Monday, July 12, 2010

The Best Prediction I Ever Made

During the peak of the Asian debt crisis--I think it must have been 1998--the country manager for the Taiwan business (his team gave me the Chinese name I use as my nom de plume here) asked me where I thought the Dow Index was going. My response:
10,000--as far as the eye can see.

I hasten to add that I'm sure Lawrence did not use my advice exclusively to form his stock investment strategy, but I do think he was looking to diversify and wondering whether to buy into the US market. And, I don't know what he ultimately did.

Anyway, here we are, 12 years later, still kicking around that round 5-digit number. Yes, it's just a number, the experts go by the S&P 500-stock index much more, some of the stocks comprising the Dow index have changed, and 10k of anything today won't buy what it did in 1998, but I think the number has had an important psychological significance. Twice the market has risen significantly above the 10K +/-15% range, and both times (2001-02 and 2007-08) it has fallen hard, as though gravity were pulling it back to earth, and once (2009, of course) it sank more than that depth below, only to eventually bob back up when the crisis had passed sufficiently. I don't know what the technical term is: an "attractor" level?

Just in the last month, the downward "correction" from the "bull market" succeeding the much greater "bear market" hit bottom just below 10,000 and has bounced back upwards, though not far away from that mark yet. The time has come to ask: is this the moment when we leave behind 10,000, for good? There are plenty of reasons to doubt, plenty of weaknesses both short-term and long-term, but I think also some reason to be hopeful that this could be the one, a real climb which will leave that number forever behind.

After all, there was a very long period, decades ago now, when it seemed the Dow would never leave behind 1000, but it finally did so, and not even the most pessimistic among us think the market will go back to that level (barring an apocalypse). The question really comes down to whether the current recovery has a sufficiently sound basis, more than the tech bubble of the turn of the millennium, or the real estate-driven bubble of the latter Bushite years, for only then can we escape the gravitational pull of 10,000.

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