Once more unto the breach between stock values and common sense, thanks to the Fed...
"SO WHAT YOU ARE saying is that if the US Fed leaves rates this low, the market basically has permission to rally to new highs...even though it will have no basis in projected earnings and only stretch valuations even further?" asks Dan Denning in Melbourne for the Daily Reckoning Australia.
This was the question we put to our editorial roundtable yesterday. Kris Sayce, Murray Dawes, Alex Cowie, and Shae Smith were all there. The office was hot and sweaty. The air conditioners broke under Melbourne's mild heat wave. But everyone at the table seemed to be in agreement:
The Fed has put a rocket under the market.
The conclusion, we think, is important to your investment strategy for the rest of this year and probably through half of 2010. The Fed is giving traders as much fuel as they'd like – via low rates – to borrow low and invest high (high yielding assets). The conclusion of the traders, the small cap guys, and the resource guys and gals in our office is that the whole market is going to float higher on a sea of liquidity.
Tactically, therefore, the editors here at the Moon Factory reckon that the way forward is up. But it's a dangerous journey. Valuations in a credit boom go out the door. If you participate in this kind of move, you have to be aware that it's liquidity driven (the Fed's liquidity) and not anything else. All the editors agreed to ride it with their open positions, but to initiate trailing stops in all the positions.
Why? The reversals – and they always come – can be brutal. A trailing stop locks in at least some of your gains. So here's a free piece of advice today: set some mental trailing stops on your open positions. No sense in not profiting from a good rally if you are in the market.
But if you're not in the market, is now the time to jump in? Will you miss an even bigger upside by staying cautious? Probably. But we reckon that in the longer-term you're better off using moves like this to reduce your allocations to stocks. Sell into strength and get out while the getting is good.
Of course that's a pretty bearish view, not held (or spoken very loudly these days) by too many people. The conventional wisdom is that the stock market really is telling us that the economy is on the verge of a big breakout next year. And besides, stock rallies are always driven by liquidity.
The unconventional wisdom is that the Fed has learned nothing from the last bubble – or is so scared of deflation it's willing to gamble on another bubble in asset prices. The trouble, the eventual bust in asset prices, has to be reckoned up. And the Fed, along with all central banks who key off the Fed's policy, are just kicking the can down the road, hoping asset values improve.
But stocks are not engaged in this debate. They are moving up nicely. One sign of a toppy market is an acquisition where the big fish try and eat each other (as opposed to dining on the little, more manageable fish). Yesterday AMP made a $12 billion bid for AXA. That's about all we have to say about that, almost.
Late yesterday afternoon, Kris Sayce sent out a note to Australian Wealth Gameplan readers advising to take a 37% gross profit and sell Axa shares. He recommended the stock as an income play back in June – when we launched the super, income, and safety-focused letter (as a companion and counterpart to our Australian small cap letter).
Why sell a stock that's giving you capital gains as well as income?
"It's like getting nine months of income in one day," Kris reckoned. And that sounded about right. There will be other higher-yielding stocks on the market (and probably with less risk). Kris isn't changing the income strategy for AWG. But it is a good example of how you can use rallies like this to take profits on existing positions and gradually re-allocate your assets to a longer-term plan.
And speaking of super, the pressure seems to be mounting on the funds management industry to change its compensation model. That will tend to happen when you have two consecutive years of losses and charge people for the privilege. This exposes in plain sight the fact that most funds simply mimic the market (because most funds own the same big cap stocks). When the market drops, the funds go down.
Boom goes the dynamite!
"The reality of a rising market is that many managers generate large fees from general market growth rather than actually delivering out-performance for clients," wrote Frontier Investment Consulting's CEO Fiona Trafford-Walker, quoted in today's Australian Financial Review, under the category of "Gee, you don't say?"
But what's bad for the funds management industry – and bad to management fees based on compulsory super contributions – is probably a good thing for investors. We say probably because most investors are lazy and don't want to actively manage their money. It involves thinking, and that competes with watching television, going to the beach, and pruning the hibiscus plants.
For those that do see this as the chance of a lifetime to take more control of super AND get better performance, it means fund managers will have work a bit harder, not just for their money. But for you. And obviously this is good news for the good funds managers. They'll get more business.
And what would a good funds manager recommend right now? Well, we're not running anyone's super. In fact, as an American we don't even have a super fund here in Australia. But we are doing exactly what we recommend to readers anyway: building a position in Gold when prices look cheap and being very selective about how many and which stocks to own for this market.
By "this market", we mean one where it looks like another monster low-rate-rally...exactly the sort that preceded the all-time highs in 2007 – right before the reckoning. Once more into the breach...
Time to Buy Gold..?