Thursday, January 01, 2009

Stock Market Madness Reloaded

Back in January of 2008 while stock markets were plunging I brazenly posted an article titled Stock Market Madness that predicted a probable market recovery by year end. As this New Year begins it's obvious that I was far too optimistic in trying to predict a softer landing for the U.S. Economy, and didn't anticipate the ensuing ferocious Bear market. Unlike many "expert" financial pundits which I'm definitely not - I'm quite willing to scarf down some humble pie, and admit to some hubris in early 2008. At least I didn't call a bottom, but I did express faith in the basic fundamentals of U.S. markets, and their ultimate recovery by year's end. What I didn't anticipate was the level of greed, dishonesty, and corruption tearing away at the fabric of U.S. and global financial institutions. All of this highlighted more recently by the fifty billion dollar Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme scandal. Of course predicting stock markets in the short term is a shell game, and we tend to under estimate the wide spread effects of excessive leverage risk as it unwinds. Collectively we are far too trusting of investment firms in general, and companies that are publicly funded by common stock offerings. Despite these sobering thoughts, none of this has deterred Warren Buffet - perhaps the greatest investment guru in history - from making some significant late 2008 purchases in firms such as General Electric, and Goldman Sachs. If history is any guide post, Buffet will likely be proven right over the next few years by sensing that this harsh sell off has offered up some tremendous bargains in stocks. There are still honest, diligent, and profitable Buffet like companies out there that have been caught in the global down draft, and they may be poised for significant gains when recovery takes hold. It's up to individual investors to find them, or do everything possible to make sure that their financial advisers are doing the same on their behalf. It's one thing to argue about regulating the level of risk that investment banks, and similar entities can underwrite. However, there can be no debate about the need for more oversight and regulation of investment firms - to scrutinize their accounting and transactions, so that individual investors won't be fleeced by corporate psychopaths and con men. Unfortunately, as John Kenneth Galbraith so eloquently illustrates in his book "A Short History of Financial Euphoria" these huge speculative bubbles are prone to recur again and again as they are firmly entrenched in human psyche and the behavior of crowds.

One lesson that life seems to mete out time and again: Do your homework, and be wary of chasing that elusive "easy buck".

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