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Russian Stocks: Betting on the Now

Moral rules meet simple logic in the search for cheap assets...
 
OCTOBER is coming. Excess liquidity is disappearing. And with the S&P 500 on a trailing P/E of 19.7, the index is fast approaching "sell territory", writes Bill Bonner in his Diary of a Rogue Economist
 
Watch out. 
 
Having finished with investment theory, now we turn to practical application. 
 
There are three parts to the investment world. The first part is Aristotelian, Cartesian, Pythagorean. It is a world of logic and calculations. He who calculates best wins. 
 
The second part is Socratic and Emersonian. The investment world, like the rest of the world, follows moral rules. When you do something "wrong" you will pay the consequences. 
 
For example, when you forget to pay a parking fine...you will probably regret it. Leave a rake lying in the yard, turned up the wrong way, and you will almost surely step on it. Buy an expensive "story stock", recommended to you by a broker you've never met, calling from Boca Raton, and you will most likely lose money. 
 
That is true in a larger sense, too. An economy that goes too deeply into debt will have to bear the consequences. No amount of QE or negative real interest rates will make those consequences disappear. They can only distort and displace them. 
 
This is not to say that moral rules will play out the way you expect in every instance. It is wrong to kill. But had you snuffed a certain housepainter in Vienna at the turn of the last century, the world might not necessarily be a worse place. 
 
Likewise, not every foolish bet goes bad. Still, you're probably better off believing it will. 
 
The third part of the investment world is completely unpredictable and unfathomable. Mr.Market gets up to mischief from time to time; he drives moralists mad and logicians to drink. 
 
The numbers we presented last week show that the average investor does not beat the indexes...not even close. 
 
According to data from Dalbar, he consistently lags just about every asset class there is. This leads the Efficient Market Hypothesis crowd to say: Just buy an index fund. You can't beat the market. 
 
But our Simplified Trading System (STS) tells us there's a good time to buy and a bad time. 
 
"Buy low and sell high," is the basic rule. US stocks are now expensive. The trailing P/E for the S&P 500 is 19.7. The 10-year cyclically adjusted P/E ratio (Shiller P/E of CAPE) for the index is even higher – at 26.3. 
 
What do you do when when US stock valuations are so high? 
 
Well, you need to find markets that aren't so pricey. Such as the Russian stock market! 
 
There, the trailing P/E is under 6.
 
You're thinking: "Hmm...Russian stocks are treacherous. Everybody says so. And with the war in Ukraine and the sanctions regime, they could go much lower." 
 
One of our own clever readers, Bradley P., warns:
"The downside on Russian stocks is still 100% from here. Mathematically that is the maximum loss one can have buying Russian stocks. 
 
"Once in the last hundred years that happened; when the Bolsheviks closed the stock market in 1917 [...] 
 
"Since US stock markets have never lost 100%, while Russian ones have, by a historical perspective US stocks, even at 20 times earnings, are likely a better investment than Russian stocks (never mind whether they use an accounting system you can trust). 
 
"Just wait until Russia closes the market to foreign investors, issues capital controls and the ADRs and ETFs go to zero."
Bradley may be right. But we don't presume to know – neither what is really going on now...nor what it will mean for the future. Neither in Russia nor in the US. 
 
All we know is that our calculations (as primitive as they are) tell us you get more value per Dollar in Russia. 
 
And our "moral" rule tells us that you don't make money speculating on the future. You make money by buying wisely in the present. 
 
Our guess is that Mr.Market aims to make fools of as many investors as possible. And right now, there are far more investors who are short or out of Russian equities than there are those who are long.

Bill Bonner has co-authored a number of New York Times Bestsellers including Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Markets and Messiahs. In his own opinion, Bill's most recent title, A Modest Theory of Civilization: Win-Win or Lose, is his best work yet. Bill also founded The Agora, a worldwide community for private researchers and publishers, in 1979. Financial analysts within the group have exposed and predicted some of the world's biggest shifts since that time, starting with the fall of the Soviet Union back in the late 1980s, to the collapse of the Dot Com (2000) and then mortgage finance (2008) bubbles, and more recently the election of President Trump.

See full archive of Bill Bonner articles

Please Note: All articles published here are to inform your thinking, not lead it. Only you can decide the best place for your money, and any decision you make will put your money at risk. Information or data included here may have already been overtaken by events – and must be verified elsewhere – should you choose to act on it. Please review our Terms & Conditions for accessing Gold News.

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