Editor's note: The following article was republished here with permission from the co-editors of the September issue of The Elliott Wave Financial Forecast, a publication of Robert Prechter's Elliott Wave International, the world's largest financial forecasting firm. From Sept. 25 to Oct. 1, EWI is throwing open the doors to all of its investor services 100% free. Click here to join EWI's free Investor Open House now.
Recent weeks brought the biggest confrontation with Moscow since the Cold War, a race riot, a new low in the popularity of President Obama and grisly beheadings at the hands of religious terrorists amidst a major re-escalation of the war in Iraq.
If this sounds a lot like 1968, when Russia invaded Czechoslovakia, President Johnson bowed out of the presidential race as his popularity plummeted and the Vietnam war took a decisive turn for the worst, there's a perfectly logical Wave Principle basis for it; both periods contain the end of high degree B-wave rallies. This week there was also a cyber attack on major banks and a report of the lowest summer box office in 30 years.
Near the beginning of Grand Supercycle wave III (circled) (Elliott wave labels not shown), not even the United States rated designation as a functioning democracy. But a broadening of suffrage laws in the 1810s and 1820s made it the lone liberal democracy by the end of Supercycle wave I in 1835.
The negative news causes some observers to insist that investors are in a dark mood and that stocks are climbing a "wall of worry." At last week's San Francisco Money Show, for instance, a subscriber noted that one pundit was bullish because "everyone is bearish." This contrary position would stand every chance of panning out, if it were true. But it's not even close.
Investors Intelligence recorded just 15.1% bearish advisors in their current weekly survey, which, except for December of last year, matches the lowest total since 1987. The bullish plurality in the weekly American Association of Individual Investors poll, a cautious group in general, jumped to 32.7%, the highest extreme for the year and the third highest in eight years. The percentage of sentiment indicators tracked by SentimenTrader.com that are "bullish for stocks" is zero. On the other hand, optimistic extremes, which are "bearish for stocks," have been featured in virtually every 2014 issue of The Elliott Wave Financial Forecast. These measures depict an epic optimism that doesn't just disappear; it can be reversed only by a huge bear market.
According to Freedom House, the total number of functioning democracies is 88, down from a peak of 90 in 2007. The current total remains historically high, but it's back to where it was in 1998.
Such confidence has been showing up everywhere, from the eager buying of junk bonds to elevated M&A activity, which the Financial Forecast showed in July. This month, Burger King's bid for Tim Hortons, a Canadian coffee shop chain, and other merger deals put the U.S. on pace to possibly "top the all-time record set in 2007."
According to CNNMoney, the latest big deals, are "good news because they signal growing confidence. People and businesses don't spend big amounts of money unless they are optimistic about the future."
"We've got a steadily improving economy, there aren't issues out there that will derail things," says an investment banker. This kind of supreme confidence is the hallmark of a major stock market peak.
As the events at the top of this article attest, there are increasing manifestations of negative social mood. But as the Financial Forecast discussed last month, optimism is so entrenched that even bad news is perceived as good for stocks. An example that we cited last month was the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and its enemies, which investors quickly labeled as an opportunity to buy stocks. Not so. The August issue of the Financial Forecast included a chart that shows similar outbreaks accompanying most of the major stock market tops since 1929.
Negative economic news is also cropping up, but every bad number simply evokes a cry of "Buying opportunity!" from investors. When word hit on August 13 of an unexpected stall in July U.S. retail sales, investors saw "the silver lining."
"Shockingly bad economic data in Europe" says a Bloomberg article, "is being treated as good news by the markets."
Many of these calls are rooted in the belief in an omnipotent U.S. Federal Reserve.
"Investors who say, 'It's up too much, you can't buy it' have been playing a fool's game," said a money manager. "The Fed's not about to rein in the economy any time soon."
Under the headline, "Markets Rarely Crater in Periods of Carefulness," The Wall Street Journal on August 14 noted that "stocks are heavily dependent on Fed support."
We'll stick with our unpopular and contrary view on this one: Unbridled faith in central bankers and their money printing efforts is not "careful," it's cavalier. Believing in the Fed's omnipotence is the biggest and most dangerous investment myth of all time, and it will end unhappily for bullish investors.
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This article was syndicated by Elliott Wave International and was originally published under the headline Inside Look: An Epic Optimism that Can Be Reversed Only by a Huge Bear Market. EWI is the world's largest market forecasting firm. Its staff of full-time analysts led by Chartered Market Technician Robert Prechter provides 24-hour-a-day market analysis to institutional and private investors around the world.