This week doesn't just mark the Thanksgiving holiday and the bout of shopping sickness known as Black Friday, but it is also the official opening of the prediction season.
From now through the end of the year, the media and a vast collection of gurus, pundits and prognosticators will opine on the likely direction of the stock market next year. Some of the predictions will be absurd to the extreme, while others will seem to be well thought out and backed with all sorts of statistics and data points.
The sad truth is that the ridiculous and the precise are both just guesses and have about an equal chance of coming true.
If you look back over the years, stock market predictions have been basically worthless and of little use to most investors. Basing your investment strategy on what someone thinks the stock market will do, where interest rates will go or what the fed policy will be over the next 12 months is a form of financial insanity. It's a lot like making football bets based on the thoughts of a sports columnist or even a player to make bets every week.
Even if you get some of the general facts correct, you have the spread to work against and one tipped ball or fumble can change the predicted path of the game against the bettor. It works like that in the stock market as well. Even if you get the market direction generally right but own the wrong stocks or sectors, you can still end up losing money.
A smart guy predicting stock movement would say that the market is probably going to go up next year. After all, 76 percent of the time it does. Smaller stocks usually outperform larger ones, so that's a pretty safe bet for a guru to predict as well.
The key for a successful prediction is to avoid absolutes in terms of price levels and time frames to the greatest degree possible. It is a silly game, but traders love to play it and unfortunately, some will bet their money on the predictions of people they think are smart enough to be right.
Before you pile in based on a market prediction consider the factors facing the markets next year.
First and foremost is the subject of taper. When, and at what pace will the Fed begin to slow down bond buying? While the substitute of low rates for a long time be enough to satisfy the cheap money junkies? What happens to housing if rates go up when the Fed stops buying bonds?
What will happen with the jobs market next year?
The jury is still out on what role the Affordable Care Act is playing in the jobs market, but there is plenty of early anecdotal evidence that is limiting the creation of permanent full-time jobs. Will the participation rate continue to fall as people give up and leave the workforce? When will corporations start to use their enormous cash hoards to spend on things that create growth and jobs?
How about the global geopolitical situation? Do we get a long term agreement with Iran? What does Israel and Saudi Arabia think of the deal, if any, that is reached? What does China want us to believe about their economic situation? Does Brazil gets its economic act together? What role, if any, is Russia going to play on the global economic and political scene? All of these questions have market moving potential.
And what about the 2014 US elections? Both parties have managed to hang an albatross around their necks, and this is going to be a cat fight over House and Senate seats as well as Governors' offices around the country. The outcome could have serious implications for the stock and bond markets.
Rather than try so solve and predict these complicated issues facing the stock market, most of us are better off focusing on one key question: Can I find stocks that are safe and cheap to buy? If you can, you should buy them. If you cannot, you should hold cash. If the stock market goes higher and your stocks reach full and fair value, you should start selling them.
If the market, or a sector of the market, declines to the point that there are plenty of safe and cheap opportunities, you should be a buyer. If a mutual thrift does a conversion and creates a new stock trading at 70 percent of book you should buy some shares regardless of your opinion of the stock market.
Look for opportunities to buy viable businesses and assets for less than they are worth. If, as of now, you cannot find a lot, buy what you can and go read a book or watch a ball game.
Predicting market direction is a fool's errand.
If you have enough patience and discipline, eventually the markets create buying opportunities and give you a chance to sell into euphoria. You cannot know what will happen before it does, but you can make a lot of money by taking advantage of what does eventually happen.
Tim Melvin is a value investor, money manager and writer. He has spent the last 27 years in the financial services and investment industry as a broker, adviser and portfolio manager. He has also written and lectured extensively on the markets with his work appearing on RealMoney.com, DailySpeculation.Com as well as several print publication including Active Trader and the Wall Street Digest. Learn which 3 low risk, high yield stocks Tim owns for the trade of the decade.