I start with that because it's a good counterpoint to the rest of this. Mr. Buffet is undoubtedly smarter than me -- so pay attention to his advice. :) In the long term, stocks will rise, especially in the face of the massive inflation of the money supply over the past year.
For the next several months to year though, I think the market is in for a helluva beating.
What does it look like is coming in the next handful of months?
While the market has taken a beating lately, I don't think it is anywhere near bottoming out. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Dow is still overvalued when compared with the monetary inflation that has happened since February 1995. "If the Dow had increased in line with nominal GDP since February 1995, it would today be trading at 7,829." In February 1995, the economy wasn't in the tank, things weren't amazing, but they weren't horrible either.
That isn't the case today. Instead, we have an economy that is unwinding 24 years of credit excess. So far, we've had only a single shoe drop and there are at least half a dozen others remaining.
- Sub-prime mortgages -- $592 billion in write downs
- Alt-A mortgages -- big resets starting in 2009 and accelerating through 2011. This market was substantially larger than the sub-prime market, the borrowers involved are getting further and and further underwater, and the borrowers are typically much more wealthy, have higher credit scores, and are the folks that churn through much more money (higher income, and more discretionary spending). Watch Mr. Mortgage comparing sub-primes to the Alt-A mortgages. There are 50% more Alt-A loans than sub-prime and twice the money involved.
- Credit card debt -- default rates are rising (up 45% for JP Morgan Chase, Capital One expects their default rates to hit 7% next year). Moody's expects charge-offs at American Express to increase 30% through 4th quarter 2009.
- Commercial real estate -- As consumer spending drops, and it is busy dropping, the commerical real estate sector is starting to feel the heat.
- Corporate bonds -- There's a fair bit of what I would call whining about the corporate bond sector, but as of yet, the volume of issued bonds hasn't gone off any cliffs. The price (interest rate) has jumped though making this a substantially more expensive way of raising money -- but not a bad investment if the company doesn't tank.
- Municipal bonds -- Municipalities have just started to see trouble as they deal with the impact of investment losses (equities and the death of auction rate securities) coupled with the tax-revenue impact of declining property values. Birmingham, Alabama just voted against declaring bankruptcy. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority may be making service cuts because of the AIG collapse. Other metro rail lines may face similar situations in the future.
- State Governments -- Serious problems exist right now for California and New York. Florida, Nevada, and New Jersey are likely to be next (can't find the link right now).
The US has gone well past the point where each new dollar of debt produced more than a dollar of GDP growth. We're now at the point where it takes 5 dollars in debt to produce a one of GDP growth. That rate is getting worse.
The one thing that has barely started to unwind in the current crisis is debt. We are in a solvency crisis created by 20+ years of cheap credit topped off by 4 years of insanely cheap credit.
During the past year, we haven't really seen gobs of price inflation -- at least not to keep pace with the 2 to 3 trillion dollars pumped in by the Fed and Treasury (and the corresponding actions of the European central banks). Perhaps this is because the cash pumped in has been immediately soaked up by the worthless securities so many financial institutions have on their books. Even so, this is another piper that must be paid. And the inflation piper is an indiscriminate killer of wealth.
Until we start to see a wave of bankruptcies, things aren't going to get better. Too many sectors of the nation and world are insolvent today. Until this solvency crisis is dealt with, things aren't going to improve.
So, when is a good time to get serious buying stuff? Probably once we start seeing more than just a scattered handful of bankruptcies.
This is why I think Buffet could make decent judgements about the short term state of the market.
We really haven't gotten started on the "real" economy side of the current crisis. That's coming.