Friday, August 14, 2009
When we said that the stock market was turning in mid March of this year, cries of "pollyanna" rang out. When we said that second quarter earnings were going to be better than expected --much better--cries of "you've got to be kidding me" landed all around us. It is now clear that the naysayers were wrong on both counts. I believe they were wrong because most people in and out of the investment business believe that whatever happens today is destined to happen forever. There are economic principles, however, that tell us that this linear thinking does not and has never worked. Investors simply mistake the power of the Federal Reserve over and over. If anyone doubts what I am saying all you have to do is to look at the Tech boom of the late 1990s to see the evidence of the Fed's power. Booms and bubbles do carry the seeds of their own destruction, but the Tech bubble was popped by the Fed and any serious student of the markets and the economy knows it. They popped the Tech bubble by slowly raising interest rates until the overall economy slowed. This ultimately took the wind out of the Tech stocks' sails as their quarter-over-quarter earnings growth stopped and their stock prices collapsed. The consensus of pundits are now saying that for a variety of reasons the economy and stock prices in 2010 and beyond will be sub-par. The biggest argument for this belief is that the US consumer is tapped out and are being forced to become savers instead of spenders. This may or may not be true, but I have learned over the years that the consensus is almost always wrong. Thus, in my mind that means that either there will be no growth in 2010 and beyond, or growth will be much higher than most investors now are thinking. Of these two scenarios, I land on the higher-than-average growth view. That would mean that economic growth in 2010 will exceed the 80-year average of 3% . If that is the case, stocks will grow much faster than the 10% estimates that I regularly see for the year ahead. But that's not all. We Americans have a lot of trouble understanding that we now represent only about a third of world GDP growth. Europe, on a GDP basis, is slightly greater in economic size than we are. Surprisingly several countries in Europe are reporting positive growth for this quarter, again, much better than expected. The other third of the world's economic growth comes from China, India and the other developing nations. The key thing here is China and India have cruised through this deep recession without ever reporting a negative quarter. S&P stated a few weeks ago that international sales of S&P 500 companies are now greater than 50% of total sales. The percentage of foreign earnings is even higher. Too many people have written off the US economy. I think they are wrong, and even if they are correct, foreign economies could lift S&P 500 company earnings to levels much higher than are now being forecast. My bottom line is that 2010 will be a much better year than most people think. There are many fundamental reaons for this belief, but the main reason I believe we are in for a surprise is because so many people are sure the economy will be lukewarm.