The American public thinks they are rugged individualists, who come to conclusions based upon sound reason and a rational thought process. The truth is that the vast majority of Americans act like a herd of cattle or a horde of lemmings. Throughout history there have been many instances of mass delusion. They include the South Sea Company bubble, Mississippi Company bubble, Dutch Tulip bubble, and Salem witch trials. It appears that mass delusion has replaced baseball as the national past-time in America. In the space of the last 15 years the American public have fallen for the three whopper delusions:
“Of course, we doubt if many public prescriptions are really intended to solve problems. People certainly believe they are when they propose them. But, like so much of what goes on in a public spectacle, its favorite slogans, too, are delusional – more in the nature of placebos than propositions. People repeat them like Hail Marys because it makes them feel better. Most of our beliefs about the economy – and everything else – are of this nature. They are forms of self medication, superstitious lip service we pay to the powers of the dark, like touching wood….or throwing salt over your shoulder. “Stocks for the long run,” “Globalization is good.” We repeat slogans to ourselves, because everyone else does. It is not so much bad luck we want to avoid as being on our own. Why it is that losing your life savings should be less painful if you have lost it in the company of one million other losers, we don’t know. But mankind is first of all a herd animal and fears nothing more than not being part of the herd.”
We have arrived at critical juncture in the ongoing financial crisis. Have the government actions of the last year successfully spurred the animal spirits of Americans, resulting in a self-sustaining recovery?
The Obama administration and most of the mainstream media would answer yes. GDP has been positive for the last four quarters. Consumer spending has increased in five consecutive months. Corporate profits have been relatively strong. The country has stopped losing jobs. The missing piece has been a housing recovery.
No need to worry. Famous or infamous (depending on your point of view) $15 billion man John Paulson has assured the world that house prices will rise 8% to 10% in 2011. His basis for this forecast is that California prices have rebounded 8% to 10% in the last year, and this recovery will spread to the rest of the nation.
Maybe Paulson has teamed up with his buddies at Goldman Sachs to develop a product that guarantees a housing recovery. I tend to not believe anything that comes out of the mouth of anyone associated with Wall Street, but let’s assess the facts and see if they point to an impressive housing recovery in 2011.
The man who has been right on housing for the last ten years has been Yale Professor Robert Shiller. His analysis of U.S. housing prices from 1890 until present, which he first published in 2005, unequivocally proved that we were in the midst of the greatest housing bubble in history. At the same time, David Lereah, the chief economist (shill) for the National Association of Realtors, was pronouncing it was the best time to buy. He published his masterpiece of market tops, Are You Missing the Real Estate Boom? at the 2005 housing peak. He called a bottom in January 2007, and the NAR has continued to tell Americans it is the best time to buy for the last five years as prices have dropped 36% nationally.
Dr. Shiller continues to be the voice of reason when it comes to the housing market. He is doubtful that the recent “recovery” will continue:
“Recent polls show that economic forecasters are largely bullish about the housing market for the next year or two. But one wonders about the basis for such a positive forecast. Momentum may be on the forecasts’
Some really interesting thoughts by Robert Shiller on the psychology of the markets and how negative psychology is beginning to compound, creating a snowball effect. Mr. Shiller is increasingly concerned about the economic outlook and the potential that we are talking ourselves off the edge of the cliff:
Today’s chart of the day comes to us courtesy of Robert Shiller at Yale University. The following is Shiller’s famous inflation adjusted home price index. Interestingly, despite a 30%+ decline from peak to trough, housing prices are still more expensive than at any other point in the last 120 years when you exclude the recent bubble era. Some say housing prices have bottomed. Not unless it’s truly “different this time”.
The couple bought their first home in a modest suburb in the late 1970s for an undisclosed price, then bought a home in another suburb in 1980 for $96,000. In 1987 they sold that residence for $110,000 and bought another one for $135,000. They then sold that house for $400,000 in 2002 and bought their current home for a price "in the $600,000s" (realtor-speak for about $650,000). After peaking in value at the bubble top in 2005-06 at around $1,000,000, the home is now on the market for $637,000 ($600,000 + 6% commission).
To peek under the hood of the larger trends, I’ve laid out each buy/sell along with its inflation adjusted value in current dollars. As always, I use the BLS inflation calculator; though it reflects the flaws of the CPI calculation methodology, it is consistent.
1980 purchase: $96,000
in 2010 dollars: $252,000
1987 sale: $110,000
in 2010 dollars: $210,000
1987 purchase: $135,000
in 2010 dollars: $257,000
2002 sale: $400,000
in 2010 dollars: $482,000
2002 purchase: $650,000
in 2010 dollars: $783,000
2010 sale: (projected) $637,000
These inflation-adjusted "real" numbers are insightfully different from the nominal prices.
To place the 1980 valuations in proper context, we need to recall that the U.S. was suffering from sky-high inflation in the late 70s and extremely high rates of new household formation as the 78 millon Baby Boomers went out and bought houses. Those two factors created a housing boom, both in valuations and homes built.
It took $1.36 in 1980 to buy what $1 had bought a mere three years before in 1977. As people fled the stock market for tangible assets and Boomers started families, real estate soared (as did gold). While I don’t have the numbers for that house bought for $96,000 in 1980, anecdotally I can assure you that homes…
Some of the world’s smartest and dumbest economists have gathered in Davos, Switzerland to talk about the global banking system and how they’re all hoping that 2010 doesn’t turn out like 2008. CNBC’s Becky Quick grabbed Yale economist Robert Shiller for a quick chat.
Obviously, Shiller is one of the sharper tools in the economic shed, starting this interview by noting of his duller brethren: "The problem with a lot of economic theory is that they have not recognized what drives the economy." Sad, but true.
Relying on the valuation methodology made famous by Yale professor Robert Shiller, author of the prescient bestseller Irrational Exuberance, along with some analysis of his own, Doug Short, publisher of dshort.com, raises the question that many bulls seem to be ignoring (or avoiding): "Is the Stock Market Cheap?":
For a more precise view of how today’s P/E10 relates to the past, our chart includes horizontal bands to divide the monthly valuations into quintiles — five groups, each with 20% of the total. Ratios in the top 20% suggest a highly overvalued market, the bottom 20% a highly undervalued market. What can we learn from this analysis? Over the past several months, the decline from the all-time P/E10 high dramatically accelerated toward value territory, with the ratio dropping from the 1st to the upper 4th quintile in March. The price rebound since March has now put the ratio at the top of the 2nd quintile — quite expensive!
A more cautionary observation is that every time the P/E10 has fallen from the first to the fourth quintile, it has ultimately declined to the fifth quintile and bottomed in single digits. Based on the latest 10-year earnings average, to reach a P/E10 in the high single digits would require an S&P 500 price decline below 600. Of course, a happier alternative would be for corporate earnings to make a strong and prolonged surge. When might we see the P/E10 bottom? These secular declines have ranged in length from over 19 years to as few as three. The current decline is now nearing its tenth year.
I would add that the equity market’s low-valuation extremes were hit during what might be described as "turbulent times," including World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the stagflation of the late-1970s. Except for the most delusional of permabulls, it would be hard for anyone to argue that the unraveling that began more than two years ago doesn’t also fit that bill.
The owners of capital fared no better, with the nominal S&P500 stock price index down 20% for the decade. The dividends stockholders collected made up for some of that, but inflation took away even more.
Blue line: Nominal value of S&P500 stock index, January 1980 to December 2009. Red line: value as of January 2000. Data source: Robert Shiller.
One of the reasons stocks did so badly was that real earnings ended the decade 80% lower than they began. Even when you smooth out cyclical variations by taking a decade-long average as in the dashed blue line below, the downturn in earnings at the end of the decade is still pretty significant.
Green line: Real value (in 2009 dollars) of earnings on the S&P500, January 1980 to December 2009. Dashed blue line: arithmetic average of green line for the preceding 10 years. Data source: Robert Shiller.
But a bigger reason why stocks did so badly was the changed valuation of those earnings. Yale Professor Robert Shiller likes to summarize this by using decade-long averages of real earnings to calculate a price-earnings ratio. In January 2000, this cyclically adjusted P/E ratio was profoundly out of line with the average values we’d seen over the previous century. If you trust the tendency of this series to revert to its long-run average, it means that whenever the blue line is above the red, you should expect stock prices to grow at a slower rate than earnings. If you bought when the blue was as far above the red as it was in January 2000, then I hope there was something else you found to enjoy about the naughty aughts.
Cyclically adjusted P/E over the last century. Blue line: Ratio of real value (in 2009 dollars) of S&P composite index to the arithmetic average value of real earnings over
Always and everywhere the market timing argument resurfaces in multifarious forms. The idea is simple: sell high and buy low: what could be more obvious? Well, there’s a problem. It’s not necessarily insurmountable but it’s definitely a bit tricky.
You may need a time machine to implement the concept successfully.
The idea behind market timing is easy to state. Sell stocks when they’re high and buy them when they’re low. It’s the basic idea the lies behind all investment in stocks so it’s hard to see why anyone should object. The difficulty lies in the impossibility of implementing the technique accurately in the timescales generally envisaged. Which, to be precise, tends to mean any timescale you can envisage at all. Mostly we have no idea ahead of time whether any given stock has peaked or troughed. Most guesses – let’s not dignify these with the term “forecast” – turn out to be wrong.
Unfortunately the idea is seductive and apparently easy to implement, in hindsight. Looking back everything seems so obvious that the untrained human brain finds it almost impossible to believe that the future isn’t equally predictable.
Buy and Hold
A recent study from the CFA shows that markets go up twice as much as they go down. Their recommendation, if you have cash to invest, is to invest everything now: the research shows that this will maximise your returns over an investment lifetime.
However, this is a pretty unnerving suggestion: had you thrown your money into the market back in the middle of 2006 you’d be sitting on a very nasty loss. Of course, you’d have been appallingly unlucky to get your timing that wrong, but inevitably some people did and the fact that the odds were against them doing so will be no consolation. The alternative suggested by the authors is to feed your money into the markets gradually – averaging your costs. This is a form of insurance, ensuring that you don’t put all your cash in at the market top or, of course, the market bottom.
However, the research also shows that there’s a limit to the value of averaging. After eighteen months there’s no discernable benefit to spreading the timescale of your investments. The vast majority of the benefit comes
Robert Shiller of the infamous Case-Shiller index has a particularly interesting piece in the NYT. Instead of hammering on numbers he takes a look at the psychology of home buyers and sellers and why that might affect home prices for some time to come.
Shiller examines the behavioral biases that lead people to “irrationally” hold onto houses during a period or declining values. The concluding paragraphs are thought provoking:
For this reason, not all economists agree that home price declines are really predictable. Ray Fair, my colleague at Yale, for one, warns that any trend up or down may suddenly be reversed if there is an economic “regime change” — a shift big enough to make people change their thinking.
But market changes that big don’t occur every day. And when they do, there is a coordination problem: people won’t all change their views about homeownership at once. Some will focus on recent price declines, which may seem to belie any improvement in the economy, reinforcing negative attitudes about the housing market.
Even if there is a quick end to the recession, the housing market’s poor performance may linger. After the last home price boom, which ended about the time of the 1990-91 recession, home prices did not start moving upward, even incrementally, until 1997.
I say it’s thought provoking because when you look at the recent frenzy in the lower priced end of the housing markets it’s hard to come up with a theory that squares with Shiller’s ideas. Unless you are of the opinion that the drastic decline in prices constitutes an economic “regime change.” Certainly, there hasn’t been any fundamental shift at all in the general economy that has prevailed in this sudden shift from a buyers to sellers market. So what might be driving it?
The only plausible theory I can come up with is that the buyers perceived an exceptional opportunity to purchase housing at favorable prices. Did they do so on the assumption that prices were about to begin a march back? Is the meme that you can’t lose money long term buying real estate so firmly ingrained that no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary will diminish it or are they simply grabbing an opportunity to buy shelter?
Attitudes towards the EU have hardened in the wake of the ISIS attack on Paris. A new poll reveals Majority of UK Public Now Wants 'Brexit'. More than half of the public now want to leave the European Union, according to an opinion poll for The Independent – the first time our monthly survey has shown a majority for “Brexit.”
The survey of 2,000 people by ORB, conducted last Wednesday and Thursday in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, will be seen as a reflection of public anxiety about the EU’s migration crisis.
Some 52 per cent of people say Britain should leave the EU, while 48 per cent want to remain.
This year has been a wild ride for Chinese stocks, something that long-time investors have come to expect from a country that's seen 55 bull and bear markets since the ruling Communist Party first allowed equity trading in 1990. As the Shanghai Stock Exchange celebrates it's 25th anniversary on Thursday, here's a look at some of the key milestones on China's path from equity-market upstart to $7 trillion behemoth.
Holiday trading kicked into gear, although volume for the S&P managed to push into a technical accumulation day. Things are likely to remain quiet through to next week and any sharp moves at this stage have a high risk of failure.
The top performing index on the day was the Russell 2000. It managed to add another decent gain o keep the string of higher closes running. It didn't quite close above 1,200, but it may do so Friday (with the aforementioned caveat of holiday trading). Overall action in this index has been positive, and relative performance to other indices continues to improve.
Some weeks when I write this article there is little new to talk about from the prior week. It’s always the Fed, global QE, China growth, election chatter, oil prices, etc. And then there are times like this in which there is so much happening that I don’t know where to start. Of course, the biggest market-moving news came the weekend before last when Paris was put face-to-face with the depths of human depravity and savagery. And yet the stock market responded with its best week of the year. As a result, the key issues dominating the front page and election chatter have moved from the economy and jobs to national security and a real war (rather than police ...
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I've decided to build our startup - Veritaseum, a peer-to-peer financial services platform, directly on top of the Bitcoin Blockchain. Many queried why I would voluntarily give up a lucrative advisory and consulting business to chase virtual coins in cyberspace. That's exactly why I decided to do it. That level of misunderstanding of what is essentially the second coming of the Internet gave me a fundamental advantage over those who had deeper connections, more capital and more firepower. I was the first mover advantage holder.
You see, Bitcoin is not about coins, currency or price pops. It is a massive computing net...
1) The shares of one of my largest short positions (~3%), Exact Sciences, crashed by more than 46% yesterday. Below is the article I published this morning on SeekingAlpha, explaining why I think it’s still a great short and thus shorted more yesterday. Here’s a summary:
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force’s Colorectal Cancer Screening Draft Recommendation issued yesterday is devastating for Exact Sciences’ only product, Cologuard.
I think this is the beginning of the end for the company.
My price target for the stock a year from now is $3, so I shorted more yes...
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Baxter Int. (BAX) is splitting off its BioSciences division into a new company called Baxalta. Shares of Baxalta will be given as a tax-free dividend, in the ratio of one to one, to BAX holders on record on June 17, 2015. That means, if you want to receive the Baxalta dividend, you need to buy the stock this week (on or before June 12).
Back in December, I wrote a post on my blog where I compared the performances of various ETFs related to the oil industry. I was looking for the best possible proxy to match the moves of oil prices if you didn't want to play with futures. At the time, I concluded that for medium term trades, USO and the leveraged ETFs UCO and SCO were the most promising. Longer term, broader ETFs like OIH and XLE might make better investment if oil prices do recover to more profitable prices since ETF linked to futures like USO, UCO and SCO do suffer from decay. It also seemed that DIG and DUG could be promising if OIH could recover as it should with the price of oil, but that they don't make a good proxy for the price of oil itself.
This is a non-trading topic, but I wanted to post it during trading hours so as many eyes can see it as possible. Feel free to contact me directly at email@example.com with any questions.
Last fall there was some discussion on the PSW board regarding setting up a YouCaring donation page for a PSW member, Shadowfax. Since then, we have been looking into ways to help get him additional medical services and to pay down his medical debts. After following those leads, we are ready to move ahead with the YouCaring site. (Link is posted below.) Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated; not only to help aid in his medical bill debt, but to also show what a great community this group is.
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