Since its very beginning, the war in the Persian Gulf transfixed the nation and its financial markets. It's been a textbook example of exactly how modern communication can turn reaction times into mere seconds or minutes. Surprisingly, however, even with all of this instant information, a lot of mistakes have been made by those handling investor money.
A case could be made that the average man or woman on the street could've made some of the calls on the economic fallout from the war just as effectively as those providing well-researched financial directives from Wall Street. A lot of experts were simply too conservative, speculating that a lot more would go wrong with the war than went right."Money managers for months prepared for war, getting into cash and waiting for a major sell-off, which, basically, never came," observed Marty Zweig, editor of the Zweig Forecast, the nation's most successful stock-picking investment letter over the past decade. "After all, an hour or two after the war broke out, it was obvious that the Saudi oil fields were going to be OK, that we weren't going to see $80-a-barrel oil and that we were going to win the thing."
Zweig, who is also chairman of the Zweig Total Return Fund and the Zweig Fund, has prospered by being selectively bullish on market prospects ever since the war began.
"The first few days of the war, each time a missile would go off, people would sell stock - which was ridiculous - and we would simply come in and buy," explained Zweig. "It wasn't surprising that the markets went down when the war started back in August, for it was already shaky at that point for other reasons, but it definitely was a surprise that so many money managers had gotten themselves trapped with too much cash."
His bullish attitude continues unabated: "In terms of the stock market itself, the war is irrelevant, because the market should be 10 to 15 percent higher in another three to six months regardless of the details of the war."
Following the war has made not only the financial industry but average Americans more cautious.
"You couldn't find a trading room in the country that didn't have televisions set up to watch reporting of the war, and the markets moved immediately with war news," observed James Annable, chief economist with First National Bank of Chicago. "Furthermore, our estimates are that the war alone caused U.S. consumer confidence to drop by about 15 percent, for consumers do not like uncertainty."
Good things will happen once the nation has the war behind it, he believes. "We expect consumer confidence to rebound with a short, successful war, meaning that the seeds have been sewn for an economic recovery and there will be less need for the Federal Reserve to reduce interest rates."
Everyone has tried to anticipate each new movement in the war.
"There was a lot of euphoria at the beginning, meaning that we'd sort of already fought the war in our minds and it was over," said John Markese, research director of the 100,000-member American Association of Individual Investors. "A successful completion of the war in a short period of time will mean we'll have secured oil price stability at least for a while, and it also represents a vote for high technology, so high-tech industries and their stocks should do well."
But he believes that the future is looking better for the entire stock market.
"There is an expectation that, with an end to the war, a rising economy and declining interest rates, the stock market should continue to do well," said Markese.
Gold has been a real clinker during the Persian Gulf war, a factor misjudged by most everyone.
"Gold is international money and all the countries involved in supporting the war, such as the Saudis, Japanese and Iraqis, have been big sellers of gold to obtain money for war payments," said Alan Posnick, senior vice president with New York-based MTB Banking Corp. "Furthermore, with victory in the war assumed in a matter of hours, you immediately went from a `war premium' in the price of gold to a virtual `peace discount' within 12 hours."