By watching the financial bears, we can observe the point at which a number of potential factors come together to signal the market can only get better. Those factors include low valuations, improved earnings, improving liquidity, falling bond yields, and changes in how the market is perceived by those who play it. (p. 3)
Napier chose four bear markets (month equates to the bottom):
- August 1921
- July 1932
- June 1949
- August 1982
His book is essentially a field guide to the 'signs' of a bear market's bottoming process. Accordingly, if you have an interest in reading about the confluence of 'stuff' surrounding bear markets, I'd recommend your reading this book and plowing through it. While I enjoyed the book, but there are places where the writing could have been clearer and the data presented a bit more clearly. Nevertheless, there is much factual data that will give an investor some armament against the foolishness spouted by pundits.
Napier notes some key items to look for--I highlighted the first two because they were evident at each of the bear markets he studies--he particularly notes copper prices as the commodity to watch:
- improving demand at lower prices for selected goods, particularly autos
- commodity price stabilization
- improving economci news being ignored by the market
- rising volumes on a strong stock market
- falling volumes on a weak stock market
- a rising short interest
- a final fall in equity prices on low volumes
- reductions in Fed controlled interest rates
- A rally in the government bond market
- a rally in the corporate bond market
- positive signals from the Dow Theory
- Extreme undervaluation in the market: I partly produced by a final downdraft in prices. The second contributor is the failure of stock prices to keep up with economic and earnings growth. (p 37) [I do not see that we have the second contributor yet. It's also worth noting that there can be large gaps (2 decades in 1899-1921) of GDP growth without a commensurate increase in the earnings of companies--Napier notes a 130% increase in earnings v a 738% increase in GDP in 1881-1921 period. ]
- Napier calls into question the aphorism "buy when the news is bad". "The Wall Street Journal in the summer of 1921 was teeming with news and well-informed opinion that the economic contraction and with it the bear market in stocks was ending." (p.44). Specifically he opines that ". . . waiting for an absence of good news before buying stocks would not have been wise."
- Price stability is at the core of factors signaling the end of a bear market. Napier specifically notes that "the most accurate forecasts of the end of the bear market came from those who focused on the change in the trend in prices." He also notes specifically auto sales (demand response to lower prices) and copper prices. [I'll add that my focusing on the decline in the industrial metal prices helped me conclude that the good times were over. Industrial metal prices are starting to now recover. I watch Stock charts $GYX, which currently shows some recover. How long it will last will unfold in the fullness of time).
- A final bottom is generally made on low volume (in contrast to the popular adage). (p 68). [This observation lines up well with Selden's comment that the market generally rises from a period of dullness--market tops are violent; market bottoms are dull. Could we then be seeing JUST a year long workout of a top with more to follow? 'More to follow' would certainly fit with some of the direr predictions (e.g. L. Yamada's 400-600 S&P).
- In 1932, the Fed started a wholesale purchase of treasuries (as they are doing now) and that scared foreign investors thinking that the dollar would be devalued against other currencies, thus they wanted to liquidate their dollar reserves. [I believe that the moves of other currencies against the USD is one of the most important things for us to watch. We are not a producer nation any more--we are a service based economy. The countries that produce stuff (everyone BUT the US) will want their currencies cheap relative to ours. So perhaps we will not see a dumping of Treasuries as many fortell.]
- Napier notes that the move from overvaluation to undervaluation can take well over a decade--and that the 1932 bear market was the exception, not the rule. (p. 116)
- Napier notes " There is often ample good and improving economic news at the bottom of the market. This all suggest the risk to investors at these extreme times may not be as great as often assumed. An investor need not buy equities based on his forecast that the economy will start to improve in six-to-bnine months. At the great bear market bottoms there is likely to be growing evidence the economy is already on the mend." (p. 264)
Russell smartly reminds us that all bear markets are different. I'm also going to state that what we are undergoing is a trans-generational move which effectively emasculates any's posturing of "In my 30 years in the market". I'm hearing much of that, and I'm going to say emphatically that in a trans-generations move, 30 years is an inside of that and therefore irrelevant. That's not to say that the market may just go the way that those pundits suggest--UP. BUT, my point is that 30 years v. a trans-generational move (should we be having one)doesn't quite cut the mustard.
What I found most helpful was Napier's discussion of the interplay of government bond prices, corporate bond prices and the equity markets. While he did not provide a table, I will do so for you.
Now, let's take a look as to when government bond prices bottom.
Based on MY reading of the data table (Is that not a monstrous head and shoulders that can NEVER go below the neckline!), it appears to me that interest rates bottomed here: 2007-08-09 5.41. Accordingly, I'm going to call that date, the bottom in government bond prices (I've no idea if I'm using the right data). However, there is some credibility to that date as it was just a week before the FIRST systemic risk crisis in the money markets. I'm going to use the Dow Jones Composite Average rather than the DJIA. It's worth noting that the market TOPPED about 1 month ahead of the government bond market bottoming. Please click on these images to prevent blindness.
To be true to Napier's use of the Dow Industrials, I provide that chart here:
(I am lazily not bothering with corporate bonds.)
Am I concluding that this is indeed the bottom? Truly, I do not know, but the exercise seemed a fair to conduct. Looking at the weekly volume patterns in both charts certainly lends some credence that we had a high volume sell off in Sept culminating in November of 2008. I'd also hazard a guess that given the great hedge fund unwind, we are UNLIKELY to see a re-visitation of these volume levels. However, we should expect to see some improvement over the weekly volumes. It does NOT appear to me that we've had a low volume sell off.
I've flagged a number of interesting things in Napier's book which I'll share here in no particularly order. IN addition to chronicling what was happening in the monetary and interest markets, Napier chronicled WSJ commentary in the 2-3 months on either shoulder of the bear market bottom. My point in sharing a few of these things with you is that what his researched uncovered is at odds with some of the conventional wisdom. I'm including my summary of his points and the page number on which the thought is expressed. Any direct quotations of text will be within quotation marks. My own thoughts/questions will be in brackets.