The past twelve months have witnessed extreme trading patterns. The beginning of the year saw market participants flee the equity markets to such an extent that it seemed the bottom would never be reached. However once the bottom was found in March, investors never looked back and drove stocks higher for the remainder of the year.
It has been a year of mixed fortunes. Speculators have certainly enjoyed it more than those seeking more rational, fundamentally based investments. The “bears” kept waiting for an illusive pullback, repeating the message that fundamentals do not support the recovery and as a result missed the whole upside run up in stocks. What the majority forgot was that market is not always driven by fundamentals but instead relies on individual perceptions of what is cheap, which in turn prompts herd like behaviour. The herd may have been blindly foolish, but it was the dominant theme and those that tried to beat the trend most likely suffered as a result.
In an effort to save the impaired housing market and flawed financial system the Fed devised countless liquidity measures. This cheap liquidity which has reduced the risk premia and in turn it was rewarded with a mind blowing nine month rally in equity markets which is unlikely to be repeated. The US government now headed by the messiah Obama, provided tax breaks and subsidies to consumers in order to stimulate spending. But these subsidies and gimmick programs like “cash for clunkers” simply did not address the real fundamental problems in the economy and once a program was nearing expiry the consumer sentiment would immediately falter. It became increasingly obvious that markets are now addicted to the government stimulus and like a small child, are simply unable to walk on its own two feet. But like any child, it must grow up and take responsibility for its own actions. The Fed has provided markets with all the support it needs and 2010 is the year that the markets finally begin to learn how to walk alone. Expect bruises and possible broken bones, but like they say: “what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger…”