In April 2016, an American politician addressed a European audience with what to some must have been shocking news. “We are fortunate to be living in the most peaceful, most prosperous, most progressive era in human history. We are wealthier, healthier, and better educated in a global economy that has lifted up more than one billion people from extreme poverty.” He went on at length. That politician was Barack Obama and his message was clearly an optimistic one.
Did any or all of that change since President Trump’s election? Of course not. It’s understandable to be embarrassed by Trump’s behavior and people can argue for and against his policies, but optimism should remain.
Optimists don’t sell a lot of books. Pessimists and doom-and-gloomers do. Those who years ago anticipated the big picture developments Obama was describing included economists Julian Simon (“The Ultimate Resource”), Milton Friedman (“Free to Choose”) and Herman Kahn (“The Coming Boom”). Inflation collapsed, stock and bond prices soared, resources became more plentiful and standards of living have steadily risen along with life expectancy.
This is why the Dow was well below 1,000 in 1982 and 12,000 in the year 2000, is now 25,000 and will head higher. Of course there will always be short-term swings, sometimes in reaction to the news of the day (Gary Cohn’s and Rex Tillerson’s departure, tariffs), but usually not reacting to anything in particular.
Stocks will react less to the ebb and flow of news about tariffs and personnel and more to the economic and profit outlook. While the daily market moves are substantial (hundreds of Dow points), in percentage terms the market isn’t giving much ground after a long run. The earnings outlook will continue to more than offset all other concerns.
In a perfect world, given the clearly bullish long-term trends for society, economies, and standards of living, stocks would work their way higher in orderly fashion with brief periods of profit-taking well contained. Alas, it is not a perfect world. Moves, like we’ve seen recently, may be unnerving and reason for some without perspective to overreact and even swear off stocks forever. Their mistake. Most of us have adjusted and take the daily swings in stride. They hardly even make the news. This is the way it is, and for a while, this is the way it will be.