A Wizened Procession of Bubble-Callers

 | Apr 01, 2014 | 11:26 AM EDT  | Comments
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It's a bubble, isn't it, Jim?

That's the question I have been getting the most as I've finished my book tour for Get Rich Carefully -- which, mercifully, ends tonight at Barnes & Noble in White Plains after Mad Money airs. Of course, people never really are asking, "Is it a bubble?" They are telling you it is a bubble. They are simply laying it on the line, informing you of the truth. They do it with an all-knowing voice and a wizened grin, as if they know much better than you do.

Of course, you can understand where they are coming from, if only because the Standard & Poor's 500 has shown a remarkable ability to come back time after time each quarter. We just put together one more quarter in the black -- the fifth in a row -- and it's become quite a habit since the bottom not that long ago.

Here's the problem with the "bubble" call on the market. This last quarter saw the slaughter of so many of the recent favorites and the resurrection of so much value that it is fanciful to say we have a bubble on our hands. When the leaders in the S&P 500 this past quarter are stocks like Tyson Foods (TSN), the chicken company and Nabors (NBR), the onshore driller, how can we pronounce that we are in a bubble? When Celgene (CELG) and Gilead (GILD), two alleged bubble stocks, sell at 10x 2016 earnings -- cheaper than Merck (MRK) and Pfizer (PFE) -- how does that constitute a bubble?

I think it all comes down to individual stocks. Has there been a bubble in the 3-D printing stocks? I think there was a bubble. But how can you have the leader of the group -- 3D Systems (DDD) -- plummeting from $97 to $58, as it did this quarter, and call that a bubble? Has there been a bubble in some of the biotech stocks that traded at single digits not that long ago? Yes, but those, too, started giving up the ghost in the latter part of the quarter.

It's the same with the cloud-computing stocks, courtesy an overwhelming amount of supply and a market that stopped paying up for revenue growth. Even Tesla (TSLA), Amazon (AMZN) and Netflix (NFLX) have fallen well off their highs, respectively declining 50 points, 70 points and 100 points. If anything, those sound like popped bubbles to me.

So what are people getting at when they tell me it's all a bubble? I think the subtext is, "I missed it, and that's quite all right, because it was all phony anyway." Or, "You and your people have made a lot of money, but they are all going to give it back."

Is that too harsh? I don't think so. The simple truth is that those kinds of stocks made you a lot of money last year, and this year the gains have been in stocks like Caterpillar (CAT) and Alcoa (AA) and Oracle (ORCL). These stocks are simply very cheap if the companies get it right, and there is a sense that, in 2014, they will get it right.

As I finish this book tour, through which I have met thousands of people, I am struck by how many of those who have bought the book are simply trying to exploit the next opportunity and find stocks that they'd be able to put away for their kids. There have been plenty of bubble questions and a ton of, "When's Apple (AAPL) going to move?"

And, of course, this is self-selecting. You don't buy the book to confirm the bubble that you have already decided exists. I just think it's a shame that the pronouncement of the bubble by those left behind is stated with such surety. It makes me think that it's the bubble-callers who are the most unrealistic and the most fanciful and the least rigorous -- not the buyers who, alas, continue to make in the markets while the older, wiser people sit on the sidelines, catcalling all the way.

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