Fed Up With the Parlor Games

 | Jul 02, 2013 | 6:00 AM EDT
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Are you as tired as I am of the parlor game about what's driving this market? When I wake up these days, I look at China to get my usual dose of disappointment. Then I see how manipulated Japan is -- and in what direction it went -- and then I examine how horrible Europe is, and then I read stories about how the latest Fed guessing game is going. Only then do I look at how stocks are doing.

I am told to do all of this, in that order, by everyone I listen to. Some have told me -- people who are older and smarter than I am -- that, in order to figure out where the U.S. market will go, all I have to do is monitor Japan. Others say that China is pretty much in charge these days, and if China's banking system implodes, all bets are off. They say that, given the see-through nature of all those buildings in the major cities in China, that country is a ticking time bomb, especially if it needs to repatriate assets. Then others tell me that, if Spain and Italy turn and Europe gets going again, that means we'll be able to see a turn in China, which therefore means a turn here in the U.S.

But I keep thinking about Noodles (NDLS) and Onyx Pharma (ONXX). That's right -- I keep thinking about what would have been if I'd begun looking at things from the perspective of who has the best new restaurant chain and who has the best growth in biotech. I keep thinking, in other words, that I would now be making a heck of a lot more money if I'd been U.S.-stock-centric.

Fortunately I had been able to see that Onyx could be a valuable piece of property. But that's only because I know Celgene (CELG) and the challenge that Onyx presents to it in multiple myeloma treatment -- and also because my mother died of kidney cancer, which gave me a personal insight that drew me to Onyx's Nexavar franchise.

But Noodles is infuriating me. Just infuriating -- and I am blaming it directly on the parlor game of international finance. I hadn't focused on this initial public offering because there was "too much going on," and because I was too worried about the 10-year U.S. Treasury. I knew this company may be the hottest concept out there, because I have a noodle bar next to me – ramen-based -- that you can't get into, and which The New York Times says is the hottest trend. I know that the Asian ShopHouse from Chipotle (CMG) seems stillborn, but the concept is a winning one. From researching Chipotle, I even knew the gents who started the joint.

But the Noodles IPO itself? Totally lost in the thicket that is the handwringing about whether the Fed is really tightening.

This is a bad sign for a stock-picker like me. We have to take advantage of the free money wherever we can find it, and that money has been in the IPO market. The Noodles deal was precisely the kind that bankers give you when you're fed up and when IPOs are being cancelled. It was a non-New York deal, meaning you had to get outside yourself, or at least outside the city, in order to know what the chain was like. Yet no one I know even talked about it because of the Fed obsession.

It was a real wake-up call that we need to get the international focus tamped and the U.S. focus ramped, no matter what -- because that's where the money is. Everything else, while not a distraction, does keep you from thinking about what really moves stocks, instead of what the old and new pros proclaim is calling the tune. You don't find Noodles by looking at the yen. You don't find Onyx by guessing about European fund flows or U.S. gross domestic product. If only life were that easy.

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