There are times when it is difficult to be optimistic, and there is no shortage of clichés to remind us that, at least so far, it has paid to look on the bright side of the future and not bet on doom and gloom. Silver linings in dark clouds, the glass being half full rather than half empty and the sun coming up tomorrow all seem a bit silly when there's not much good news around, but have always been good advice at the end of the day.
I'm the first one to admit that there is no way to reliably predict the future with any significant degree of accuracy. Earthquakes, tsunamis, and debt reduction battles in Congress are reminders that there are so many variables that affect our lives, both financially and personally, that figuring it all out is an impossible task. But we have faced tough times in the past, financially and emotionally, and been able to make it through. Wealth has increased, life expectancies have gone up, and our general quality of life has improved. This is all evidenced by the fact that no other nation comes close to the U.S. as a destination for immigration by those seeking a better life.
With that being said, it is my observation that there has been little if any good news so far in 2011. The bad news "trees" are definitely blocking our view of the forest and impeding our processing of information that we may just have a decent future ahead. I know you're thinking that I must be crazy. How can there be bright future when we face so many challenges, particularly in the area of fiscal policy?
I am encouraged on several big picture issues, despite all the negative noise we've been hearing. The recent bickering in Washington about the debt ceiling debate has troubled many. But, if we step back from the tree in our face, we may see a forest that has a better appearance. When is the last time both major parties actually went into a negotiation with the same final goal? The fact that a deal was struck to attempt to reduce the national debt over the next decade almost totally with spending cuts is a pretty big deal in my opinion. The fighting was about the details of how to get it accomplished, but both sides had effectively the same objective.
The harsh reality that government became too big and that the populace was expecting too much for nothing has already hit home at the state level, and most states are dramatically cutting spending in advance of the recent action in Washington. All of this is good news and we should hope the trend continues to live within our means.
Relating the fiscal arguments and slow economic recovery back to the financial markets we find that despite all of the troubling news of sovereign defaults in Europe, a threatened default here in the U.S., the rippling economic effects of the Japanese earthquake in March, and very slow job growth, we have a stock market which is still in positive territory for the year (as I write this anyway).
I'm a big believer that the financial markets telegraph an important message of the future and have historically done so in advance by several months. So yes, the stock markets of the world have undergone a minor correction in recent months, but nothing that would be considered abnormal. Peeking around that negative investor sentiment tree I keep running into, leads me to conclude the investment forest is sending a different message. With zero good news for many months, why isn't the stock market trending significantly lower? Well it might change direction, but it hasn't yet, so I'll stick to the side of being optimistic until we see evidence to the contrary.
Tom Breiter is president of Breiter Capital Management, Inc., an Anna Maria based investment advisor. He can be reached at 778-1900. Some of the investment concepts highlighted in this column may carry the risk of loss of principal, and investors should determine appropriateness for their personal situation before investing. Visit www.breitercapital.com.