It is Spring. Today’s forecast: “Little or no snow accumulation expected. ” Well, of course there’s little or no snow accumulation expected. It’s springtime in Seattle. Rain? Yes. Snow? No. I just got back from an early morning walk. Sunshine shining through the gaps between the trees. Brave songbirds providing a springtime soundtrack. And I was bundled within layers topped by a wind shell, gloves, and a ski cap. The forecast suggests remnants of winter. I know I walked through sunny and cold. Come on spring.
The economy is improving. Employment is up, even though unemployment hasn’t changed. (Aren’t government measures fascinating?) Housing data is bouncing with some markets higher, some lower; which, to me, sounds like financial eddies as tides turn. GDP may not be the best measure, but today’s GDP is higher than the pre-drop GDP. The Dow is back above 13,000. Nasdaq is back above 3,000. The artist in me would like to say the S&P is back above 1,300, to get all of those with 3’s; but, I’d rather be accurate and point out that it is doing even better and is back above 1,400.
I remember a friend calling me years ago and telling me to buy when the S&P 500 dropped below 1,300 because a pundit said buy. It quickly went to below 700. Now that it’s back above 1,300 I wonder if my friend bought then, is buying now, or is still listening to that pundit. I know that I feel humbled by these last few years, because my book about personal finance, Dream. Invest. Live., came out just as the market and my portfolio fell off that cliff. Okay, who timed these things? I want to talk to whoever is in charge of scheduling. Oh yeah, I guess in my case that is me.
The news and stories within that downturn are becoming history. Pessimists point to it being the prelude to a bigger fall that’s about to come. Optimists see the recent bottom as the place from which we bounce back, and hopefully rise higher. I see both sides and emphasize optimism. The pessimistic projections are so dire that they can drain hope. I tend towards optimism sculpted towards fixing the root causes behind the pessimism. That’s one reason I’ve invested in alternative energy companies (AMSC, RSOL), innovative healthcare (DNDN, GERN), and radically more efficient electronics (GGOX, MVIS). As they succeed, they can make the world a better place & fund my preferred lifestyle.
But that’s not the case today. Today, my personal financial picture is like this morning’s walk weather: sunny and cold. It looks like it should be pleasant, and in some ways definitely is, but there is still the need for protection against the cold. Each day is slightly warmer, but we had snow earlier this week. For those of you who don’t live near the water, snow at sea level is rare at this low a latitude. Seawater is warmer than the air and it should keep everything more moderate, but snow happens.
Most of the stocks I am invested in are with companies that are making money. The only non-startup with a price/sales (P/S) in excess of five is MVIS, and that’s based on revenues from a prototype product. Revenues are the energy that drive companies. Revenues are the warmth that guards against companies freezing their assets off. (Sorry, but I had to throw that in there. Hey, I’ve been doing this for free. I might as well enjoy it.) Each of those companies that are making money are being valued at less than a fifth of what I think they are worth. Multiply my portfolio value by five and I become much more comfortable, downright springlike. That’s where it and I were until AMSC and DNDN dropped last year. Add some growth and I’m back to “enough”. Hello Summer! Time for a vacation!
The data are there. The revenues are there and increasing. The seeds are beginning to sprout. Come on sunshine and warmth. Come on investors, regain your optimism and discard your apocalyptic fears. Maintain some pessimism, because healthy doses are useful for due diligence; but, too much can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Besides, apocalypses are fundamentally unpredictable. The best defense is probably a frugal lifestyle within a supportive community. I’m close to that now, if it wasn’t for this pesky mortgage for this wonderful cottage that is my home.
Sunny and cold days happen in the fall and winter too, but it is obvious that it is spring because the daffodils have bloomed, the bunnies are hopping, and the trees are budding. Economically, I think we are heading into spring too. A few friends have businesses that are making more money now than they ever have, even better than previous holiday seasons. For Sale signs don’t seem to stay up as long, and Help Wanted signs seem to be sneaking back into shop windows for very short stays. Friends are getting jobs, some of which are very lucrative and erasing months of bills and debts with weeks of work. I even saw a Boeing job on the island, at the local Navy Base; but, I can’t apply because I don’t have a secret clearance.
I knew things could get as bad as they did, but I didn’t expect it. I know that things can get much better than they are, and it can be hard to imagine for those under stress. Maybe there is a balance and a symmetry to life. Maybe the good things will exceed my expectations by as much as the bad things did.
I look forward to this afternoon. My home’s west facing windows will capture warmth that I can bask in. The day may have started with a feeling of winter, but if I just wait a while it will feel like summer even though it is only spring. I’ll have the sunshine and the cold will be a memory.