Usually I try to come up with analyses of undervalued stocks every now and then. I haven't posted anything during the past few weeks and I must admit that my perception of the market has recently changed. Before much of the subprime woes were dominating the news, I was still of the opinion that the major US indices would go up much further than 14,000 based on the simple fact that the Fed would keep printing more and more money.
This would not specifically be good news for stocks, but it would certainly lead money to lose its value and that usually helps share prices to appreciate. I think there is no better example of this than the Zimbabwe stock exchange. But as I mentioned, my perception changed. I am not very bullish anymore, in fact, I am bearish.
The subprime problems have certainly put the train in motion. Mortgage lenders are to a great extent responsible for the situation we're in now. They are directly or indirectly responsible for making lending more difficult, for rising interbank rates, for falling housing prices and to some extent for the (coming) drop in consumer spending.
The same goes for credit card companies. I have always had my thoughts about capitalist countries where possessions are bought on credit. The only thing I will ever buy on credit is a house and I will never pay more for a house than five times my household income. American home owners now face situations that will wake them up. The American Dream was never meant to be bought with borrowed money, was it?
Taking your borrowed money to the stock market is asking for trouble as well. This is where the Yen carry trade kicks in. We already saw this year that at times when the Dollar/Yen dropped, so did stock markets and so, for instance, did precious metals.
The current situation is slightly different. The Yen has strengthened again since its June peak and this has certainly not helped the American and European indices, but precious metal prices are suddenly flourishing. Gold broke out of its sideways range and seems to be starting a new bull run. Silver may be behind, but gold's little brother will probably catch up in the coming months.
From this point in time, I expect risk to be priced into stocks again. I have to admit that it continues to surprise me when I watch CNBC and hear analysts say that Apple is a steal at 37 times earnings. It continues to surprise me that analysts are advising to buy 'tech', since 'tech' is where the growth will be in the coming years.
I strongly disagree. If you ask me, the only potential growth sectors will be mining, energy and base materials. Not because demand for oil, gold or steel will go up, but because both the Euro and the US Dollar are losing value. The Central Banks' capital injections haven't helped in this respect and they will soon be caught in a stagflation spiral (i.e. a stagnating economy in combination with high inflation rates).
Add to this the recent 'Al Qaeda trades', where unknown parties have been buying huge quantities of out-the-money put options, both in Europe and on Wall Street, and we have a very dark and cloudy scenario. As if that's not enough, we are also in a Puetz Window (the days in between a full moon and a solar eclipse), which has historically been the likeliest time for stock market crashes.
Last Friday, we could already see that all this uncertainty has led investors to buy precious metals as well as the Japanese Yen. These are also the positions that I am in today: I am short EUR/JPY, long silver, long mining companies and I hold puts and put spreads on major indices. Not because I am convinced that we will have a crash like we had in 1987, but because I am convinced that there are very weak times ahead of us.
I am also convinced that stock valuations today are not what they were one year ago. With a possible recession coming up, the potential end of the carry trade period, the increased difficulty to attract money and the consequential drop in M&A activity, a stock valued at 37 times earnings is really not that cheap anymore.