Swans Commentary » swans.com March 12, 2007  



Overdue Correction, Not Excessive. . .


by Milo Clark





(Swans - March 12, 2007)   Tuesday, 27 February, the specious Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) lost over 400 points out of more than 12,500. Pundits leapt both to exaggerate and to dismiss. Biggest one day drop since 9/11 sounds significant but really isn't. For one thing, the DJIA is a much bigger number now than then. Four hundred is therefore a smaller percentage, making the comparison largely specious.

What may be significant is the tie-in to PRChinese markets. In the minds of some pundits, the PRChinese tail wagged the American equity dog.

The DJIA is more psychology than actuality in terms of measuring economic activity in American business. It takes a few of the bigger guys and wants us to assume that those big guys are the measure of the whole. Nonsense, but since few allegedly news sources give any of the other measures the DJIA impression is driven into the dazed, addled, and muddled minds of viewers, listeners and readers.

Equity markets, such as stock exchanges, are crap shoots dignified by immense interlocking structures dealing in very large numbers.

Most folks understand that slot machines are designed to make them losers sooner or later. And, for sure, someone smart enough to quit while ahead can come out a winner. With a slot machine, a player can know when she is ahead. In equity markets, an individual can keep track of their personal investments similarly. Few do, unfortunately. Day traders, the extreme folks who trade on very short terms, are more like roulette players than investors.

In recent years, the equity markets have become even more abstracted than historically relevant. Fewer and fewer actualities are involved in trading. We hear more and more about situations such as sub-prime lending, hedge funds and private equity deals. Folks go short and long and play for the rails.

Sub-prime lending is exactly what it says it is: loans made on a poor, riskier or marginal basis. Players do sub-prime lending because rates are higher if the loan is repaid. If the deal works, more is gained. If not, then TS. Those who can afford to lose, grin and bear it. Those that can't sell the house, mortgage the children and trade down to Fords from Maybachs.

Hedge funds play the hunches with, they hope, enough bucks or clout to bluff the deals through. Right now hedge funds are on a roll. With money in huge surplus, investors push the limits beyond previous parameters, rewrite the rules and blow the envelopes right and left, up and down. Derivative deals are mere child's play for these folks.

Private equity deals are running up historically high numbers of extremely high dollar transactions. Understanding the impetus driving private equity is relatively simple: taking a public company private is a license to steal. Laws governing such businesses are practically non-existent. Dealing in the dark, they can get away with out-Enroning Enron.

After being hammered in past excesses, smaller investors backed off sometimes for a few years. However, since low interest rates and low returns on better investments also meant fewer dollars available, smaller folks have recently been back in the equity markets looking for bigger returns. Given the historical patterns, corrections are always hanging out there waiting to happen. Suckers will be suckers. Vegas and Atlantic City are showing record crowds.

Since the Asian and Mexican corrections of the late 1990s are pretty much out of mind, especially in Asia, naive folks never before having any surplus funds are flocking into equity markets. With few exceptions, Asian equity markets are too thin, minimally open or transparent and relatively new to their domestic scenes. Folks are sold mythologies on their way to starker actualities.

The stock markets in PRChina are prime examples of crap shoots dignified as equity markets. Observers and pundits both have been very tentative in assuming enduring strengths in those markets. Corrections have been expected and, to general amazement, long overdue.

In my terms, what is significant in the late February corrections is that those mostly Asian markets rattled the American equity markets and the major long-established equity markets of the world. Most of those world markets reflected less concern than Wall Street, but still were nudged in echo.

As in most equity market corrections, the historical patterns seen tend to drop a notable amount and then bounce back some as bottom feeders rush in for quick profits, they hope. Big players will pump in large numbers to offset the psychological damage, display confidence and all that establishment stuff. The tender period lasts a couple weeks at most and then folks line up again to be fleeced as usual, at least that is what the big players try to set up. When losers outnumber gainers, though, cracks open wider and wider.

Add in all the folks who refinanced their homes and took the equity money to Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Wall Street confident that the laws of averages don't apply to them.

The excesses of sub-prime lending, hedge funds, and private equity plays, as well as the usual aspects of equity market fluctuations, may also be symptoms of incipient implosion.

At its worst, we may see the first 21st century major recession or even depression. The 400-plus years of capitalism have a long record of ups and downs. The up we are riding presently is a very long up in terms of historical patterns.

Wars, shorter wars especially, are typically good for business. Politicians may be tempted to start more wars to keep money pumps primed.

Keep your eyes open and your assets liquid for personal safety.

Either that or be a player; you may win.


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Milo Clark on Swans (with bio).



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Published March 12, 2007