The market ended April as it began, grinding up on low volume, ignoring increasingly worsening energy prices, continued turmoil in the Middle East and slowing worldwide economic growth. To me it feels like we are in the calm before the storm. More specifically, it eerily feels like the months before the financial crisis and meltdown of 2008. The similarities are striking to me and think the market is ignoring the signs of an impending and significant pullback over the summer.
Here are ten reasons 2011 is starting to feel so much like 2008.
- Gas prices are rising rapidly and starting to impact consumer spending and sentiment. On Thursday, gas prices hit this highest level since July 31st, 2008 and have risen every month since last August, up over 30% since the “Arab Spring” commenced in Tunisia. Consumer discretionary stocks are particularly vulnerable. Avoid high priced retailers like Lululemon (LULU) and Under Armour (UA) as well as retailers focused on demographics especially vulnerable to high gas prices, such as Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF).
- Despite numerous federal programs (mostly failed), the housing market remains moribund. Prices continue to fall across most markets in the United States, albeit at a slower rate than 2008 and in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. New housing starts are bumping along at record lows and are contributing little to job growth.
- The Federal Reserve continues to be behind the curve. In 2008, the subprime loan problem was “contained”. In 2011, Bernanke can’t seem to see any signs of inflation despite rapidly rising energy and food prices (they are not “core” components of the Index Blind Ben places his faith in, after all) or all through the commodity complex.
- In 2008, we were fighting military actions in two Middle Eastern countries; Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2011, we are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and have added ½ a war in Libya, which we have outsourced to NATO. Given the quickening pace of unrest in that volatile area of the world and our incoherent policy so far in dealing with it, hopefully U.S. obligations there do not increase by the end of 2011. However, given the worsening events in the region, a higher floor for oil prices has been established in the short and medium term.
- World food prices increased dramatically in the 1st and 2nd quarter of 2008 creating a global crisis and causing political and economical instability and social unrest in both poor and developed nations. The price of wheat has gone up 75% in the last year and many foodstuffs have more than doubled in price over the last twelve months. In 2008, this produced food riots in many developing countries. In 2011, we have uprisings throughout the Middle East (not suggesting this is the primary cause, but a contributor).
- In May 2008, the market was worried about which was the next financial institution to fall after the Bear Stearns debacle. In May 2011, the market is waiting to see what European sovereign state will be the next to need a bailout after Greece, Ireland and Portugal and what the ramifications will be for the credit markets.
- In 2008, gold hit $900 an ounce in January of that year and $1000 an ounce for the first time in March 2008. In 2011, gold and silver just hit all time highs last week with gold hitting $1535 an ounce and silver in a distinct bubble at $50 an ounce.
- As in 2008, U.S. GDP growth was anemic in the first quarter. In 2008, economic growth clocked in at .6% in Q1. In 2011, GDP growth was better at 1.8% but show a significant slowdown from the previous quarter.
- As in 2008, the fiscal and monetary policies of the United States have led to a decline in the value of its currency. Despite significant problems in Europe and Japan, the dollar index just hit its lowest point since July 2008. This is a major contributor to the increasing inflation that is appearing in various points in the pipeline, especially food and energy.
- In 2008, China, the world’s third largest economy, instituted a series of measures to curb growth in order to address increasing inflation and the beginnings of a property bubble. The Shanghai Index fell over 10% in the first half of 2008. In 2011, China now the world’s second largest economy, is again instituting a series of measures to curb inflation, including several interest rate hikes. Over the last seven months, the Shanghai Index has been flat despite the S&P being up approximately 15% over the same time period
History does not always repeat itself, but it does rhyme, as the saying goes. For the reasons listed above, I am very cautious here. I believe we are due we are in for a significant correction over the summer of 15%-25%. I am keeping a good portion of my portfolio in cash, awaiting the pullback that I feel is close. I hope to use these funds to pick up good companies with solid growth prospects - like Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) - at some point over the summer at lower prices. The funds I do have in the market are concentrated in large cap blue chip stocks with reasonable valuations, growing revenues and solid dividend yields. Companies like Microsoft (MSFT), Intel (INTC), Novartis (NVS), Abbott Labs (ABT), and Telefonica (TEF) are some of these types of stocks that I think fit the bill. Be careful out there.