By John Wasik
(Reuters) – To most Main Street investors, the post-2008 era has been something of an epic hangover. By and large, they have continued to eschew stocks for the palliative comfort of bonds.
Was it worth sitting out the last few years? What has actually been going on here since 2009, although it has been well-disguised at times, is a bull market. While the course of the bull has been highly uneven, it may continue if corporate earnings remain solid and there are no major calamities. And it may gain even more momentum if the new round of Fed easing boosts the U.S. economy in a significant way.
Of course, the euro zone muddle, lagging U.S. employment, meager consumer confidence and unseen other crises do not bode well for stocks. They never do. Yet there is the strong possibility that U.S. stocks will continue to head higher, defying the worst headlines.
First, some needed perspective. Stocks are still risky investments and always will be, although the best time to buy them is often when public perception is pessimistic. Share prices reflect real expectations of earnings, dividends and growth in what the underlying companies sell. The market is more volatile than in the past due to robotic, high-frequency trading and global news that travels at the speed of light. If you want something predictable to calm your nerves, buy a dog or cat.
Yet most large companies are profitable now and are sitting on a total combined estimate of $2 trillion in cash, which they are loath to spend on hiring and capital equipment. Consumer demand is not quite robust enough for their collective taste as most of the industrialized world deleverages.