Friday, March 26, 2010

Investing on The Edge of a Precipice

Today we highly recommend the March 8th weekly comment by John Hussman, The Rubber Hits the Road. Hussman makes some good points about history, comparing post-war economies with financial-crisis economies, relates that to this present period we face, and describes the human psychological factors that come to bear on security prices. The discussion of pending mortgage resets and how that may play out is particularly relevant.

It is interesting to see someone actually point out how and when we may rely on the irrational exuberance of speculators to make informed decisions of our own:
As we move through the coming months, resolving the "two data sets" issue will help us to determine which set of historical precedents is relevant. If the current economic environment produces fresh credit strains similar to previous periods of credit difficulty in the U.S., Japan and elsewhere, valuations and margin of safety will remain the most important consideration in determining investment positions. If the economic situation reveals itself to be more like typical post-war cycles, valuations will still be an important consideration, but we'll be better able to assume that speculation (provided sufficient evidence from market internals) will be reliable even in the absence of clear fundamental support from valuations.

If you are a Graham-Dodd fan, you'll particularly like how Hussman builds upon their foundation in presenting the expectations of investors in the current environment. Our conclusions is that with the infatuation Americans have with entertainment and personal emotions and opinions over facts and substance, we are unlikely to see any sound behavior by the general public with regard to investments.

The one thing he didn't mention in March 8th were the fundamental factors pointed out in a previous weekly comment, which contribute a third influence on the confluence of forces affecting the markets: the Fed quantitative easing policy coming coming to an end, just about the time we may begin to receive some clarity on his "two data sets". Add to that the potential for more debt issues out of Europe in the next few months, and the security markets may very well be resting on a weak precipice.

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