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Why I Wouldn't Bet My Retirement on Stocks Right Now

By Chris Weber, editor, The Weber Global Opportunities Report
Saturday, August 22, 2009

The easy part is nearly over.

It was pretty easy for me back in March to forecast a sharp rally in world equity markets. The nearly five months since then has been an exercise in watching this, and the building bullishness that has gone along with it.

Now it is just a question of how much farther this rally could go. It could go a long way more or it could vanish at any time: that's why I say we're coming into the hard part. What if the Dow Industrials go back and surpass their all-time highs of late 2007? Would that mean the problems would be over?

Well, the thought of that happening takes me back to my senior year in high school. It was January of 1973 and that is exactly what happened. After touching 1,000 back in 1966, the next seven years were spent in falling back, then bear market rallies that almost but did not quite get to the old highs, and then breaking down again, then rising.

There was huge bullishness in the air. I was in my senior high school biology class at that time, listening to the bullishness of one of my friends (yes, a few of us were interested in investing back then). I'd been in both currencies and precious metals for the previous two years (much like now), so I really had no opinions on what was going on in the stock market.

If I knew then what I know today, however, I would have been suspicious. In January of 1973, with the Dow well over 1,000 for the first time day after day, the Dow Transports still did not confirm by making their own records.

This "non-confirmation" under the Dow Theory forecasted trouble. And sure enough, the Dow Industrials spent the next two years in hell. In December of 1974 the Dow hit 570. Adjusted for the raging inflation back then, it had fallen in half in less than two years.

But that was finally the time when the markets bottomed, in late 1974. At that time, the values were really great. The dividend yield on the indexes was over 6%, and the P/Es were about the same level. In late 1974, depression and disgust with the stock markets was so thick you could cut it with the proverbial knife. That's the kind of markets you want to see in order to risk more than a portion of your assets in the stock market. 

I think we were far from this level of depression and great values back in March. One big reason is that the values are not there. As of the end of July, the dividend yield on the S&P 500 has fallen to only 2.13%. When the rally began in March, the yield was over 3.5%. That is a huge fall in a short time.

Then, as stock prices have soared, earnings of companies have just not kept pace. In many cases, they are down sharply. This imbalance in price to earnings is shown in the weird spike in the P/E ratio on the S&P 500. It is now up to 127 times annual earnings, up from less than 20 times earnings at the rally's start in March.

In other words, the dividend yield and the P/Es were not what you see at real bottoms. In really low markets, investors are shaken so much that years are required for them to regain bullishness. 

Instead, I think what we've been seeing are the types of violent rallies within bear markets we saw throughout both the 1930s and the 60s-early 70s. 

So once again, I'm just watching the stock markets. My position is that if the Dow Industrials and Transports can both better their previous record highs that they reached back in the second half of 2007, then I'll be interested and ready to say that we are really off to the races again. 

What I think is more likely is a repeat of the period of 1966 to 1975, where we'll see a series of rallies within a bear market. In other words, this will be an easy time to lose money, and a hard time to make it. 

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Even now, I am getting letters from readers wanting tips on what stock they can buy to make a quick killing. As the bullishness continues, there'll be no shortage of advisers who will be happy to recommend such stocks. But I fear that without the use of trailing stops, and maybe very strict ones at that, many will lose money. This would be just as most have lost money in the past two years.

The one area that did well from those years of 1966 to 1982 was the precious metals area. That was mostly a time of huge inflation and economic stagnation.

No rally can be sustained with yields and P/Es so poorly valued. But euphoria, and "dead cat bounces" can indeed take stocks higher than current levels. I just wouldn't plan my retirement from my investments in common stocks right now. I'm happy being mostly in cash and precious metals. 

Good investing,

Chris Weber 

Editor's note: When he was 16 years old, Chris Weber turned just $650 (saved from his paper route) into $1.8 million in cash, through a series of remarkably insightful investments. As you just read, right now Chris thinks it's smart to stay away from most stocks. Instead, he recommends a great way to hold gold - one he originally used to start his multimillion-dollar fortune. For more on what Chris is doing with his money, click here.

Market Notes


This week's chart will be familiar to regularDailyWealth readers.

While we'd rather not harp on the same negative story over and over, this one is worth repeating: Until the "big money" gets back from vacation and starts buying large quantities of stock, we have to be skeptical of this rally.

You'll notice an extra pane at the bottom of our chart. This pane displays trading volume. As you can see, the benchmark S&P 500 fund has steadily climbed since March. But here's the skeptic's take: Trading volume – the measure of how many market participants are buying stock – has steadily declined during the run higher.

A truly healthy stock market has the "fuel" of big mutual fund, hedge fund, pension fund, and insurance fund managers committing to stocks. Until we see this big money return from the beach and buy up shares, we can't be rosy on this market.

– Brian Hunt 

In The Daily Crux

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