"Not only is the entire course tougher than before, but there is one hole that has players seeing red; the brutal 16th." - Columnist Donald Wood
Challenging even for the best. Long and difficult. Unforgiving. An event where years of effort can be blown in seconds with one false move. An event where the best in the world compete - and lose. An event where obstacles are around every corner, headwinds whip hard, and there are no second chances.
The US Open is being played in San Francisco this weekend and it has similarities to this Summer's stock market that are hard to ignore.
The US Open, an event already famous for being difficult, is set up tougher than ever this year - and it's looking like even par might be enough to come away a winner. At the very least, it's looking like any score under par will be hard fought, and any player finishing 72 holes under par will have proven himself a winner. That's how tough the course is.
And so it is with the stock market this Summer. Already famous for being tough, the market might be set up tougher than ever. At any other time, some of the recent negative US economic indicators, like the worst week of data ever(!), might be seen as bad. But outside the United States, the world has basically imploded, so we're looking pretty good next to our fat friend.
Not only is Europe a disaster, but it is not even getting better, not growing. It has the look of "this is going to get worse before it gets better because this is the Apocalypse, and the Apocalypse gets worse by the day not better, and everyone involved might just as well be a 2-year-old" to it.
Add to that China's crouching banking Tiger problem that miraculously got bumped from its perch as reason number one the world was coming to an end. Does anyone remember this was the reason the global economy was doomed? This problem hardly got fixed, the rest of the world is a mess, so we figured you can't get hit by a bus if you have the flu, right?
Which again is not to say that stocks can't win, it's just that they are up against a lot. Small gains, a stroke or two under par, might look real good when all is said and done.
Tiger Woods, the best of his generation, maybe the best ever, has not won a Major now in several years, may have plateaued. Worse, may have let the competition catch up to his once untouchable abilities. Does he remind you a little of Google (GOOG)?
Bubba Watson, the innovator that has never had a lesson, coming off a series of professional and personal triumphs, can he deliver again? Bubba is clearly Apple (AAPL).
Phil Mickelson, it would be great to see this National Treasure win. But that's not the same thing as being a favorite in adverse circumstances. Phil, we are pulling for you but we know in our hearts your best days may be behind you. You are Ford (F), General Electric (GE), or maybe Cisco (CSCO).
Davis Love III, Steady. Boring. Microsoft (MSFT).
Sergio Garcia, does the Spaniard really even have a chance? Banco Santander (STD)
Stocks this Summer, like this weekend's US Open players, may very well have success, but if they do, it will be because they bested challenges, and all-in-all breaking even or a little better looks like enough to be a winner in an environment this challenging.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.