The stock market will go up. The stock market will go down. The sun will rise tomorrow.
All of these things are true. The difference is that we can predict the third one. The Farmer’s Almanac will tell you exactly when and you can bet the ranch on it. If somehow you lose, you won’t need the ranch anyway.
Everybody wants to be invested when the market is rising, and historically it has always gone up over the long term. This is because populations and economies have been growing for centuries. The problem is that there have been some very significant hiccups along the way.
The market is well along on a multi-year rally, and, so far, enthusiasm for promises made by the new administration have kept it rolling. Can we expect it to continue, and for how long? See the first two statements above.
Economist Ed Yardeni makes the case that investors keep buying dips because feared crises like a euro meltdown caused by Greece, or a recession caused by the drop in oil prices, or any number of events publicized in panic mode have failed to materialize. “Nothing bad is happening, and that’s good news for stocks,” says Yardeni. Of course, that can change in an instant.
A major force behind stock prices is earnings. Earnings season is upon us, and reports are consistently good. Earnings of S&P companies reporting so far are up 14% year over year.
On the other hand, first quarter GDP came in at an anemic 0.7% growth rate. On the third hand, the first quarter is generally low because of a variety of reporting anomalies and, frequently, weather. Most predictions are for better numbers later in the year.
Unemployment remains low; wages are pushing up. Tax policy and healthcare remain confusing, controversial and unresolved. Bulls are optimistic that these will work out satisfactorily, bears are less so.
The international situation is concerning. Will America reassert itself as a stabilizing force in the world, or will terrorism and rogue nations continue to threaten peace? What is happening with the EU and European economies? China?
To all these complicated elements, investors must add their own situations. What is your risk tolerance? How old are you? What are your known future requirements? What are the tax consequences of altering your portfolio?
Investing is neither a guessing game nor a science. Careful investing results from analyzing and interpreting the flood of news and opinion on all these subjects, and finally making a judgement of what and when to buy or sell. Sometimes markets send confusing messages, but now is not the time to step away.