In the short run, our financial markets 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's not happening -- because although our outlook is improving, we're still not confident. We're pessimistic. A report earlier this year found consumer confidence in the U.S. at an all-time low, with one economist calling the data "extraordinarily awful."
While it will take some time to recover from that, this extraordinarily awful data could prove to be very good for you.
Chuck Akre is a money manager and a white-haired dispenser of plainspoken wisdom. He also had an extraordinarily bad 2008.
His FBR Focus Fund (FBRVX) was down 34% that year, with holdings in Simpson Manufacturing (NYSE: SSD ) and Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B ) contributing to the losses.
Yet when Chuck stopped by our offices recently, he put aside his 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 three groups might normally be buying stocks now; instead, for a variety of reasons, they're either sitting this market out or pulling money from the market. They are:
1. Individual investors, because they're scared witless.
2. Corporations, who aren't repurchasing cheap shares because they need to hoard cash to survive the credit crunch.
3. Hedge funds, which are still worried about redemptions.
That creates across-the-board artificial downward pressure on stocks, and it's the reason cash-rich names such as Accenture (NYSE: ACN ) , Forest Labs (NYSE: FRX ) , and Marvel Entertainment (NYSE: MVL ) are selling for less than 10 times free cash flow.
Again, that's nirvana for the value investor.
A call to action
Today, Chuck Akre is lined up beside investing luminaries such as Warren Buffett, Charles Munger, Marty Whitman, and many more. All of them are declaring that now is a good time to buy stocks, and all of them are going out and doing so.
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. Just click here to get started.
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This article was first published on Oct. 30, 2008. It has been updated.
Tim Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire Hathaway and Marvel are Stock Advisor recommendations. Berkshire Hathaway and Accenture are Inside Value choices. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. You can be confident in the Fool's disclosure policy.