Is it really a new era in the stock market?
You might think so as you listen to your broker explain that there is a return to quality stocks, a de-emphasis on day-to-day events in favor of long-term trends, a desire for sensible rather than outrageous profits.It is market of investors, they say, rather than of traders. It is one in which people examine price-earnings ratios, dividend yields and other measures of value. It is a market of aware, knowledgeable investors, they say.
It is a market in which people examine basic values and are ready to wait patiently for profits to be realized. It contrasts with the old market of in-and-out trading, tips, hunches, and overnight profits - or losses.
But is it a new era? Hardly.
More accurately, it is the forced abandonment of an aberrant period in which it might be argued that a large segment of the financial community itself abandoned securities as investments, and promoted casino chips instead.
A new attitude does indeed seem to pervade financial markets, forced upon them in part by the wrenching collapse of Oct. 19, 1987. But there is nothing new in a retreat to old values; it happens every time.
Shearson Lehman Hutton Inc., among those brokerage houses prominently observing the anniversary of the crash, writes this analytical obituary:
"A national impatience has gripped our financial lives; we are swayed by the latest trade deficit number one day, the latest inflation forecast the next.
"What has been lost is a sense of perspective and of proportion, an understanding of investing as a long-term economic process rather than a series of short-term events or reactions to events."
In its anniversary promotion, Merrill Lynch & Co., tells Americans that it "assumed a leadership role before, during, and after the severe market decline in helping to service its customers and prevent short-term panic."
Its performance before the fall, says Merrill Lynch, "was not only exemplary, but fortuitous."
Such year-after observances, however, conceivably could provoke more questions than praise. Such as:
-Who lost perspective and a sense of proportion? Was it the American public, or dice-tossing traders and even members of the financial community?
-Who promoted short-term trading in favor of long-term investing? Was it small investors, or was it the financial institutions, including brokerage houses and their sales people?
Searching for reasons why the stock market debacle was isolated from the economy in general, researchers at the University of Michigan examined data on how Americans used their money. One reason: Relatively few own stocks directly.
And that brings up the biggest question of all, one asked repeatedly and still not fully answered:
Was the stock market crash a consequence of short-term trading in its various forms, of an emphasis on price rather than value, of a fever generated by all those institutions and parties that could benefit from volatility?
That is, was it merely a phenomenon of the financial marketplace rather than of the entire economy?