Stocks have soared ever since Donald Trump stunned everyone by winning the presidency, but Trump’s victory was far from a landslide mandate. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2.6M votes. This marks the fifth time a president has won the electoral college but lost the popular vote—and Trump’s popular vote deficit was much larger than the previous four times this election outcome occurred.
But before Democrats claim a moral victory, they would be wise to examine the congressional tally. According to the Wall Street Journal, Republicans won 3M more House votes than Democrats. That means a staggering 5.5M voters picked Clinton and then voted for a Republican congressional candidate—which not only speaks volumes to Trump’s personal unpopularity, but to the rightward drift of white voters.
After one of the craziest rides anyone can remember, with the Dow dropping over 1000 points in a session for the first time and everybody learning the definition of “Rule 48,” stocks ended up pretty much where they began last week. Incredibly, the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq were actually up modestly by Friday’s close. Besides Xanax manufacturers, there were two clear winners in all of the sound and fury signifying not very much: the market’s croupiers—the brokers and Wall Street traders who collect commissions on stocks, bonds, and other financial products—and Mr. John Clifton Bogle.
As a Princeton graduate student in the 1970s, Bogle invented the index fund. Today almost 1/3rd of all mutual fund assets are invested in index funds and Bogle’s Vanguard Group is the nation’s largest money management firm as measured by assets under management. Study after academic study shows that the S&P 500 has produced an 8.5 percent annual return since World War II, while the average actively-managed mutual fund has delivered about 7 percent (after deducting the 1.5 percent average “expense ratio”). The typical retail investor lags far behind, earning closer to 5 percent a year. Weeks like this past one are a big reason why.
I’m kicking myself for not following my instincts and shorting Yelp (YELP) before it announced utterly rancid earnings last Thursday. For years, the only thing that has mystified me more than Yelp’s business model has been its enduring popularity with Wall Street. As I type, I’m looking at a pile of recent analyst reports with absurd price targets for the company. I like to save these kinds of laughably optimistic reports. It’s a hobby of mine. I’ve still got a glowing buy recommendation for Enron dated only days before the energy behemoth imploded.
For all my doubts about Yelp and other social media stocks, there’s a good reason I have not shorted any of them up to now. It’s just too risky to bet against companies in the midst of a secular mania–and make no mistake, that is exactly what has lifted Yelp, Twitter, LinkedIn and their ilk to stupidly large valuations that they will almost certainly never live up to.
At the start of this year, I did something I rarely do–I opened my big mouth and made some predictions about the stock market:
I expect stock indexes to post muted gains, somewhere in the single-digit range.
Well, we’re almost three full months into 2015 and, to my surprise, I haven’t changed my outlook. If anything, with the S&P almost exactly neutral YTD as of this writing and the Dow down a smidge, I’ve become slightly more bearish. With corporate earnings expected to underperform in the next two quarters and a rate increase almost certainly in the offing, it’s hard to see how stocks can break out and post another year of double-digit gains. Of course, this opinion is exactly that: an opinion. For all I know, stocks could take off again and break 20k by New Year’s Eve. I doubt it, but one thing I’ve learned in this game is that anything and everything is possible.
In case you missed it, I was in New York yesterday and I stopped by CNBC’s Closing Bell program to chat about market volatility and the challenges facing stocks (if you’re reading this by email, you can find the video here):
Thanks to everyone at CNBC for having me. I’d also like to thank David McCann at CFO Magazine for writing about Dead Companies Walking and for a great conversation the other day. I always enjoy meeting smart people, and it’s gratifying to hear that people I respect have enjoyed the book.
(Note: I have started writing for Yahoo! Finance’s new contributor platform. This piece originally appeared there. You can find it by clicking here. If you have a tumblr account, please feel free to follow me to receive my latest posts in your dashboard. If you don’t, I will continue to post them here, as well. Thanks!)
With the Nasdaq hitting 5000 last week and all the talk about whether we’re in a new dotcom bubble or not, it’s been easy to overlook something: most stocks are having a ho-hum 2015, at best. After Friday’s steep selloff, the Dow is virtually flat since January 1st and the S&P 500 is up a grand total of 13 points, or .6 percent, over that same period. The Russell 2000 has fared slightly better. It’s gained about one percent. That’s not bad. But it’s not exactly the stuff that bubbles are made of.
So, is the bull market stampede finally starting to slow? I’m always hesitant to make predictions. For all I know (or anyone else), the markets could rally again this week and shoot up double digits yet again by year’s end. But I will say that the same negative effects that have dampened stocks so far in 2015 will almost certainly get worse in the coming months.
Despite the unendingly grim economic news out of the euro zone, most major European stock markets have shown robust growth over the last year. The German DAX is up over 32 percent since June of 2012. The Swiss Exchange is close behind at almost 30 percent growth over the same time period, and the Euronext 100 and CAC 40 have both risen by almost 25 percent. Heck, even the Athens Stock Exchange seems to have temporarily risen from the dead. It’s up more than 77 percent in the last twelve months.
So is it time to put aside our fears and jump into this rally? I have three answers: no, hell no, and don’t you dare.
Europe is a dead-continent-walking. These short term gains notwithstanding, European stocks may very well be the biggest value trap in the history of capitalism–though the reasons why might surprise you. It’s not just because of the region’s low-to-no economic growth, crushingly high debt levels, and disastrous austerity policies. Europe is “going to zero” in a different, more fundamental area, as well.