13 October 2008

Go Placidly Amid The Noise and Wait

Given the carnage on the markets over the last week or so, it was only a matter of time before the we got some irresponsible media reports.

So far, I give a qualified single thumb up to the media for restraining themselves from the kind of sensationalist and hysterical spectacle we saw during the tech wreck. At no stage have we seen the media, en masse anyway, hinting that everyone should sell up before (paper) losses get too great. At least, in Australia, anyway.

The reasons for this are twofold:

1. The tech wreck ended up as, by and large, a bit of a non-event in this country. We're not a hi-tech country. We weren't subject to mass IPOs of dubious quality floating on the market in the same way that countries like the USA were. Needless to say, those in the media who got a little crazy after the events of 2001 looked like geese, and probably felt a little sheepish afterwards as well.

Enough with the animal insults.

2. The Australian economy is in great shape. Our banks are totally not in need of "guaranteeing" in the same way as what is going on in Europe and North America at the moment. Never mind that, though. Our Federal Government guaranteed them today.

OK. Up until quite recently, we did have a bit of an inflation problem. On top of that, we did have a real estate bubble that, thankfully, appears to have sprung a slow leak thanks to our (still relatively) high interest rates. But in the overall scheme of things, we're doing OK.

We don't have a property price crisis like over in the States, though. Yet.

It did make me wonder though, during the week, when I turned on the news to see that some commentators are now starting to consider the distinct possibility that a housing price slump could hit Australia. I would personally welcome this, however, it could cause some grave havoc.

Consider this: In the 1980's, the median house price was set at around about three times gross household income, based on figures I saw during the week. Now, it appears to be about seven and a half times. In real terms, this is simply too much for most householders to afford, and should ring alarm bells anywhere, in the same way that the USA's foreign debt at around 350% of US GDP is at the moment.

By the end of the week, the massive spin doctoring machine that is the Real Estate guilds in each state had reversed this talk, and were even talking up their industry, with headlines like "Housing Prices Bottoming Out", amongst others.

You have to hand it to the RE guilds. The media is totally in their thrall. Media Watch, a couple of weeks ago focused on the attention that Sydney newspapers paid the sheer spin and dishonest figures that the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales like to put out to support their arguments. Figures that, when compared to those churned out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, seem totally incredulous. The Daily Telegraph even held up the REINSW as being the "peak body" when it came to these figures.

I'm at the point that when I see a property story on the news, I simply don't believe a word of it if there is even only a one-word quote from anyone associated with these bodies. The fact is, the RE guilds represent real estate agents. They do not present fair figures honestly, and how the media don't see through the rubbish that they put out every week is one of life's little mysteries that we'll never see solved.

But on the whole, the media has been relatively controlled on the stampede for the exits that we're seeing in equity markets at the moment.

I did, this week, see something that made me wince.

Marcus Padley, a stockbroker, and regular columnist for The Age usually writes some insightful articles on finance.

Padley, for those who don't know, possesses a sharp mind and one of the silliest egos in finance this side of the late Rene Rivkin. He writes a tip sheet, which is relatively highly regarded, called "Marcus Today". Obviously, Padley was oblivious to the groans that went on around his office when he decided on that one.

Padley wrote an article in The Age which in my honest opinion, is the stupidest and most irresponsible op-ed piece during a financial crisis that I have ever seen. It was titled, "Take your money and run - it's worthless advice".

Cop a geek at this. Padley writes the following choice quotes:

"If I was still holding stocks, yes I'd still sell them... But I come at it not with an opinion about the direction about the sharemarket, but from a human perspective."

Padley has essentially held out a red rag to the bears and said, "Go on. Sell up. You know that you want to."

"But [don't hold on to your stocks] if you can't afford any more losses and are in pain. The definition of "can't afford" in my book is this, if I had to go home to my wife and tell her our expectations are going to have to be lowered."

(My emphasis)

OK. We're all going to have reduced expectations as a result of this. In Padley's opinion, everyone must sell everything, lock, stock and barrel.

"Who wants to play in a casino? The volatility has reduced the market to a casino. In a casino, no opinion has any value."

Your average investor might just as well give up at this point and shoot craps, because this is what Padley is suggesting that the market is no better than.

This is despite the fact that we know a great deal of market behaviour over the long term, which tilts the odds firmly back in the direction of an investor. Unlike our craps table at the casino, which is rigged against you from the start.

This is just the first third of an article which Padley manages to break every rule in responsible journalism. By essentially saying, "everyone should sell, without question," Padley has crossed the line into Personal Financial Advice territory, and should have the book thrown at him by ASIC.

Elsewhere Padley offers these little gems, which I have paraphrased:

  • Avoid losses. Therefore, avoid the market as well. It doesn't matter if you are in it for the long term or not.
  • I agree that the herd mentality is good. Stick with it and you can't go wrong.
  • Optimism is just that. Even if it backed up by the sheer force of history that suggests that investing for the long term requires a buy and hold approach.

Honestly, the whole thing almost reads like a parody. If this is Padley's idea of a joke, it's not funny, and he should be hauled over the coals as soon as the moment arises.

On top of this, Padley is a stockbroker. This means that whenever another sale is done, he collects a commission from it. Ka-ching!

Out of 5 stars, I give this disgraceful effort a bitch slap. Padley needs to wake up to himself.

Standard but necessary disclaimer: Only a complete idiot would think that any of this plausibly constituted advice. It's not even vaguely reasonable to consider this to be advice. If you are in any doubt as to the content of this, see a good, independent financial adviser immediately. They do exist.


Anonymous said...

Have you ever suspected that certain market participants may be hamming-up the catastrophe angle in the hope of picking up some bargains as prices crash?

Dikkii said...

I wonder about this daily, Dunc.

Plonka said...

What a ponce that Rudd is eh? We all know that our banks will still make their usual $4 billion, even if they have to beg and steal to do it. That's what they usually do after all.

To be honest, the only stocks I hold are actually owned by various "super" (which it probably isn't anymore) investments (I must consolidate those one day).

I wish I had a way to get it all into my house. It'll be worth more when the time comes, "slumps" not withstanding. Of that I'm sure...

Dikkii said...

Here's the cracking part of that, Plonka.

Rudd guarantees the banks. Investors promptly exit cash management trusts and mortgage funds to go to the banks. Mortgage funds freeze redemptions and force foreclosures on prime mortgages in arrears.

We may yet replicate US conditions here, yet.

Plonka said...

I know. I've just been reading all about it. What an idiotic thing to do!

I take it back, he's not a ponce, he's a twat!

Dikkii said...

There may be a silver lining to this, Plonka. Mortgage funds in Australia usually have quality assets. This means that they may be able to sell them on to mortgage funds elsewhere which might have (to put it politely) lesser quality assets. But I don't expect that there's a great market for debt at the moment.