John Hussman's Rant: "Someone Is Going To Have To Hold Stocks At These Prices"

Excerpted from John Hussman's Weekly Market Comment,

I’m sometimes viewed as an evil quant, sitting in a dimly lit room, stroking a hairless cat ironically named Mr. Whiskers, and hoping for the worst. That’s undoubtedly because of my view that all of the market’s gains since roughly April 2010 are likely to be wiped out in a rather ordinary completion to the present market cycle, coupled with my broader criticisms of Fed-induced speculation and other ill-conceived policies. If you’ve been with us for a while, you know that I take no joy in market plunges, and my adamant concern about severe losses this time around reflects an extreme discomfort with having been right about the other two 50% losses in recent memory (not to mention becoming constructive in-between, though my fiduciary stress-testing inclinations in 2009 clearly did us no good in the face of QE – see Setting the Record Straight for the full narrative). Some also have the impression that our objective is to talk the markets down, in a way that interferes with their bullish outlook.

The reality is this. While we certainly hope to provide evidence and data sufficient for disciplined investors to maintain their confidence in our full-cycle approach, we have no particular desire to convert disciplined buy-and-hold investors or reckless speculators to our views (though I do think “buy-and-hold” investors with horizons shorter than 7-10 years have poorly matched their strategy with their objectives). Meanwhile, given that the majority of my income is directed to charity, I have a rather vested interest in doing good for others over time (undoubtedly, my particular focus on finance and autism research demands unusual patience, long horizons, a deep respect for evidence, and no expectation that progress evolves smoothly).

Yet as much as we focus on the long-term good, equilibrium creates an unfortunate constraint: by encouraging one investor to defend their financial security by selling overvalued stocks, the result is that someone else must end up buying the stock at these same levels. That poor soul, we expect, is likely to be worse off for the trade. That may explain my philosophical aversion to speculating in steeply overvalued markets, and my ethical objection to policies like quantitative easing that encourage it. In order to profitably exit that speculation, someone else must be guaranteed misery.

In a financial market where price signals encourage savings to be allocated toward productive uses, what helps an individual investor often helps the entire economy. But in a severely distorted and speculative market, any effort to help one investor is really quite a zero-sum game that requires someone else to be injured. This is just an unhappy result that years of quantitative easing have now foisted upon us.

Accordingly, I am changing my guidance. For those investors who trust our analysis and discipline, no change of course is encouraged. But for those who find our work to be a constant source of irritation to be regarded with open disdain, I am retracting all of it herewith – for you alone mind you – and I leave you free to buy with both hands to whatever extent you are inclined. Not that I encourage it really – that would be bad Karma – but someone is going to have to hold equities at these prices. It would best be those who are fully aware of our concerns and prefer to reject them. So the more you dislike my work, and particularly if you are nasty about it, I have no objection to you accumulating – perhaps on margin – as much stock from other investors as possible.

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John is, of course, completely right... and here he is presenting his vision of the meanness of reversion: