Tonight's forecast: Dark! With scattered patches of light expected by morning.
Whenever I read the daily market numbers, I think of this old George Carlin weatherman routine. Less glibly, meteorologists actually do view upcoming weather patterns through the lens of a basic structure -- when you think about it -- a structure dominated by daily and yearly cycles. In the same way, economic forecasts are also made in the context of some seasonal rhythms. Indeed, bust follows boom as surely as night descends upon the day, and business cycles play themselves out as routinely as cold follows warm.
The difference, of course, is all in the timing. Economic seasons are longer, vary dramatically in their length, and are famously unpredictable in their onset.
Most of our uncertainty about the onset of seasons was hammered out centuries ago, when the ancients began to map out the heavens. We Fools, on the other hand, stubbornly insist that no such progress has been made in the study of economic seasons. Many technical trading missionaries preach to us that there is more predictability in market seasons than we Fools are willing to accept -- that they can model market trends productively and that our refusal to get on board is hurting our Breaker Portfolio performance.
Who knows? We might find room in the Breaker strategy, some day, for some of these timing ideas. We Breakers love to argue and search for the truth, so feel free to blast us relentlessly with your timing visions. We all learn from them. But I wouldn't bet on rapid acceptance here at the Fool. One thing is crystal clear: The temporal dimension to investing is nowhere to be found in our current Rule Breaker strategy, neither as it is written nor as it is practiced in the secluded Breaker lair where our investing decisions are hammered out.
Now, to be clear, I'm not saying that the value dimension is totally absent. To the extent that a good stock price is a function of good timing, we don't completely dismiss the temporal dimension. In fact, we're not nearly as unified and stubbornly opposed to value investing concepts as our critics (or perhaps even our past decisions) make us out to be. It might not be the featured tool in our current Breaker kit, but our recent dabbling with a 10x/5y Breaker criterion is evidence of our recognition that, indeed, some prices are better than others.
Barring a miraculous conversion of Biblical proportions, however, we'll continue to focus primarily on the cross-market, company-to-company dimension -- at the exclusion of the orthogonal time dimension -- and to most closely examine the differences in business plans and performance (as opposed to stock market performance). The bottom line: We continue to see these as the primary drivers of long-term value creation.
So, let's get this much right out in the open: You have our word, as a Rule Breaker team, that we will never, under any circumstances, get you out of an investment at the top of a bull market. Nor do we expect to get you in at the precise bottom of the next bear. If we do happen to invest right before the market turns up, we'll plead coincidence. It's just not something that we pay much attention to.
Here's another certainty. Since Rule Breakers tend to be highly risky business models with volatile stock prices, our portfolio will suffer more than most during downward business cycles. You can bank on it, just as you can bank on our greater movement upward in good times. Over the long run, of course, we'll continue to ignore all this noise, unless it affects the business models we invest in to an extreme -- to an extent that goes well beyond the pain that typically attends growing companies in hard times.
If you believe that our approach is fundamentally wrong, by all means seek the help of those who claim expertise in getting you out at the next peak. And please stick around here and share what you learn, to help us improve for the benefit of everyone. This is what interactive, community learning is all about. The Fool might be a church of business-focused investing, but we try not to make it the holy church. We like to keep the ideas flowing.
However, if you criticize us for simply following our beliefs as they are currently laid out, don't be surprised if we don't know how to respond.
Please indulge me in one final admission. The truth is, I rarely check daily market summaries, sometimes skipping over them for months on end. When I do eventually read one, I'm mostly in it for the humor. If I ever have to write one, I'm ready:
The Nasdaq plunged today on heavy volume as investors continued to scurry to safer harbors -- as far as we know. The S&P 500 closed down slightly. That much we're sure about (heck, look at the graph, time goes from left to right, early to later).
"Rising interest rates have many investors spooked," said Ed Biggle of Solemn Executive Trust, a Wall Street firm badly in need of publicity and overly anxious to demonstrate its flair for the obvious.
"And this presidential election thing sure isn't helping things any. The market hates uncertainty," added a wide swath of alert, functioning human beings today, from the mind-numbingly dull guy that works in the cube across from you to some poor sucker at an investment firm, with a name you probably recognize, who just happened to be by his phone at the wrong time earlier today.
There are some upbeat signs of recovery on the near-term horizon, although plenty of other signs argue otherwise. In general, there are lots of signs and horizons, and nobody's quite sure how to make sense of all of them at the same time. One thing is certain. If there is a winning tip out there, today, you can be sure that the folks with the inside dope aren't taking calls from the likes of this reporter.
Noted technical analyst Garth Humboldt sees some upside potential in the classic "little boy peeing in a fountain" pattern he sees developing on recent margin charts but, when pressed, admits that it "could go either way."
Bonds were mixed. Check the line scores.
Until next time, Fool, check out our End-of-Year Special for some forecasting that might actually save you some dough. You might also want to check out our best-of-the-best investment suggestions in Industry Focus 2001. Buy before December 15 and cut 10% off the cover price.