Was Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon really proposing a solution to the global financial crisis when he said, "Confidence is really a wondrous thing in regard to us humans"?
You'll have to read on to find out, but he might as well have been. The simple fact is that our financial markets -- in the short term -- measure nothing more than investors' near-term outlook for the economy. With a little bit of confidence in the system, banks would start lending again, investors would start buying stocks again, and the global economy could begin to heal itself.
That, however, is not happening -- because we're not confident. We're pessimistic. A report released this week found that consumer confidence in the U.S. is at an all-time low, with one economist calling the data "extraordinarily awful."
But that extraordinarily awful data could prove to be very good for you, Joe the Investor. (Sorry -- I had to work it in somewhere before election season ends!)
Chuck Akre isn't a professional baseball manager, like Joe Maddon is, but he's a similarly white-haired dispenser of plainspoken wisdom. He also happens to be a money manager who's had an extraordinarily bad year.
His FBR Focus Fund (FBRVX) is down more than 36% year-to-date, with holdings in American Tower (NYSE: AMT ) , Penn National Gaming (Nasdaq: PENN ) and CarMax (NYSE: KMX ) having taken particularly hard hits.
Yet when Chuck stopped by our offices last week, he put aside his recent performance and said with a smile that times like these are "nirvana for the value investor." That's because good companies are on sale across the board for reasons that have nothing to do with their long-term intrinsic value.
Chuck noted that there are three groups that might normally be buying stocks but for a variety of reasons are either sitting this market out or pulling money from the market. They are:
- Individual investors, because they're scared witless.
- Corporations, who aren't repurchasing cheap shares because they need to hoard cash to survive the credit crunch.
- Hedge funds, which are going to cash, to meet demand for year-end redemptions.
That creates across-the-board artificial downward pressure on stocks, and it's the reason cash-rich names such as Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) , Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) and Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN ) were selling earlier this week for less than 10 times this year's free cash flow.
Again, that's nirvana for the value investor.
A thought experiment
Now, go back to the end of 2007, when you were thinking about buying Apple for $200 per share. If I'd told you then that in a mere 10 months you'd be able to buy Apple for $90 per share, you (1) would not have believed me and (2) would have considered that a fantastic buying opportunity.
Well, here we are 10 months later, and the entire market is down 40%. Yet instead of backing up the truck on cheap stocks, the three groups of investors I mentioned above are selling them. Even a seasoned money manager like Chuck Akre has been getting calls from longtime clients demanding he go to cash.
A call to action
We haven't seen sustained and widespread pessimism like this since the Vietnam War and stagflation combined to depress the heck out of folks in the 1970s. But as Chuck was quick to point out, the 1970s was a very good time to have been a buyer of stocks.
Today, Chuck Akre is lined up beside investing luminaries such as Warren Buffett, Charles Munger, Marty Whitman, and many more -- and all of them are declaring that now is a good time to buy stocks and all of them are going out and doing it.
So what are you doing? If you're looking to take advantage of current pessimism to buy up cheap, high-quality companies, join Motley Fool Stock Advisor free for 30 days and read all about Fool co-founders David and Tom Gardner's top picks for new money now.
And even though Joe Maddon was talking about the need for his star hitters to start getting some hits, when it comes to success in anything, confidence really is a wondrous thing.
Tim Hanson owns shares of CarMax. Apple and eBay are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. CarMax and Nokia are Inside Value picks. You can be confident in the Fool's disclosure policy.