InvestSMART

Beware: massive gains are not a sign of good health

JUST when we were getting used to the ''$X billion wiped off shares'' stories, along came a week that wiped $90 billion back on, but neither headline is particularly healthy.

JUST when we were getting used to the ''$X billion wiped off shares'' stories, along came a week that wiped $90 billion back on, but neither headline is particularly healthy.

JUST when we were getting used to the ''$X billion wiped off shares'' stories, along came a week that wiped $90 billion back on, but neither headline is particularly healthy.

Of course, most investors will happily take the wipe-on over the wipe-off, let alone the occasional wipe-out, but such extreme volatility speaks more of continuing nervousness and uncertainty than investment-inducing stability.

For all the relief of the week's relief rally, nothing much has really changed with the markets. We remain captives of dubious European political resolve and prey to more wild swings over the months ahead as the continent stumbles from one precipice to another.

The odds are that the Europeans will muddle through, that they won't be totally stupid given the knowledge of this crisis, but it's not going to be a quick process and it will be marked by more sharp falls and rallies along the way.

And then there's the US. While the Europeans stumble along, the Americans are bumbling from one economic indicator to the next with the focus on whether the country could be facing a double-dip recession. It matters less as it doesn't immediately threaten the global financial system, but it still chews up a lot of media coverage and Wall Street sentiment still holds disproportionate sway over the world's markets.

As it turned out, last week's American figures were mainly favourable, topped by Friday night's better-than-expected payroll numbers, but again the fundamentals haven't much changed. The US and Europe are facing an extended period of low or no growth as the world order changes and they collectively deal with their debt habits. Fortunately the developing world is picking up the slack, leaving the global growth rate about average.

The sooner that is generally accepted, the calmer markets will become, allowing investors to get back to trying to pick which companies will perform best. It is a less spectacular pastime than riding the roller-coaster of boom or doom, but considerably better for general health.

Within that general scenario, your columnist remains a rare fish as I'm happy for both the North Atlantic economies and our stockmarket to be flat.

The former because it helps make room for developing nations to live up to their name: to develop, to get their share.

Just as Australia's patchwork economy frees up resources in some industries and regions, encouraging them to travel to those industries and regions that need them more, the global two-speed economy prevents commodity prices going over the top.

And weaker developed nations encourage some developing nations to get over their tendency to depend on Western consumers' credit cards to pay for their growth. The world ends up stronger for the diversification.

As for our stockmarket staying down, that's fine by me as I'm still investing.

I hope to continue working, continue to put money into my superannuation, continue to add to a dividend-paying source of wealth.

Let the traders worry about stocks bouncing around, I'm happy for my super fund to keep accumulating shares in solid companies as cheaply as possible for as long as possible. Never mind the gyrations, see the opportunities.

Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor.


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