Not Today, Not Tomorrow — Just Be Prepared for the Party to End?

“Ahead of the Street” Column, by Mitchell Clark, B. Comm.

We are now entering a period for stocks that I call the “last hurrah.” It’s the last upward price stretch before a new equilibrium forms. In my mind, Dow 11,000 in 2010 will represent a full recovery for the stock market after the financial crisis took hold. There isn’t enough information to make a reasoned prediction as to what might happen after that. A lot will depend on data from the housing market and the Fed’s intention for interest rates.

Despite the nagging high rates of unemployment, which are higher than the official numbers state, the stock market has basically priced in this reality for the foreseeable future. Naturally, an unemployment rate of 13% to 14% would scare the market, but between nine percent and 11%, the stock market doesn’t really care.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the market’s enthusiasm migrate towards large-cap companies over the next few quarters. Big companies will easily be able to translate higher prices directly to the bottom line, and this earnings growth (when it happens) will be the big story of 2010.

There is a good possibility over the next several years that the inflation/interest rate cycle will derail the current economic recovery. In that sense, stocks would be vulnerable again. In fact, if you pull up a 20-year chart on the Dow, you can see that the most recent price recovery in stocks seems to be forming the right shoulder of the head that was formed in October 2007. This scenario fits my “last hurrah” description of the current trading action in stocks.

If this takes hold, the Dow might trade between 10,000 and 12,000, and then experience another major price correction, as the economy succumbs to higher inflation and higher interest rates.

I’m not a technical analyst of stocks, but my gut feel is that we are entering the “last hurrah” period for equities, before a number of economic factors conspire to derail the current environment. Speculate now if you must. Buy gold when it’s down. Pay off as much debt as is possible. Be conservative with your savings. Given the current information, that’s my best predicted investment strategy for the next decade.