While most pundits came into 2014 looking for the year-end ramp to continue, stocks have started off the New Year on the wrong foot so far. And with so much attention paid to the first five days of January ("As the first five days go, so goes January" and "As January goes, so goes the year") the key question coming into 2014's first real week of trading is if the environment has taken a turn for the worse.
The short answer here is it that it is simply too soon to tell for sure. However, we have been yammering on for a while now about the idea that investors may need to have their risk management systems switched to the "on" position at some point in the first quarter. Thus, the action in the coming week ought to be quite telling.
But given that there is a lot of data to review and a lot of algos to be run before the picture becomes clear, this is probably as good a time as any to finish up the series on the lessons investors should have learned in 2013. So, without further ado...
In the First Installment
In the first installment of "The 13 Things Investors Learned in 2013," we explored the fact that the U.S. stock market was the best/only place to be last year. We talked about the idea that the intense crisis-driven dives that had plagued the market for the previous four years failed to materialize in 2013 as "no new crisis meant no meaningful correction." Then we touched on how sentiment had become incredibly negative at the start of 2013. And finally, we talked about the current role of HFT in the stock market game.
Then In the Second...
In the second installment of lessons learned in 2013, we looked at the idea that the macro crowd got it all wrong again last year and how important it is to recognize that the macroeconomic picture isn't always a good guide to investing in the stock market. In addition, we talked about how "diworsification" plagued most investors in 2013 and that "setting it and forgetting it" as a portfolio strategy is a thing of the past. Next, we talked about how the QE programs from the central banks of the U.S., the UK, and Japan have pumped massive amounts of cash into the financial system and that a big slug of that freshly minted money found its way into stocks in 2013. And finally, we reviewed a weekly chart of the stock market over the past five years and reminded readers that this indeed is what a bull market looks like.
Next up, we'll look at how important it is to never underestimate the power of the consumer, how Twitter has become the new ticker tape, how "tapering isn't tightening" when Bernanke's in charge, and the idea that the "alligators" are coming. So, let's get to it.
10. Never Underestimate the U.S. Economy
One of the most valuable lessons investors need to learn is that we live in the greatest country in the world. In addition, it is vital to recognize that the U.S. economic system is second to none. As such, unless there is some crisis that threatens the globe, it is usually a good idea to avoid becoming/staying overly negative on the economic prospects of the U.S. - No matter what the "masters of the universe" are saying on a daily basis.
You see, more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy is driven by the consumer. And if there is one thing that investors can count on it is that spending time at the mall is an American pastime. So, again, unless there is some crisis keeping everyone holed up in their "man caves" and worried about their jobs, understand that John and Jane Q. Public will eventually return to their shopping routine. It's just part of our culture.
11. Twitter is the New Ticker Tape
Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) has been around for quite some time. However, in 2013 TWTR came public AND savvy investors learned that Twitter is the new ticker tape. While Twitter won't replace your research department or a professional news feed, if investors need a fast answer to why the S&P suddenly popped or dropped 1 percent, Twitter has become the go-to place.
In fact, most of the day's market action can be summed up in one or two tweets. Some of the best folks to follow for market action include: @BenzingaPro, @Reuters, @WSJ, @ConvertBond, @MichaelSantoli, @EamonJavers, @Zerohedge, @Bespokeinvest, and of course, yours truly: @StateDave.
12. Tapering isn't Tightening When ZIRP is Around
2013's stock market only offered one real entry point as the lone pullback exceeding 5% occurred in May/June. If you will recall, this was the "taper tantrum" where stock and bond prices dove in response to Ben Bernanke's first mention that the FOMC might consider tapering their QE bond buying at some point in the future.
While the bears argued that the Fed's tapering of bond purchases would mean less demand for bonds (and higher yields as a result), it turns out that investors were wise not to fear the taper. Well, at least not right now anyway.
Yes, it is true that tapering QE will mean less demand for bonds. And yes, this "should" cause rates to rise a bit. However, Gentle Ben threw investors a curve ball when the taper was announced by also saying that the Fed was going to stick to its zero interest rate policy (aka ZIRP) for longer than previously anticipated. And while bond yields have been steadily rising since November, the key is that "Maestro Bernanke" managed to taper AND keep the markets from freaking out. Impressive. (Here's hoping that Bernanke's successor will achieve similar results over the next couple of years as the Fed begins to exit its stimulative policies.)
13. The Alligators Cometh (Probably)
Finally, a lesson that investors may want to heed - at least for a while - is that strength tends to beget strength in the markets. Therefore, the asset allocators (aka "the alligators") may be coming to a stock market near you very soon.
The key here is to understand how the asset allocators work. For example, a great many "alligators" rebalance their portfolios on a quarterly and/or annual basis. While this makes little sense from many perspectives, this crowd uses the calendar to make decisions on where to be invested. And what has been the best place to be invested lately? Oh, that's right, the U.S. stock market. So, any alligator programs that use any kind of relative strength work are going to need to beef up their exposure to stocks - especially U.S. stocks.
The bottom line here is simple as a shift to stocks by the alligators could cause more stock buying in the near term. Perhaps this will result in the market continuing to power higher. Or maybe this buying will wind up helping to cushion any corrective action. But if the alligators are indeed coming, understand that they won't wait very long to buy.
Tomorrow, we'll take a look at what the cycles have to say about January 2014. Stay tuned.
Positions in stocks mentioned: none
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