Recently, stocks worldwide have risen sharply again and have moved away from their lows significantly. The question of a coming stock market crash, therefore, seems to arise at the wrong time. Smart money, however, sees it differently.
Please note: The article is already a few months old. However, for reasons, an update is advisable.
Investors key takeaways:
- Not only are we in a crazy rally, but there are indications that the recession will last longer than some people think. There are also signs that the rally is not being driven by smart money at the moment.
- While there is still no real alternative to equities, investors should prepare themselves for uncomfortable quarters, as it seems that there are a lot of shaky hands in the stock markets.
- I will continue to invest my planned rates but will now also focus my due diligence even more on defensive business models and solid balance sheets. At the same time, I might also increase my cash ratio a little bit. It may well be that we can go bargain hunting again soon.
Where are we now?
I think that I am not the only one who can no longer fully understand current stock market developments.
Behind us lies one of the most massive stock market crashes
The COVID-19 shock was one of the most violent sell-offs in recent history, bringing stock markets worldwide to their knees. Governments around the world have paralyzed the global economy with their lockdown measures. Many companies have even voluntarily closed their plants. Partly to protect workers, partly because suppliers stopped supplying products. For the Dow Jones, COVID-19 brought one of the five most severe slumps ever:
During the crash, I made a decent purchase and was happy to have the opportunity to buy outstanding companies cheaply. Among them were Leggett & Platt, VF. Corp., Johnson & Johnson, Archer Daniels Midland, Munich Re, Cisco, Henkel, Iron Mountain, and Unilever.
After the crash is before the rally
But a lot has changed since those dark days at the end of February and March. In March and April, the stock markets began to move again. At first, they said it was just a bear trap and a small correction to the abnormal fall in prices. The only problem was that the stock markets did not stop rising. In some cases, prices have recovered strongly again and have risen by more than 50 percent from their low point. The NASDAQ 100 has even set a new record high.
Things have moved too fast, too sharply
As such, I have nothing against rising prices. Even though I invest to generate cash flow, increasing the value of my assets is a welcome thing. My problem is, however: Things have moved too fast, too sharply. I mean, we are currently in a recession (the grey area), but it almost seems that the stock markets do not care about that anymore.
In the Great Recession following the financial crisis, things were quite different. The stock markets only managed to make a sustained recovery after the recession.
We will have several waves of different forces of nature
The second point builds on the first. An economic recession does not take place in a vacuum. It has consequences, on a small and large scale. Simple laws of nature also have an effect here. The first law of nature is that every severe recession will lead to a wave of bankruptcies, which has a cleaning effect on the market. Companies with a bad track record and lousy management and so-called zombies are simply washed away. The winners remain.
So far, however, bailouts have prevented worse things from happening. Other companies were less fortunate and have already had to file for bankruptcy (Foodora (Canada); Frontier Communications; Intelsat; JCPenney; Reitmans). In the G7 countries, the bailout packages were almost as high as all previous larger bailouts combined. Accordingly, the total debt also rose sharply, and in a fair world, someone has to pay for that debt.
So we already have a severe recession and extremely high government debt. And the bad thing is, the cause of all this is still among us. The coronavirus continues to spread, and nobody knows exactly how it will develop over the next few months.
It is quite possible that with the rapid spread of the virus in the USA, death rates will rise again. At some point, the politicians will give in and impose a second lockdown. It is also not unlikely that companies will voluntarily send their workers home, close the stores, and stop the machines. In any case, there is enormous uncertainty in the market and the economy. And stock markets hate uncertainty. But not at the moment and that gives me some concern.
What the dumb money does
In my view, the current bull markets are being driven far too much by impatient small investors and optimists. I can understand that. Especially the millennials are always told how much they can profit from stocks. But the problem was the ten-year bull market, statistically one of the longest. Familiar with the theory of markets and statistics, highly indebted millennials do not start to invest at the possible peak of a bull market. And then COVID-19 came along, and the stock markets plummeted.
A lot of millennials have been waiting for precisely this. Also, there was government support, a lockdown, and a lot of time at home in front of the internet. Cheap brokers with almost free trades, a sizeable blogging scene with investors who mantra-like promise early retirement if you only buy stocks regularly, have, in my opinion, created the perfect mixture for a bubble. Besides, after years of waiting for the next crash, there is a great fear of missing the next rally. Whether private households can move the market in this way is, of course, not clear and difficult to prove. But it cannot be ruled out:
Schwab said in an email to CNN Business that more than half of its new clients since the start of 2019 are households under the age of 40, and that these younger customers are investing “at higher asset levels than normal, so they appear to be very engaged.” The brokerage firm also noted that interest is much higher now than it was after stocks tanked in the midst of the Great Recession and Global Financial Crisis 12 years ago.
What the smart money does
Let’s dive deeper into the other side of the market. A few months ago, I already wrote that investors are increasingly parking their money in so-called money-market funds. This was the situation at the end of April.
Why is that important? Money market funds are managed with the aim of maintaining a highly stable asset base through liquid investments. These include cash securities and bonds with a term of less than 12 months. Although private retailers also have access, they are only a minority. The money market fund market is dominated by institutional investors, i.e. banks, insurance companies, and governments. Thus, there are all the players who have the most idea (or so they think).
Since then, the stock markets have continued to rise. And let’s take a look at what happened to all the smart money that was parked in money market funds. Well surprise, as you can see, actually nothing has changed since April. The value of the assets is still significantly above USD 4500 billion / USD 4,500,000 million. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 crash these assets have reached a plateau and have not yet left this plateau.
Should you follow the smart money and wait for the coming mother of all stock market crashes?
I strongly advise not to fall victim to irrational actions in possibly irrational times, which applies to several levels. For one thing, you shouldn’t follow the herd instinct and throw every cent you have into the stock markets like crazy. It can be bumpy in the future, also economically. So it’s good to have a few coins in your pockets. Besides, you shouldn’t panic and sell everything now. In the end, you would just be trying to time the market, and there is a good chance that you will fail. In these times, just stick to the simplest wisdom of investing.
“The only reason for putting cash into any kind of investment now is because you expect to take cash out; not by selling it to somebody else because that’s just a game of who beats who”.
Just try to put yourself in the shoes of a sustainable and rational entrepreneur. That’s what I do. My portfolio is my business, and I don’t need it to explode, but I want it to grow sustainably and steadily, and I want to sleep peacefully. To be able to do so, I want the company to generate a profit or a profit equivalent, such as cash flow or dividend every quarter. There is nothing wrong with growth companies, but the majority of my investments should be profitable. So all I am doing is to look at what I can get from my companies in the future, and whether that is in reasonable proportion to the share price. That’s all.
Invest because of opportunity, not greed and fear!
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I’m actually not sure whether retail investors can move the market in this way. It is a difficult situation indeed.
Hi Vic, thanks for coming by. Yeah, there’s no real evidence. However, it cannot be denied that the money of the institutional players was parked on the sidelines during the COVID-19 crash and has not been touched since then. Maybe smart money was outsmartet by millennials (would be funny though). We will see.
An alternate perspective…the “Smart Money” isn’t as smart as they think they are and didn’t get in on the rally. Now they are upset because in order to get back in to the market they have to buy in at higher prices than they got out at. The “deals” they were waiting for are gone. They can’t have it both ways; for years everyone told the Millennial’s to invest. They did and now they get criticized. Which is it?
The market is changing and none of the “experts” know what to do. Funny how we have charts, graphs, and talking heads everywhere telling us how the market is going to do “this” and “that” but we qualify every single market statement with “past performance doesn’t indicate future results.”
Kids – 1 Boomers – 0
Thank you Josh, much appreciated thoughts!
I agree, smart doesn’t necessarily mean smart. But if it is true that this rally is mainly driven by retail investors (for which there are at least indications), and these investors are mainly “newcomers” to the stock market, then there is a lot of shaky money in the market (especially in the hyped stocks). Everyone should be aware of this and not buy stocks because they are rising, but rather focus on quality when selecting them.
Hi… do you have a new Twitter account, the link leads to one that is no longer active. Thx.
Hi John, many thanks! The link was broken. I fixed it. et voilà: https://twitter.com/TEV_Blog
Not sure if they are all millennium’s money. I am not and have been in stock market trading for 20y. Most of the stocks are not up that much since March low and many like banks and consumer services are still sitting on the floor. Only two sectors are up and shoot to the ceiling: info technology and discretionary consumer. Again only a few big and hot stocks in these two sectors are breaking out their prior peaks and the rest are just so so. Obviously individual investors do not buy index ETFs that much but on individual stocks and only on those hot stocks. Are all sectors bubbles? Probably not, individuals are just smart to park their money to the two right places as of now and probably lasting for a few more months. It is hard for Institutions to make move now. Waiting for these 2 sectors to crash or put money into those banks and consumer services which are low enough already but afraid of crashing would drag them to lower? The bubble on these two sectors are just forming and it will take some time to enlarge and so there will be still some high to go, like the year 2000 dotcom bubble, taking a few months to 1 year to form, shoot to sky, then burst and fall steeply. Maybe the institutions should diversify (not just money market), invest for a long term perspective and use tools like sell puts and covered calls to control risks.
Hi Donald! Many thanks for coming by!
Let me be clear,I am also not sure whether I should believe that the overvaluation of many stocks is due solely to the millennials. I also agree with you that not all sectors are affected by the current rally.
As far as it concerns the “bubble stocks you mentioned”, I think, as so often, things are probably multi-causal and maybe I am completely wrong. Nevertheless, I believe that we cannot deny a certain hype about certain stocks and a mountain of money parked on the sidelines by institutional investors. Everyone must draw their conclusions from these circumstances.
I remain invested (of course) but I like to know what’s going on. I would at least not be surprised if there is a lot of shaky money in the market. If it is, I can live with it. My stocks will survive and the majority of them will pay their dividends as usual. Thanks again for your thoughts, I like the way everyone here is civilized and nice to each other 🙂
Hi TEV, have the assets of the money funds actually changed in the meantime?
I checked again this weekend. Nothing has changed in the numbers. I wrote a new article for Seeking Alpha on this issue. It should be published today or tomorrow.
All the best,
thanks for the reply. I have read your new article on Seeking Alpha. I agree, it all looks very strange. But I wonder if it’s only retail investors that carry the markets. I don’t know. Anyway, good read and interesting food for own thoughts. Thanks.
“My portfolio is my business, and I don’t need it to explode, but I want it to grow sustainably and steadily, and I want to sleep peacefully.“
That is honestly the second best piece of advise and the MOST sound overall strategy I have ever been given. Treat a portfolio as a business, not a lottery ticket. Thank you so much for your perspective.
many thanks for your kind words. Now of course, everyone wants to know what the first best piece of advice was 😉
All the best,
All these abundance of money for all those funds, institutions, socialist govnmnts, etc …is it not debt? Debt has to be repayed, no? Even at zero interest, the principal is due, no? So when you buy stonks on credit, but stonks fly south with 5-10%, is it not a direct loss? What when drug addicts cease getting govnmnt charity but their money is already locked in the stonk market?