Economy and Government

BULLS & BEARS: Sure, market's slumping, but better times lie ahead

June 26, 2006

As I write this, the stock market has fallen off a ledge and given up, depending on the index, between 7 percent and 12 percent in a bit over a month.

After that kind of fun, you might be ready to throw yourself off a ledge, or at least cash in what's left of your portfolio.

Yes, the last few weeks have been trying, but being an investor in U.S. stocks since the beginning of this decade has been no picnic, either.

An investment of $100,000 in the S&P 500 on Jan. 1, 2000, with all dividends reinvested, has sunk to $92,250.

If the malaise lasts the rest of the year, or even if the market rebounds in the single digits, we will join an exclusive club of only three previous seven-year periods where an investor lost money in the U.S. stock market.

The data goes back about 80 years, so negative long-term stretches are an anomaly.

Two of those dark stretches ended in 1935 and 1936 and the other was from the start of 1968 through the end of 1974.

But as Annie sang to encourage her orphanage roommates, "The sun will come out, tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that, tomorrow, there'll be sun." After the previous dark periods, the sun did come out.

Markets had positive runs in the late 1930s through the early 1940s, even in the face of the Depression and World War II.

The last seven-year slump ended in 1974, which was a time with rampant inflation, a recession, oil-price spikes, an unpopular war and an unpopular president.

The $100,000 the investor had put to work in 1968 had withered to only $90,000 by New Year's Day in 1975.

Hmmm. Those headlines of yesteryear sound a lot like the ones we're seeing now. And the decline in investment portfolios is similar, too.

However, in the following seven years, from 1975 through the end of 1981, we saw the stock market gain 14 percent per year.

Those returns ran the $90,000 back up to $225,000.

The sun came out and the market shone despite huge inflation, a double-digit prime rate, economic malaise, ineffective presidents and disco mania.

Will the sun shine again after today's at-least-6-1/2-year slump?

I think so. For one thing, our economy is much healthier today than in the 1970s, and the global economy is significantly larger.

Here are some recent blurbs I found interesting:

U.S. companies have increased their share of the economic pie at a faster rate over the past five years than at any time since War World II.

Recent government figures show that profits from current production have risen at a rate of growth that is unprecedented since collection of these figures began in 1947.

Chief financial officers are bullish about their companies and the U.S. economy. Seventy-seven percent of CFOs polled expect their companies to hire more people over the next 12 months, and 75 percent expect their companies to increase capital expenditures.

It seems to me today's outlook is much brighter than in 1935, 1936 or 1974.

So how can you capitalize on the coming sunny markets?

In a couple of weeks, I'll explain why you should know a four-letter Greek word, and how its letters could cause your portfolio to shine in the next few years.



Gilreath is co-owner of Indianapolis-based Sheaff Brock Investment Advisors, money management firm. Views expressed are his own. He can be reached at 705-5700 or daveg@sheaffbrock.com.
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