Manic-Depressive Mr. Market

Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett’s mentor, had a wonderful parable for thinking about the stock market.  He called it the parable of Mr. Market:

“Imagine that in some private business you own a small share that cost you $1,000.  One of your partners, named Mr. Market, is very obliging indeed.  Every day he tells you what he thinks your interest is worth and furthermore offers either to buy you out or to sell you an additional interest on that basis.  Sometimes his idea of value appears plausible and justified by business developments and prospects as you know them.  Often, on the other hand, Mr. Market lets his enthusiasm or his fears run away with him, and the value he proposes seems to you a little short of silly.”

“You may be happy to sell out to him when he quotes you a ridiculously high price, and equally happy to buy from him when his price is low.  But the rest of the time you will be wiser to form your own ideas of the value of your holdings…” (Graham, The Intelligent Investor, 1973)

The market has been particularly manic-depressive lately, and this has reminded me of the parable of Mr. Market.

One day, the market seems to foresee another recession on the horizon–the market sinks as investor sentiment tanks.  Another day, the market foresees an economic boom on the horizon–the market leaps and investor sentiment soars.

Is the data really that self-contradictory, or is the market just that short-sighted.  I believe the latter.

Much economic data, like unemployment claims, housing market numbers and income growth, indicate an economic slowdown.  Not a recession, mind you, just a slowdown.

Other economic data, like railroad traffic, commodity prices and industrial capacity utilization, indicate an economic expansion.  Not a boom, per se, but an expansion.

Mr. Market, in his manic-depressive way, takes these data points as signs of a collapse or boom.  As a result, market commentators have referred to the stock market’s reaction as risk-on/risk-off.  It’s either one or the other, and nothing in between.

What is the reality?  Not too surprisingly, given the data and my build-up, something in between.  The slowdown could turn into a recession, but hasn’t, yet.  The expansion could turn into a boom, but it isn’t at present.

Mr. Market should be more sober-minded and focus on the long term instead of the short term.  There is neither reason to dive for cover nor party like its 1999 (can you tell I’m about to turn 40?).

Given the data and a long term view, it is best to be cautiously optimistic.  The market is mildly over-valued, but nothing like it was in 2000 or 2007.  In fact, long term returns look promising, especially when compared to bonds or speculations like gold. 

Mr. Market needs to take a chill-pill, relax and take a deep breath.  Lucky for sober-minded investors, he probably won’t, and this will provide ample opportunities to exploit Mr. Market’s manic-depressive tendencies.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Manic-Depressive Mr. Market