The euphoric mania in stocks and bonds in recent years has clouded the common sense of Wall Street's rather youngish money managers. Throwing all caution to the winds of greed, the go-go investment gunslinger mentality of the late 60's and early 70's is back again - screaming: "THIS TIME IT'S DIFFERENT. ALL-TIME HIGH MARKET VALUATIONS ARE NO LONGER VALID BAROMETERS, NOR INDICATIVE OF INVESTMENT POTENTIAL!" Many years of garnering market wisdom has taught me the value of prudence and patience, and that youthful exuberance is always the last refuge of the inexperienced. Sooner or later their bubble will burst - and market focus will return to seek cyclic intrinsic values and traditional refuge investment vehicles.
In October 1929 equities had reached unprecedently high levels of valuation. Although there were several causes of the 1929 crash, much of the blame may be attributed to the abuses of the infamous investment trusts - which enjoyed wildly accelerated growth from 1924 to 1929.
It is interesting to recall that the investment trusts of the 20s were the forerunners of what we refer to today as mutual funds. It was primarily through the channeling of the public's savings via the investment trusts that drove stock valuation ratios to astronomical - indeed unrealistic - levels in late 1929. Unfortunately, there was no securities' law nor S.E.C. at that time to curtail market abuses, manipulations and/or excesses leading to the bear market debacle which followed. Nor was there a Fed Chairman cautioning that "IRRATIONAL EXUBERANCE MAY RESULT IN A FINANCIAL ASSET BUBBLE!"
Financial assets as reflected by the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) reached its peak value of 385 in October 1929, marking the beginning of our country's worst bear market. And although the DJIA finally bottomed at 41 in June 1932, the vast majority of stock investors continued to suffer the effects of the languishing bear market during the next three years. By December 1935 the stock market (DJIA) had only recovered to 140 from its 1932 bottom -- still down a whopping 64% from its October 1929 peak.
As might be expected, interest rate sensitive equities were also decimated during the Great Crash of 1929. In September 1929 the Dow Jones Utility Average (DJUA) hit its peak at 145. From late 1929 the DJUA tumbled to its abysmal l o w of only 15 in March 1932 and again in March 1935. The interest rate sensitive utilities had plunged a cardiac arresting 90% from their unrealistic and lofty 1929 highs.
Three years after hitting its nadir, the DJUA was still severely depressed. Imagine: A $10,000 investment in the relatively "safe" utilities in late 1929 was only worth a mere $2,100 on New Year's Eve 1936! This is heart-wrenching financial history...
During the same bear market period smart-money moved from the plunging equity markets (i.e. financial assets) to hard asset investments, like Homestake Mining - which is used heretofore as a surrogate for all gold stocks.
The stock price of this gold mining company soared relentlessly upward during the entire bear market. Homestake Mining stock rose continuously from $80 in October 1929 to $495 per share in December 1935 - which represents a total return of 519% (excluding cash dividends) during the devastating bear market period.
Contemplate and appreciate the monumental difference in investment returns during a serious bear market. Smart-money invested $10,000 in Homestake Mining (hard assets) in late 1929 - which increased in value to almost $62,000 by December 1935. This represents a compound rate of return of 35% per year in appreciation alone!
It is meaningful to note that in late 1929 the value of Homestake Mining was about $80 per share. Moreover, during the next six years Homestake Mining paid out a total of $128 in cash dividends. In fact the 1935 dividend alone reached $56 per share. That's almost a 70% dividend yield payout (basis 1929) in only one year! Indeed, hard asset investments (gold mining shares) were islands of economic refuge during the grueling years of the Great Depression.
Unfortunately, those innocent souls who remained invested in stocks - and had a buy and hold strategy - saw their initial $10,000 investment slowly dwindle to only $3,600 by late 1935. This represented a devastating capital loss of almost two-thirds of their investment savings. T H A T'S R I G H T! The hapless naive investor with a buy and hold strategy in financial assets lost the greater part of his original stake. Pathetically, he could ill-afford to risk - let alone lose - his precious capital during the many long despairing years of the Great Depression.
One does not have to be a Ph.D. in higher mathematics to understand the 1929-1935 comparative investment results stated below.
Value @ Dec. 1935
|DJIA||Oct - 1929||$10,000||$3,600|
|DJUA||Oct - 1929||$10,000||$2,100|
|Homestake Mining||Oct - 1929||$10,000||$62,000|
|Note: For simplification cash dividends not taken into account|
It is a nightmarish thought for the Buy-N-Hold advocates to take careful note that it took the next 25 years for a 1929 investment to break even! Not even Job of the Bible would have had the patience to wait.
From the market high in 1973 to its low in 1974 the DJIA and the S&P 500 lost almost half their value - while the previously high-flying technology stocks plummeted more than 60%. Enough to cause heart-failure to the credulous believers of THIS TIME IT'S DIFFERENT. Even the relatively "safe" utilities were decimated - as they dropped more than 50% from their 1973 high to their nadir in 1974. H-O-W-E-V-E-R, students of financial history took profitable refuge in gold metal stocks. The Gold Mining Index, composed of ASA, Campbell Red Lake and Dome Mining, appreciated more than 260% from its 1973 low (40) to its 1974 high (147). This merits being redundant. During the severe 1973/74 bear market, stocks lost half their value - while gold mining companies almost quadrupled.
The over-riding guideline of my precious metals' research was aptly described by one of Wall Street's legendary wizards, Bernard Baruch - unfortunately, unknown to most of today's investment Pollyannas. His observation still rings with logic and clarity:
The 'IRRATIONAL EXUBERANCE" of 1996 has surpassed the market mania of 1929. Traditional stock valuation indicators are at all-time record dangerous levels. The DJIA dividend yield plummeted to a century low (2.01%). The price-to-book ratio soared to the all-time record of 4.96:1, and the P.E.R. (price to earnings ratio) currently at 19 is greater than that of October 1929. Whenever these astronomical and unrealistic levels were reached, a vicious bear market eventually and inevitably followed.
In light of the current condition of all markets, prudence and patience will indeed conserve wealth and provide material rewards. Lamentably, those ignorant of financial history and the chronologically inexperienced will undoubtedly suffer once again the wages of unbridled greed and an acute myopic view of financial history.
Although my opinion and predictions are based upon intermarket and technical analysis, complemented by historical/statistical evaluation, prudence forged by many years of international investment experience forces me to echo the sage biblical and appropriate advice of Ecclesiastes :
but Ecclesiastes also cautioned