Our Best Stock Market Indicator Is Flashing Yellow
“Ya gadda have a praaacess”
– British portfolio managers mimicking their American colleagues
When long ago a former employer sent me to London to join the other Americans, or mostly Americans, building out its U.K. office, my job was to create a process. In institutional asset management, process was the American way. For sales presentations and especially dealing with investment consultants, you needed process charts that showed information flowing this way and that and, ultimately, morphing through its travels on the page into repeatable investment decisions. Those charts proved your legitimacy as an institutional manager. Regardless of whether they described your actual decision making, they let the community know that you weren’t just a “bunch of gunslingers.” And you couldn’t build a business in that community without your process charts.
But British consultants were different. They didn’t care so much about your process as they wanted you to knock them over with flair. They wanted imagination, story-telling, charisma. The process charts in your pitchbook didn’t matter as much as the command in your voice. In London, gunslinging was nothing to be ashamed of, as long as you slung with style.
So it all came down to process versus flair. Along with baseball caps and mismatched accents, the clash of cultures depended on which of the two qualities was deemed most important. And along with the accents, in particular, the contrasting approaches explained mimicry performed by amused Brits when the conference room door was comfortably shut or when the pub was crowded enough that voices didn’t carry. Ya gadda have a praaacess.
So today, I give you what else but a few pieces of process. Not a complete one, not even close, but I’ll share two dashboards that compare current stock market conditions to the conditions that shaped past market cycles. The dashboards can support your portfolio decisions, in my opinion, regardless of whether you’re a process Kool-Aid drinking septic or a flair fancying Anglophile. (For the same approach applied to the economy, see “Here’s a Strong Signal from the Economic Dashboard.”)
In September, we proposed a theory of the Fed and suggested the FOMC will soon worry mostly about financial imbalances without much concern for recession risks. We reached that conclusion by weighing the reputational pitfalls faced by the economists on the committee, but now we’ll add more meat to our argument, using financial flows data released last week.
We’ve created two charts, beginning with a look at cumulative, inflation-adjusted asset gains during the last seven business cycles: