Markets are like a pendulum. They swing from one extreme to the next. While they may have averages that, over time, look calm, chances are you’re moving in a direction between extremes.
As long as you recognize that trend, you can figure out some of the best buying and selling opportunities.
The extremes are emotionally-based. They’re fear and greed. It’s that simple. Right now, we’re between the two, in the realm of complacency. Fear has been rising thanks to political fears. If that proves to be part of a bigger trend, we’ll soon see the high costs of market participants getting too complacent.
You can see it in the lackluster trading of recent weeks. The market has been trading near all-time highs for months but isn’t breaking higher, despite a solid earnings season so far. Market averages remain at a premium, but aren’t shooting into bubble territory.
Nobody wants a selloff, but if there is one, chances are it will look like the last few where stocks drop around 10 percent from their highs before trending upwards.
What’s more, the Volatility Index, or VIX, managed to get below 10 before recent political fears surfaced. In essence, that meant about 10 percent of the market’s trades were bearish in nature. Historically, the VIX averages between 17 and 20—but can spike to 30 or 40 every few years. With political fears hitting markets, it surged to a mere 15. That’s nothing. During the financial crisis it hit 70. There’s no better gauge to show the complacency going on in the stock market right now.
Complacency is part of that movement along the pendulum. In the typical cycle, starting at the bust, folks are fearful. There’s no complacency there. Anyone who wanted out of stocks has done so. Contrarians have started to step in, but might quickly get out if there’s a fast rally. As the cycle moves off of fear, investors start to slowly move back in. The fear subsides further, and capital comes in faster.
We’re not quite at that outright greed level yet, where investors are willing to pay any price to get in now before expecting things to improve further. And this week’s decline on political fears show that the market is susceptible to a pullback. But between the two lies complacency. And complacency tends to appear a year or two before challenges really start to rise. The last time markets were this complacent, measured by the VIX, was in early 2007. Once things started to unravel there—it moved quickly.
What does this mean for investors? First, investing in stocks is still probably safe. After all, in 2007, you could park your cash in a money market account and make 4-5 percent. Today, it’s practically nothing. That’s true for most fixed income investments as well. Bond yields, while creeping up, are still too low. That means short-term fears like this week’s politically driven market selloff could be a buying opportunity for the medium to long term.
But even as stocks remain complacent, things are turning around in one out-of-favor space: the commodity market.
Let’s start with the big name in the commodity space: oil.
As I’ve predicted, oil has remained in a range for the past few months. Unlike the stock market, however, the range isn’t anywhere near all-time highs. Rather, it’s simply off the extreme panic lows set early last year. And with OPEC continuing to work to keep the supply cuts in place, chances are bubblin’ crude will remain in a $45-60 range for some time.
Oil’s spike up on Monday shows the power that OPEC still holds. But the weakness of that rally shows the waning power of the cartel. That’s because, despite some sizeable production cuts, world supply remains abundant. Between rising production in non-OPEC states (particularly the United States), and better technology, we can use oil more efficiently in the past.
That bodes poorly for oil over the long term, but it’s great news. Dire predictions about a world without oil are now unlikely to come to pass. Instead, we’ll have more sources of better, cleaner burning, cheaper fuel. Technology solves many commodity restraints, but it doesn’t eliminate them. We’ll still need oil in the future, just less of it. I don’t see the days of $100 oil ahead again anytime soon, but we could get a panic spike up as supply comes down, demand increases, and geopolitical events bring some fear to the oil market. It’s down, but not out.
Over the long haul, I think today’s major oil producers will continue to survive. They’ll keep diversifying into areas like natural gas, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more exotic power sources like nuclear, geothermal, wind and solar make up part of the mix in the future as well. That’s why major oil companies look interesting following oil’s recent slump.
Looking to gold, the yellow metal doesn’t have to worry about technology making it obsolete. Far from it! Technology is just one of many uses for the metal, and a more practical one than jewelry and wealth storage. But those demands for the metal remain strong as well.
I like gold right now for one key reason though: inflation signs are ticking up. That’s good for the metal, especially when it’s unexpected inflation. With bonds still yielding too low, a spike in inflation could send investors into the yellow metal for safety.
Even better, gold is in an uptrend. After declining for five straight years, the metal turned around in 2016. And despite some big ups and downs so far in 2017, gold is up nearly 10 percent. That’s a solid, sustainable return, and a sign that gold might have gotten oversold when it bottomed in late 2015-early 2016.
As with oil, gold is swinging away, gradually, from the fear part of the market pendulum. But it’s nowhere near the greed stage it hit back in 2011, spiking from $1,500 to $1,900 in the span of a few months. This is another potential trade that has some big returns ahead of it—and one where investors can still get in early.
In short, the overall stock market is trending toward the risk end of the pendulum, but there’s still a lot of complacency out there. Oil has moved off the fear side, and is getting towards the middle. Gold is just starting its multi-year swing back off of fear. It will be a while before it hits greed, but time is on the investor’s side here. Look for beaten-down oil majors and gold as opportunities to avoid the complacency of the overall market—and the bigger fears that lie ahead.
Andrew Packer is a Senior Financial Editor with Newsmax Media. He currently writes the Insider Hotline investment advisory, serves as investment director for the Financial Braintrust, and writes the monthly newsletter Crisis Point Investor.
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