Don't Panic, This Isn't Remotely Like 2008
During a period like this, with stocks plunging almost on a daily basis, it's clear that fear and shock are ruling the roost. But fear can be overdone. As someone who has been around awhile and has seen many sell-offs, let me offer some advice: Do not panic. Market corrections come and go. They are not the end of the world. Most times they are actually healthy.
The S&P downgrade is a fiscal warning, not an economic event. And the growing fear of U.S. recession may not pan out. There are still plusses out there, believe it or not.
Our financial system is in vastly better shape than it was in September 2008. Vastly better shape.
The Federal Reserve is highly accommodative, as illustrated by the upward-sloping yield curve. Using the yield-curve measure alone, the chances of recession based on historical analysis are very low.
And energy prices are coming down, with oil moving toward $80 a barrel. Oil analyst Peter Beutel points out that gasoline prices in the last two weeks have fallen by 35 to 40 cents. Adding in other oil-related savings, the energy-price drop amounts to a $100 billion tax rebate for consumers.
Plus, corporate profits will continue to rise while business balance sheets are pristine and chock full of cash. Consider the combination of solid productivity, moderate wage rates, and falling commodity prices. These are all plusses for the economy and stocks.
So in light of all these factors, it seems to me that the economy can hold up. It's not the kind of rapid growth I'd like to see. But it's not the deep and dark recession that seems to be embodied in the stock market plunge.
Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with Standard & Poor's decision to downgrade the federal government's credit rating, the agency's message was never about U.S. debt default. Instead, S&P was warning that U.S. fiscal trends are deteriorating and our future debt trajectory is going up, not down.
Serious entitlement reform is not yet on the table. Nor is pro-growth tax and regulatory reform. And since none of this is brand-new news, I don't think people should be shooting the messenger.
Getting our debt and spending under control is very important. But the fact remains that warnings from S&P, and even lesser warnings from Moody's, could spur Washington into taking more aggressive action. So could the market sell-off itself.
Now, if the Paul Ryan budget had passed the Senate and had been signed into law by the president, that combination of tough spending control, transformative Medicare reform, and pro-growth tax reform would have gotten us out of this fix. Alas, it was not to be. But tax rates are not going up, no matter what President Obama keeps telling us. Tax hikes would never get past the House Republicans.
Also, I think there's a big overreaction going on to the problems in Europe. The most likely scenario is that the leaders of the European Union and the European Central Bank will take whatever stabilization steps are necessary while at the same time pushing for serious fiscal reforms.
In addition, Europe's economy suffered the same oil shock last winter and spring that suppressed the U.S. economy. And as that energy shock recedes, both economic zones will do better.
Actually, the stock market correction here in the states can be traced back to April 29, the day Ben Bernanke announced that QE2 would end on time and there would be no QE3. Since then, the S&P 500 has lost 17 percent as the Fed introduced a less-accommodative policy. Now, the central bank is still loose, but it is no longer adding to its balance sheet. So in some sense what should have happened has happened: Cyclical stock sectors have corrected significantly lower, along with commodities, and the whole stock market has had to adjust.
Most importantly, the dollar has stabilized. While in the short run a stronger dollar and lower commodities (except gold) may have hurt the market, in the longer term they create a foundation for non-inflationary growth.
I am not a market timer, and I do not have a monopoly on stock market and economic wisdom. So readers should take this for what it's worth. I am not wildly optimistic, but I am not near as pessimistic as the market is right now.
The American free-enterprise system can weather these shocks, and I believe favorable political and policy changes are on the way. It will take time. But time heals. Longer-term investors would do well to think about the many stock market opportunities that are opening up as a tough correction runs its course.