I find January to be one of the most difficult months for long-term investors. In the spirit of the fine American tradition of making New Year’s resolutions, we feel a need to make a resolution for the stock market (as if it will listen to us) in the form of a prediction.
I don’t dismiss the benefits of forecasting, but we should forecast what we can forecast – market timing is not it. We just listen to our gut (which for all I care could be influenced by the fat content of food consumed at the time of the prediction) and verbalize it in well structured sentences that give our fortune telling much needed sophistication.
Though some do a great job playing market timers on business TV, with the assistance of sound horns and theatrical Oscar-like performances, the advice granted is not worth the damage to your ears or eyes. Timing short-term markets is a loser’s game. Let’s be honest with ourselves – we really don’t know.
The problem with forecasting short-term market movements is that even if you get the economic event right and Lady Luck kisses you on the cheek and you nail its timing, the market may just spit in your direction and chose to ignore it till a later date. Last summer, for example, the housing bubble finally burst, bringing the toxic waste (sub-prime) loans onto the surface. Credit markets froze… and you’d think the stock market would decline? No, the Dow went on to make an all time high, hitting 14,000 and ignoring the problems for months.
Let’s leave the market timing to the media, take a drink of cold water and approach forecasting the right way. Even a long-term investor has to recognize that long-term consists of a series of short-terms. The tsunami of short-term events may change the direction of the long-term. We have to accept that we probably won’t get the timing right, adopt an “I’d rather be vaguely right than precisely wrong” attitude, focus on identifying shorter-term risks that may stand between us and the long-term, and stress test our portfolio for them accordingly.
It would be careless to dismiss the possibility of a recession (some argue that we already are in a recession). Past recessions were caused by excesses of inventory and overcapacity in the corporate sector. As corporations rationalized their inventories and factories, higher unemployment followed – we were in a recession. Excesses were worked out, corporations started to hire, and voila – we were out of the recession.