At The Oxford Club’s Private Wealth Seminar at the beautiful Stein Eriksen Lodge in Park City, Utah, this week, I spoke to a number of attendees who were perplexed about the stock market’s recent performance.
It’s not hard to see why.
We’ve had a global pandemic, an economic shutdown and the biggest spike in unemployment since the Great Depression, and tens of thousands of small businesses have shut down.
Many will never reopen.
Yet the S&P 500 has rallied 40% over the last four months, the Nasdaq is at an all-time high, and Tesla (Nasdaq: TSLA) is up 400%.
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It seems hard to understand, until you hear my Fire Ant Theory of Investing…
When I first moved to Florida in 1980, I found the state had plenty of attractions: warm weather, lovely beaches, sparkling lakes and thousands of young women whose primary mode of dress was the bikini.
There was a lot for a young man to like.
However, there was one Florida native I quickly grew to detest: fire ants.
If you live in southern climes, you already know what I’m talking about…
Fire ants are vicious little red ants that live in underground colonies with soft, grainy mounds on top.
And they bite. Or at least, I thought they did. Entomologists report that they actually sting.
And it’s painful, especially if you accidentally step on a mound with bare feet and several of them light into you at once.
That initial pain is only the beginning, however.
Your skin swells up, and over the next few days the infected area itches like the dickens, far worse than a chigger or mosquito bite.
Driven to distraction, many people scratch themselves until they bleed.
So the first day I discovered a big mound in my yard, I took immediate action.
First I leveled the mound. As thousands of the tiny villains poured out, I stomped on them good and hard. Then I went to my garage and got a can of gasoline.
I doused what was left of their abode and lit a match, then walked off, confident in my victory over the forces of evil.
So imagine my surprise the next morning when I went out to get the newspaper and found the mound completely rebuilt. And about as active as Macy’s on Black Friday.
Those blasted ants had rebuilt their colony in less than 24 hours.
It’s something to consider when looking at how quickly the stock market has bounced back, despite a growing pandemic, the economic shutdown and the fastest bear market in history.
Don’t get me wrong. Our 21st-century economy is a bit more complex than an ant mound.
But fire ants don’t have human intelligence.
Or mass communications. Or machines and engineering. Or science and technology. Or capital markets that facilitate and expedite productive activities.
Human beings are smarter, more resourceful and more resilient than ants.
It’s easy to underestimate what happens when hundreds of millions of rational, self-interested men and women all pull in the same direction.
Things get better – fast.
Equity investors – who routinely look six to nine months out – see an outlook that is clearly improving.
We have low interest rates, cheap energy, massive fiscal stimulus and unlimited central bank liquidity.
We’ve experienced the biggest jump in retail sales and nonfarm payrolls in history.
Yes, coronavirus cases have spiked recently. That was inevitable with the reopening of the economy.
But the death rate is down 75% since April.
The people getting infected are younger and less likely to get seriously ill.
We’re getting better at treating those with COVID-19. We are closer to a vaccine.
And a new report in The American Journal of Medicine concludes that we may have undercounted the number of Americans who’ve already had the coronavirus by tenfold or more.
That would mean we’re closer to herd immunity.
The economic rebound will be bumpy, to be sure. And so will the ride in the stock market.
But we are on the road to recovery. And the smart money knows it.