By Alexander Green
Investors are scared right now and it’s not hard to see why.
Economic growth is anemic. Unemployment is high. Banks are saddled with toxic assets. Problems in the Eurozone continue to fester. Residential real estate is sinking in a mire of short sales and foreclosures. And both federal and state governments – not to mention consumers themselves – are drowning in a sea of red ink.
We have all heard these negatives repeated daily and cycled endlessly in the national media.
However, these reports often leave out or play down the good news: Inflation is low. Short-term rates are near zero. Energy and food prices are declining. Emerging market economies – which are end markets for the developed world – are still booming. Corporate profits are at an all-time record – and have been for seven quarters now. And stock valuations are low. (The S&P 500 has historically traded at an average of 16 times earnings. Today it’s less than 14 times earnings.)
Last year I shared another key insight with you. It has always been a positive indicator for stocks when the Dow yields more than Treasury bonds.
This makes sense when you think about it. Shares are riskier than bonds. Investors should demand a higher yield. Yet almost never since 1958 have stocks yielded more than Treasuries. Today they do, however. The 10-year bond yields just two percent. The Dow yields 30 percent more.
If you’re still not convinced that equities are a good place to be in 2012, let me draw your attention to one of the strongest indicators of all…
Contrarian Investing Works
It’s a truism that no one consistently predicts the stock market. (That’s why money manager and Forbes 400 member Ken Fisher calls it “The Great Humiliator.”) However, there’s a straightforward system that offers a reasonable prospect of timing the market reasonably well in the future.
A 25-year study published last year in The Journal of Financial Economics found that if you had simply invested in the S&P 500 when equity fund flows were negative (redemptions exceeded new investments) and into 90-day Treasury bills when fund flows were positive (new investments exceeded redemptions) you would have substantially outperformed the market while spending nearly half the time in riskless T-bills.
In other words, contrarian investing works. This system would have you do the very inverse of what the great mass of investors is doing. (It turns out they have god-awful instincts, so it pays to buck the consensus.)
Bear in mind, if you’d followed this system, you wouldn’t just have earned higher returns than being fully invested. You would have done it with far less risk, spending nearly half the time in riskless T-bills.
I mention this because the Investment Company Institute recently reported that investors are yanking billions out of equity funds virtually every week and pouring the money into ultra-low-paying money market accounts. The Wall Street Journal further reports that “investors have continued to consistently pull money from U.S. equity funds since August.”
I’m trying to contain my glee. Who says no one rings a bell in the stock market?
The fear and pessimism about both the economy and the stock market are way overdone and fully discounted in current stock prices. If you can’t be stirred by low interest rates, low inflation, low valuations and record profits, you really should ask yourself two important questions:
1. Is logic or emotion governing my decision making about my portfolio?
2. If I don’t invest in stocks – the greatest wealth creator of all time – how am I going to meet my long-term financial goals?
We’ll talk more about these issues in the weeks ahead. But, for the record, I think 2012 will be a good year for the stock market and – although virtually no one expects or believes it – perhaps even a barnburner.
Disclosure: Investment U expressly forbids its writers from having a financial interest in any security they recommend to our subscribers. All employees and agents of Investment U (and affiliated companies) must wait 24 hours after an initial trade recommendation is published on online - or 72 hours after a direct mail publication is sent - before acting on that recommendation.