Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Some Stages in Today's Bear Market (Thinking Especially of Homes)

You have your euporia, when everyone is making money. Then the plateau, when it still looks like everyone is making money, or should be. Then a few shudders. Then a sharp, unsettling drop. Then you spend some time regearing and reconsidering and reviewing. You conclude that the sharp drop was a correction, a short-term adjustment before a return to the upward path, although admittedly now you're starting back upwards from a slightly lower point. Then there is more bad news, and things go slightly down instead of slightly up. There are adjustments and amendments to the bad news, but you're willing to admit that it was bad news, nonetheless. You realize that the start back towards growth is going to be slower than you had thought. There is some wavering. There are one or two more sharp drops, although maybe not as sharp as the first one, and usually followed by a partial recovery. At some point, you start to doubt the pundits and financial sages who say that, once this latest glitch is past, things should be on a smoother road to improvement, sometime later this year or early next year. You fear it might actually take somewhat longer than they're saying. You, and a million others who are reading and thinking more or less the same things as you. You see that it's not entirely clear how far things will continue to decline, or when this will be over. It occurs to you that there is a mortgage or a margin call or some other bill that you might not be able to pay, that you were assuming you would be able to pay, because now the values of your assets at risk are somewhat lower than you had thought they would be. You observe that, whereas it used to be that every piece of bad news actually had a silver lining, now every piece of good news is just a finger in the dike. It's good news, sure, but it's arriving in an increasingly dark time. By itself, it won't change much. So maybe you cash out at a loss; or maybe you remain hopeful about the past and worried about the future, all the way to the bottom. You, and a million others. Of course, if you can't afford to keep the asset in question -- if you can't meet the margin call or pay the mortgage or continue to put food on the table -- then your sellout still doesn't necessarily give you much cash in the hand. You may find, to everyone's surprise, that you're not actually walking away with much. Which is a shame, because in a recession, cash is king. If you had cashed out earlier instead of riding the surfboard all the way up to the sand, you would now begin to notice that impressively valuable assets are becoming available for a song. Fortunately, others do have cash. They will buy those assets, and eventually they will put you to work on those assets, so that you may help to build their fortune. You may be working only occasionally, or at a paltry wage, but you'll be grateful. It's not until you'll have the courage of being able to survive that you'll insist on better wages and conditions. And in today's global economy, that could be a decade away.