By: Harry S. Dent, Jr., Author of The Great Depression Ahead (2008), The Roaring 2000s (1998), The Great Boom Ahead (1993), and Publisher of The HS Dent Economic Forecast Newsletter.
Over the last year we have looked at a number of potential scenarios for the topping of stocks long term in line with our Spending Wave peak from the massive Baby Boom Generation and how the stock markets could play out into a likely major bottom by mid- to late 2012 within the Decennial Cycle. Ned Davis was the first to document this very powerful cycle and we have found a stronger risk/return advantage from back-testing this cycle than even from our Spending Wave. With the exception of 1987 and 1973-1974 and 1937-1940, all other major crashes have occurred in the first 3 years of each decade since 1920. Being more cautious or out of stocks in this time frame would greatly improve your long-term stock returns even if you knew nothing about demographic or our other major cycles and economic driving forces.
We look first long term at fundamental cycles like demographic-driven generational waves of spending, S-Curve accelerations of key technologies, geopolitical and commodity cycles. Then we look at intermediate cycles that repeat largely predictably, like the Decennial Cycle, the 4-Year Presidential Cycle and the Annual Cycle. In the short term we look at much more volatile technical indicators — gauging everything from momentum to various levels of investor bullish and bearish sentiment — to simply make better guesses about the near term direction and targets for the markets. As important as these indicators are for short term tactics and timing major buy/sell signals, they are more complex and inherently less reliable as seemingly random news events dominate.
The point of the short term technical indicators is to have you make decisions more like the “smart money” or 1% that control most of the wealth and profits, rather than the “dumb money” or herd of investors that buys the most near tops and sells the most near bottoms. In this down Decennial Cycle, we have an unprecedented divergence between our most important technical indicators and our most powerful cycles and short-term fundamental leading indicators. Why? Investors, even the “smart money” ones, are genuinely confused by the first deflationary environment since the early 1930s. They have learned since the 1970s that when the Fed or government stimulates the economy, you don’t fight that trend, until they tighten monetary or fiscal policies.
That is the great illusion of our lifetimes, since Keynesian economics came into vogue in the 1970s after being innovated in the 1930s: that the government can regulate the economy like a thermostat. Even if they could, which they haven’t thus far, it would not be healthy!
Generational and technological cycles continue to drive our economy, not the government, except with their short-term stimulus, aka “cups of coffee.” Coffee wakes you up at first and then you are even sleepier when it wears off. Stimulus only works short term and does not change the fundamental situation. In fact it tends to make it worse by wearing out the system and depriving it of its natural waking and sleeping, inhaling and exhaling, and assimilation and elimination cycles. Try not sleeping for several days. Does the productivity from the greater hours of being awake outweigh the delusion and disorientation that follow? Our enemies use sleep deprivation to disorient their captives and thus extract information that the captive normally would never give out.
Our most powerful intermediate cycles suggest a correction into October or so, and our best short term leading indicators strongly suggest a double dip recession by January of 2011. But the “smart money” is not bearish, and they are normally right! There is still a broader range of outcomes than normal until we see how the pattern plays out over the critical weak months of September and October in the 4-Year Cycle, wherein the Decennial and 4-Year Cycles converge here as they do only once in a decade. You have to understand our broader hierarchy of key cycles to appreciate better the unique situation we are in currently.
The Decennial Cycle calls for weak stock markets and recessions between the “0” and “2” years of every decade, as was most pronounced in 1920–1922, 1930-1932 1960-1962, 1980-1982, 2000-2002, and presently 2010-2012. The cycle is stronger every two decades, although we saw weakness in the early 1970s and 1990s as well. On average, that pattern bottoms by the middle of the “2” year, as in mid-1932, but that very average from the last century was influenced highly by the massive crash that bottomed in July 1932. Every Decennial Cycle will intersect once with the other consistent cycle, the 4-Year Presidential Cycle (also best documented by Ned Davis but obvious to me and many others decades ago) that tends to bottom between late summer and the mid-term elections, such as in late 2002 or currently late 2010.
In past Decennial Cycles, the actual bottom has almost always coincided more strongly with the 4-Year Cycle, as in 1962, 1970, 1982, 1990, 2002, and currently 2010. That is why we have been expecting the greatest crash and most clear bottom to occur into late 2010, even if a near retest or slight new low occurs between mid- to late 2012 on the Decennial Cycle. But to see a major or near-major bottom, we would need to see a 1987-like crash by October to December. Given that the stock market is so divorced from the clearly slowing economic reality and our leading indicators, this could still occur, with targets as low as 3,418 to 6,432. But if the markets do not crash substantially by late October, then it is likely we will see a rally back above 11,300 that will then see a longer decline from sometime in 2011 into 2012.
We have three levels of forecasting tools that are very different from one another: (1) fundamental/long term (decades or more), (2) intermediate cycles (years within a decade), and (3) technical/short term (days to weeks to months). We forecast “days to decades,” unlike most forecasters. The long term is the most deterministic, or cause and effect, and therefore the most reliable. The short term is the most probabilistic, or “best guess,” and thus the most subject to error, due to “news” events that seem almost random at times. Many people expect us to be as accurate in the short term as in the long term, and that is simply not possible (at least at this point).
A good way to summarize our unique approach to forecasting is that it starts with the most fundamental long-term indicators like our Spending Wave, is modified by our key intermediate cycles, like the Decennial and 4-Year, and then increasingly is affected in the short term by multiple and more-complex technical indicators that gauge investor bullish/bearish sentiment at different levels of “smart” and “dumb” money — and momentum cycles or oscillators.
Or, as we often say, “In the long term the fundamentals are everything and the short-term technical cycles average out, but in the short term the technical analysis is everything and the fundamental trends only give a slight directional bias.” That’s why longer-term investors focus more on fundamentals and shorter-term traders focus more on technical analysis.
In contrast, we focus on the entire range, from fundamentals to intermediate cycles to short-term technical analysis, to create the greatest advantage and to serve the widest audience. However, our unique advantage clearly is found in longer-term fundamental cycles: demographics, geopolitical, commodity, and technology — that few others have identified. Even if you are a long-term investor, when you finally make major decisions to add funds, withdraw funds, or change your asset allocation, wouldn’t you rather do it at the most advantageous times according to intermediate and short-term cycles? Wouldn’t you be happy to tip those decisions from odds of a random 50/50 to 60/40 or even 67/33 at best? The truth is that you will tend to make such short-term decisions more out of fear or greed and end up at much worse odds than 50/50. You will tend to sell when stocks are down and buy when stocks are up; that is the way 99% of us are programmed: to follow the trend and the herd. That is also why the top 1% of earners control 40% or so of the wealth, as they tend to do the opposite; think of Warren Buffett.
Our shorter-term analysis is designed to get you to think and act more like the smart 1% than the 90% herd. As they say in a poker game: If you don’t know who the sucker is, it’s probably you!”
So for step one, let’s take our most fundamental long-term indicator, the Spending Wave and draw a summary trend line through the years from 1980 through 2014 in Chart 1. Then in Chart 2 we add the most powerful intermediate-term cycle, the Decennial Cycle and have it oscillate around that long term fundamental trend line from the Spending Wave. These two simple indicators together would explain the most important long-term and intermediate swings in the market. Since the early 1950s you would have missed every major crash except 1987, as the Spending Wave would have had you out or cautious from late 1968 into at least 1980 and the Decennial Cycle would have largely protected you from the greater corrections in the early 1960s, the early 1980s, the early 1990s and from the 2000-2002 crash in the boom period. It would have taken very good short-term technical indicators to protect you from the 1987 crash, but the best did.
Chart 3 shows an overlay of the 4-Year Cycle over the Decennial, Ned Davis’ two most powerful cycles. Note again that in every Decennial Cycle since 1960, the bottom in stocks has come when the 4-Year Cycle bottomed within the downward Decennial Cycle, i.e., 1982, 1990 and 2002. The next such likely bottom time cycle comes between September and December of 2010. Go back and look at the shape of the 1987 crash. The market topped in August, saw a modest and orderly correction into September, and then suddenly crashed in October, by nearly 40% in two weeks. Think about that scenario vs. the recent top on August 9 and the orderly correction into August 27. Or think a bit broader about the late April top, the correction into early July, and the bounce into early August. We could experience a major crash just ahead in a short time frame — such as late August to October or late September to October or December! But as we said earlier the “smart money” in Chart 4 is still bullish which means the markets should be headed higher, not lower.
It does not look like we are going to get our typical crash in to the mid-term elections on the 4-Year Cycle in 2010. It is more likely that we will see an extended crash like October 2007 to March 2009 in 2011 and 2012. If so, this would be the first time in six decades that the Decennial Cycle bottom did not occur on the 4-Year Cycle. That would be more in line with composite intermediate cycles from Richard Mogey, whom we highly respect, at the Foundation for the Study of Cycles.
Of course, as this extreme short-term scenario suggests, the markets can vary greatly within the broader range set by these key longer-term and intermediate cycles. Our work gets a bit more complex in longer-term fundamental cycles as we add the 34- to 36-Year Geopolitical Cycle, which varies stock valuations by 50% as it oscillates upward in periods like 1983-2000 and downward in periods like 2001 to 2018-2019. Stock valuations at the top in early 2000 were more than twice those at the top in late 2007, as we would tend to expect for this cycle! For commodities and for emerging countries that export commodities strongly, we add the 29- to 30-Year Commodity Cycle, and so on. The Commodity Cycle points downward from 2008-2010 into 2020-2023 or so, which does not bode well for most countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia.
The situation becomes increasingly more complex as we look further into the short term and as the effects of news events, ever more random and unpredictable, seem to come into play. Yes, the economy is due to weaken, as shown by our leading indicators. That weakening became obvious when the first second-quarter GDP report was released on July 30 and was even more obvious at its first revision on August 27. We spend much time in the “Technical Analysis” section of our newsletter covering a myriad of technical indicators and making our best guesses about short-term patterns. In that micro or “quantum realm” (to use a scientific term), the environment is much more probabilistic, which means we are making the best guess or guesses as to how the markets will react to news we don’t yet know is going to hit.
Many people will be confused at times by what we say in this section. That is fine, but pay attention when we give a stronger short-term buy or sell signal, like on July 16, 2010, and again on September 10. Shorter-term traders will understand this section more, as they have to in order to play the short-term trends. The longer-term and intermediate cycles make less of a difference to them. Such traders are likely to have many sources for technical analysis, not just one—much as we have.
It is worth repeating that we just cannot be as accurate or reliable in the short term as we are in the long term—it is simply not possible. The best short-term forecasters using technical analysis are great if they are right 2 out of 3 times. Even that ratio of accuracy will vary in cycles; various technical indicators work better at certain times, depending on how the news or random events vary.
Technical indicators do work much of the time, as such indicators can measure when most investors are bullish and already invested (which means no one is left to buy, so markets tend to trend downward) or bearish and already out (which means no one is left to sell, so markets tend to trend upward again). However such indicators don’t always work precisely, because of the volatility of current events at times when most investors are already bullish or bearish. Prices will drift upward or downward to reflect real impacts on share prices even among existing traders and investors. A smart investor would bet on “heads” coming up after 4 or 5 “tails” in a row, but that doesn’t mean that another “tails” or two won’t come up, against the odds.
1). Longer-term trends follow fundamental cycles that revolve around new generations aging, which affects productivity, earning, and spending, and around technology clusters and adoption cycles (S-curve progressions) that create new growth industries and rising productivity of workers and businesses as they are increasingly adopted. Although in current times such cycles are running on near-40-Year Generational Cycles, in the more agrarian eras before the early 1990s, such cycles ran more in line with near-30-Year Commodity Cycles. But even demographic and technological cycles seem to step up to higher levels about every 250, 500, 2,500, and 5,000 years, as we discuss in Chapter 3 of The Great Depression Ahead.
2). Consistent intermediate cycles can be seen throughout the last century, including the Decennial, 4-Year, and 1-Year Cycles. These cycles provide direction for the intermediate-term trends, with magnitude often more a question than timing. Even the 1-Year Cycle suggests that stocks are more likely to be down from May into October or November 2010 as has been the case thus far.
3). But to get down to the very short term, you have to get into more and more complex indicators and cycles and tolerate a higher degree of error, due to unpredictable news events, even with the best patterns (Elliott waves, Fibonacci ratios, and time cycles), investor sentiment measures (smart and dumb money and bullish/bearish), and momentum oscillators. The longer-term cycles are almost always more predictable in reasonable time frames than are the shorter-term cycles.
4). In this generational downturn, the credit bubble of the last decade will play an important role. The deleveraging of unprecedented debt and asset values will create the first deflationary environment we have seen since the 1930s. We cover this topic in more depth in our free special report: The Debt Crisis of 2011-2012 (available for request at http://www.hsdent.com/escart-lp).
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