Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tom Brown: Is it a Bottom in Financial Stocks?

One never knows until long after the fact, of course, when stock prices reach the exact top or bottom of a given cycle. And, besides, trying to pick precise tops and bottoms always turns out to be a pointless, unprofitable game. So don't even try.

Have I hedged myself sufficiently? Good. For, as it happens, I believe July 15, 2008 will turn out to be as good a date as any to mark the end of the long, painful bear market financial stocks have endured for the past 18 months. And more to the point, it marks the beginning of the greatest financial stock bull market in our lifetime, one that will be much broader than the bull market that began in 1990.

Caution! The observation above is offered to investors only. If you can't stand the idea of seeing another, say, 20% on the downside, please stop reading at once and head back to If you measure your investment horizon in weeks or months, please, for your own good and sanity, leave this site pronto.

But if you understand what drives stock prices, and have an investment time horizon of at least one year, feel free to keep reading. And if you are a patient value investor, get out your highlighter and get ready to buy stocks.

I believe the current valuations of scores—even hundreds—of financial companies are wildly out of whack with the companies' long-term earnings potential. The companies are extraordinarily undervalued, in my view. In the vast majority of cases, I can get comfortable with their potential future credit losses and (in the cases where they're needed) the possibility of future, dilutive capital issuance.

With the gap between current market values and business values so wide, investors shouldn't even worry too much whether July 15th was indeed rock bottom for the stocks. The margin for error today is so wide that any investor with at least a one-year horizon and a little analytical ability can pick huge winners. We wouldn't buy across the board, but the vast majority of the depressed financial stocks will survive, recover, and deliver high investment returns from these levels.

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