Does Dow 13,000 matter? You bet it can. I hear tons of people talk about how what matters is the S&P 500 and taking out the April high of last year. Sure, I would love that. It would break the double top pattern, and investment professionals know that the S&P is what matters, not the Dow, because it is a much broader gauge of the stock market. When I ran money, I led every performance letter with how I did against the S&P. When I compare how my charitable trust is doing, I always match it against the S&P.
But the simple truth is that the retail investor, the home gamer, cares tremendously about how the Dow is doing, and when the Dow takes out key milestones, it is a much bigger deal than how the S&P 500 does.
Why does it matter so much to the actual performance of the market? Because the main attribute of this stock market rally is that it is happening with very few investors aboard. This morning, Ann Curry from the "Today" show asked me a terrific question, about whether the Dow taking out highs means anything for anyone other than rich people.
You know what? That's a difficult question. Rich people are heavily invested in the stock market as well as the bond market, especially municipal bonds. They do stand to do much better than the regular investor who can't really afford to have a big stock portfolio.
However, 90 million households are touched by the stock market in some fashion, through pension plans, 401(k)s, IRAs and college savings plans. The stock market has been a disaster for these smaller savers. For many, stocks are a con job, something that takes your money away and gives it to the rich. So Curry's inquiry is a smart one.
But here's my answer, though. Yes, we have had a dozen-year lost decade for stocks. They have been miserable for that long. However, in the 1980s and 1990s, stocks made regular people fortunes. We had well superior returns to bonds. Who is to say it can't happen again?
But they need to know it is safe to come back in. They need to know that money can be made. There is no better indicator for showing that money can be made in the stock market than Dow 13,000. It will get headlines. It will allow brokers to call clients with something exciting. Clients who may have thrown out their statements for ages and ages might even open their statements again and be pleasantly surprised.
It's not just the Dow, though that might be the "blue light special" to help get people back in. It's what happens once they are in. For five years we had a market where the volatility was out of control. It was entirely possible that between when you bought a stock and when you got the report you were down, perhaps appreciably, from where you thought you were going to buy the stock. I know that I always teach that you should buy with limits, which avoids some of this problem but not all of it, because the volatility can still play havoc, even if you are bidding below the market.
I think people got sick to their stomachs, kind of like a real bad rollercoaster that makes you feel real uneasy, and not just the ones I threw up on, like Scream at Magic Mountain or Apollo's Chariot at Busch Gardens, or even the rides at Sesame Place. You wonder why I wouldn't go on the new Harry Potter coaster at Universal? Volatility. The VIX of coasters.
If you get rid of the volatility, you restore the trust, because volatility may mean lots of program trading, but trust me when I say that volatility for the amateur investor means rigged markets and loss of savings.
Plus, if you bring back these investors, they will realize that you can earn so much more in dividends then you can with fixed income. Remember that most people save in tax-free accounts, so the dividends aren't taxed and are much more bountiful than what you would get with Treasuries. With the bigger yields from companies like Cedar Fair (FUN) -- a roller coaster I can embrace -- or Waste Management (WM) or American Electric Power (AEP), you truly do much better as you let those dividends compound.
So, yes, Dow 13,000 says, "Come on in, the water's been fine." Can the retail investor be slaughtered again? If we get an exogenous event, a war between Israel and Iran, say, you bet she can be slaughtered, But that is the risk you always have to take, as these are pieces of paper, not gold and not cash in the Tempur-Pedic or the Select Comfort.
Still, if we get the Dow to power through and stay through, what will happen is this: The investor will say, OK, let's just put some back in, and when that money comes back in at last, we will reverse the remarkable path of trillions headed out of the market. When you consider the buybacks, when you consider the vast shrinkage of so many of the floats of stocks, just the reversal of money out can make a huge difference.
Oh, and one more thing. The companies in the Dow. They are largely either international and doing quite well or domestic and pay good yields. That's the combination that makes me wish that people really would just buy the Dow stocks, as I have a lot more faith in those than I do in the broader and much more professionally loved stocks. The index always described as venerable. It's venerable for a reason. It's not every day that a stock gets in the elite club of 30, and with the exception of Alcoa (AA) and Bank of America (BAC), which ironically are doing better after several horrendous years, the club is one that people would rather join than flee.
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