The Mirage

Wall Street would like nothing better but for us to feel that all is well in the markets. But the earnings of the large companies that make up the popular stock indices like the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P tell a different story.

Stocks sell on multiples of what they make… and right now earnings growth of the some of the biggest companies in the world is very weak. Just look at these biggies:

— IBM reported last night an increase in third-quarter profit of less than 1%.

— MCI disclosed yesterday a $3.5 billion charge to reduce its assets, severally affecting that company’s quarterly profit.

— Kraft Foods reported third quarter profit fell 3.8%. Are the food stocks not even safe any longer?

— Merrill Lynch, the Wall Street bellwether, reported that its third quarter profit fell 8% because of a slow down in business. Wall Street’s own is showing earnings contraction, not growth.

And to top all this off, consumer confidence in September fell to its lowest level since mid-summer because of concerns over higher oil prices, the weak labor market and anxiety about making major consumer purchases like autos and homes.

One study I read said American consumers cut back on their borrowing in August big time-the biggest drop in borrowing since 1990. Is it any wonder the auto stocks and new home builder stocks are tanking?

My dear friend, while Wall Street would like us to believe in a mirage where all is well, we are very far from an economy which hums along in a sea of growth. Reality is a very weak economy where earnings growth is disappearing with job growth.

Tread carefully. I, for one, would not be a buyer of the big cap stocks at their current multiples. Such a strategy has served me well for the past six years. And I can’t see that strategy changing right now.