Over the last ten years the S&P 500 has returned a meager 2.88%. Why? Because in the long run the market doesn’t like bubbles. We’re now in the third wave of bubble euphoria and we’re hearing the same underlying message that we heard during the first two, just in different terms. During the dot-com era we watched tech fly to P/E multiples of 200 and above. When fund mangers were questioned about investing in such companies back in 1999, they collectively responded by saying times had changed. Lofty valuations became the new norm-until they crashed that is. The Nasdaq (QQQQ) still isn’t even half of what it was in 2000. The market’s punishment of the dot-com bubble has lasted for seven years.
Real estate investment shifted into bubble status due to low interest rates and easy lending practices advocated by the Greenspan Federal Reserve. Back in 2005 it was difficult to find anyone who didn’t want to jump into real estate. Flipping homes was the new trend for amateurs. Unfortunately it’s always the last guys in who get burned by a bubble. Those developers are being suffocated from the holding costs on their sinking investments. After watching home prices double and triple, nationwide home valuations have plunged since 2006 with more yet to come. Homebuilders (NYSEARCA:XHB) and financials (NYSEARCA:XLF) have been crushed by the bursting real estate bubble and it will likely take years before these stocks regain prior highs.
Now it’s oil (NYSEARCA:USO) that's bubbling. Two weeks ago oil prices reached a 600% increase since the bull market began. The oil bulls are using the same arguments that we heard from tech analysts in 1999 and real estate agents in 2005. They will use any rationale they can find to shift our focus away from the fact that gasoline shortages don’t exist and new oil is plentiful. There are now 53 commodity ETFs and ETNs that have caused average daily volumes to soar from 5 million in 2006 to well over 30 million today. History will repeat itself and the last guys in will get burned. Industry insiders believe that the proper valuation of crude is somewhere between $40-$50 a barrel. When will this bubble burst? Nobody can predict the exact time but the essential elements are in place: the Fed is done cutting interest rates, Bush is waiting on Congress to lift the offshore drilling ban, Congress in considering limits on speculation and high gas prices are decreasing demand.
The conclusion is that we are hearing the same story coming from the oil sector that we have heard in previous bubbles. They will tell you that this time is different, or that the fundamentals have changed - when they really haven’t. The only thing that has changed is sentiment. This bubble will burst just like the last two and it will be ugly for those who have gotten caught up in the hype. Over the next six months investors should average in to a short position in the U.S. Oil Fund (USO). Be suspicious of alternative energy as well. Solar, wind, natural gas, etc... will all fall with oil.
Disclosure: Long DUG