Monday, March 17, 2008
The FTSE has just closed at 5,414.40, about 1,150 points down from a recent high (10 December 2007) of 6,565.40.
But the gyrations have gone on for much longer. The FTSE bust UPwards through 5,438 on 29 October 1998, heading for nearly 7,000 by the end of 1999; popped and went through 5,417.60 in a DOWNwards direction on 29 August 2001; hit bottom (3,287) on 12 March 2003; rose back UP through 5,358.60 on 2 November 2005 - and here we are again.
Except we haven't factored-in inflation, so each later revisiting of the 5,400 level represents a further loss in real terms.
Meanwhile, let's take a look at what we might do to preserve what little wealth we have.
Residential property: costs about double its long term trend (3x income). But Mrs S isn't keen on a caravan, not even, as I suggested, "if we get a nice horse".
Stocks: the S&P's long-term trend p/e ratio is a little under 15, so to get back to that it should fall by 25 - 30%. Looks like we're partway there. Emerging markets have boomed, but as that sage Christopher Fildes said many years ago, the definition of an emerging market is that is is a market from which it may be difficult to emerge.
Bonds: a painful subject, with CDOs and the like. Hard to tell quality from rubbish at the moment, and if the credit contraction forces interest rates up, the capital value of bonds will have to fall to match the yield available on other kinds of loaned money.
Commodities: some markets such as gold are small enough to be manipulated by speculators (and sales from stock) - and much of the investment in them may be leveraged, which brings in extra uncertainty because the credit crunch could force sales to cover cash calls. Others, such as oil, may be affected by reduced demand in a recession. So commodities are not a no-brainer for the amateur investor. How many will know when they've reached the top of the price spike? Agriculture might be interesting, though, as I reported a while ago and as Jimmy Rogers says now, according to Contrarian Investor.
No wonder Marc Faber said last year that he saw bubbles everywhere. He has since gotten into gold, among other things, but he is a very smart, quick-moving trader. If I had any serious money, I'd rather use him (and others like him) than try to compete with him.
Some governments offer their own instruments for matching inflation - Index Linked Savings Certificates in the UK, TIPS in the USA, for example.
I suppose that if you expect food and fuel to rise in price, you might stock up - though a John Denver-type petrol store is probably unwise, if not illegal. And even tinned food, rice and dried pasta will only stay in good condition for so long.
And not everything is likely to go up. We look as though we're in for an odd combination of inflation and deflation. Houses, stocks, maybe bonds, maybe some commodities, may present buying opportunities sometime. And how about those consumer durables - the cars, computers etc you may want to renew or upgrade sometime? So cash really doesn't seem that bad to me, so long as you make sure you're maximising your rights under local depositor protection laws.
And then there's the bigger picture. Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, observed of unhappiness: "Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper which were unhappy." My point is not that money is unimportant, but that it won't be enough to see ourselves all right - we still have to live with our neighbours. It's important to get the economy straightened-out, because when others are unhappy and insecure, we shan't be safe, either. Perhaps there's a selfish element in altruism.
It's pretty clear how things are now, and there's no need to keep the sirens going when you can see the fire. All I hope is that concerted, imaginative action will minimise the damage. A wilder hope is that we might reform the system - especially our rotten currencies and remote, self-centred politicians. I've learned much from joining in the debate, but don't think I have much more to contribute at this stage, so I think I'll be better off giving my ego a rest and reading you, instead.
My final guess, for now: it'll be time to get back into the swim in the Spring of 2010.