the next month, and maybe the next year.  The market could easily drop some more.  We're running out of good news.  There may be little major legislation coming out of Washington, given the political quagmire.  The Fed may go easy on the tightening, but it's not going to cut interest rates simply to support stock prices.  It's already done that, perhaps too much--and today's drop was likely a consequence.  The economy seems to be slowly gaining altitude.  But there's nothing going on that will provide it a quick major boost.  The federal government can't increase the deficit, given its recent deficit-funded splurge with the tax cut bill.  Corporations seem not to be rushing to increase reinvestment of their tax savings.  The Trump administration may spark a trade war with China and other nations.  And the stability of the federal government cannot, in these times that try our souls, be taken for granted.

History teaches that it's not a great idea to sell your stocks in an effort to staunch losses.  People who try to time the market generally fail to get back in and enjoy the resurge that will likely come (although the resurge could be a long time coming). Instead, try to spend less and save more.  Keep your investments diversified.  And don't stop knocking on wood.

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