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The Last Three Times the Market Flashed This Signal Stocks Fell off a cliff

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unemployment fund
Image by USDAgov
From across the horseshoe shaped town of Pikeville, KY, various buildings, parking lots, temporary walkways, and above ground construction of the Pikeville Medical Center (PMC) expansion project, on Tuesday, July 12, 2011, in Pikeville, KY. After months of infrastructure construction and rain delays, one of Kentucky’s largest American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) projects is under way. The .6 million Community Facilities Loan will finance construction of a new medical office building and parking garage. The new medical office building will house outpatient surgery, endoscopy, surgical support and provide exam, waiting and office space for 23 primary and specialty care physicians. It also will contain a medical research center to support existing research – in conjunction with Pikeville College – on health disparities, genetic research related to the prevalence of cancer and other areas, including drug and treatment trials. The new parking garage with more than 1,000 spaces will be built adjacent to the new medical building, eliminating the need to shuttle patients back and forth from remote parking areas. The new garage will provide closer and easier proximity to medical and hospital services for all patients.
Wayne Rutherford, County Judge-Executive for Pike County, says funding from ARRA is a boon for his county because it will create jobs.

“This is great for Pike County’s economy. We know we have a great hospital, and with this support, it will be even better,” said Rutherford. “The unemployment rate here is above the state average and this will stimulate jobs. There will be construction, which means lots of jobs on the front end – and even more once it is built.”

Pike County is one of Kentucky’s persistent poverty counties and the current medical facility provides health care services for a rural population of more than 68,000. This project will create 1,430 direct and indirect construction jobs, in addition to 97 long-term jobs. It is scheduled to be completed in December 2012.

“This project is a prime example of the ARRA monies being utilized for much-needed health care facility expansion in an economically-depressed region of Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia,” said Tom Fern, State Director for Rural Development in Kentucky. “This hospital has received national recognition for its quality of care, and this money will allow them to expand and build upon their success and continue providing quality health care services to the region.”

PMC was named National Hospital of the Year by the American Alliance of Healthcare Providers in November 2009. The hospital was among 400 elite health care facilities to apply for this prestigious honor. To earn this recognition, PMC competed against more than 400 hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic, the John Hopkins Hospital, Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, the Cleveland Clinic, Duke University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University.

Pikeville City Manager Donovan Blackburn said the medical center is the largest employer in Pikeville and contributes nearly million to the city through the payment of occupational taxes. He went on to say that Pikeville Medical’s success is also the city’s success because as other cities struggle with dwindling revenues, Pikeville has actually seen growth.

“This is a regional medical center that is very important to the city. Pikeville is a legal, financial and education hub for Eastern Kentucky and a gateway to rural communities in Virginia and West Virginia. There are half a million within a 50-mile radius – so it’s not just local people that depend on this facility,” said Blackburn. “From a regional standpoint it adds volume from a jobs standpoint. Everybody in this county knows someone or has family that works for Pikeville Medical Center.
“People in this area used to have to go out of the area for good jobs and quality medical services, but Pikeville Medical has changed that,” added Blackburn. "And it has impact on other parts of the city’s economy – hotels, restaurants and retail. It increases the quality of life tenfold.”

The Recovery Act was designed to spend money gradually over time in order to sustain a true recovery – with peak spending to occur early this year. While the experts agree that ARRA is already responsible for creating or saving approximately two million jobs, about 75 percent of recipients that reported on their Recover Act spending indicated their projects are less than half complete, meaning there is even more job impact from those dollars to come.
USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Last week, investors got more happy news. The Fed announced it would keep printing $ 85 billion a month to buy Treasury and agency mortgage-backed bonds.

By printing money and buying bonds (aka monetizing debt), the Fed is going to keep shooing investors out of bonds and into stocks… funding government spending… and pushing up inflation rates to make outstanding debt easier to pay back.

And not only that, but it’s also going to keep doing so until the unemployment rate becomes “acceptable” again – in other words, as far as the eye can see. The one thing that has not responded to the Fed’s credit and cash deluge is the unemployment rate, which is still at 7.7%.

Against this backdrop, stocks have been rallying. And the big question everyone is asking is: Should they join the party?

Frankly, this is a terrible question. I can virtually guarantee that if this is the way you think about investing, you’re going to have a miserable time in the markets over the long run.

Here’s how my friend and legendary resource investor Rick Rule put it recently (with my own emphasis added):

Speculating on the events that are certain or almost certain to occur is almost always more profitable than gambling on a long shot, unlikely occurrence. Make investments based on unlikely scenarios only when the potential risks and rewards are disproportionately in your own favor and you can afford the loss that you may incur.

This is the only question that matters: Are the potential risk and rewards disproportionally in your favor?

Usually that happens when you can buy a stock… or other investment asset… at a price that is below its intrinsic value. It certainly doesn’t happen when you rush out and buy something because: (a) everyone else is buying or (b) because you think you can find a “greater fool” to buy something that is already overvalued.

So are the risks and rewards of following the crowd into U.S. stocks disproportionately in your favor right now?

To answer that question, let me share with you an observation made by bearish fund manager John Hussman recently. Then you can decide for yourself.

[Two weeks ago], Investors Intelligence reported that the percentage of bearish investment advisors has declined to just 18.8%. The last time bearish sentiment was below 20%, at a four-year market high and a Shiller P/E above 18 (S&P 500 divided by the 10-year average of inflation-adjusted earnings – the present multiple is 23) was for two weeks in May 2007 with the S&P 500 at about 1,525.

The next instance before that was two weeks in August 1987 (bearish sentiment never dipped much below 27 approaching the 2000 peak except for a reading of 22.6 in April 1998, just before the Asian crisis). The next instance before that was for three weeks of a five-week span in December 1972 and January 1973, which was immediately followed by a 50% market plunge.

Now, I realize this isn’t the kind of analysis you’ll find on CNN Money or CNBC. But it’s vitally important because it shows you what has happened in the past when we have had the same kind of market setup we have today.

Here’s a chart of what happened after the most recent instance of this same setup – in May 2007.

S&P 500 2007-2009
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I am not saying that stocks are destined to plunge again. They may or they may not. I’m simply pointing out that the kind of sentiment readings we’re seeing today mixed with the kind of valuations we’re seeing today have not been a recipe for profits in the past.

The risks and rewards, in other words, have NOT been disproportionately in investors’ favor.

Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

Good investing,
Chris Hunter

Chris

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