A recent poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal shows that the majority of the American population now feels that the “stock market is no longer fair and open.”
Specifically, more people agreed with this statement: “Because of corporate corruption and broker practices, the stock market is no longer a fair and open way to invest one's money.” than this one: “The stock market is a fair and open way to invest one's money, and there are rules that make it fair and equal for all.”
Basically, people feel like Wall Street has rigged the game to make money off of them rather than for them and, as an insider, I'm glad to see they're finally seeing the light. This is exactly how Wall Street has rigged the game and individual investors should be aware of it.
I wrote last week about the psychological consequences of the bursting economic bubbles over the past decade and, more recently, the mysterious “flash crash” that dropped the Dow Jones Industrial Average over 1,000 points in the blink of an eye. These poll results back up the idea that investors are becoming disenchanted with risk assets like stocks.
The fact that the New York Attorney General is now investigating virtually every large Wall Street bank in the country doesn't do anything to dissuade people of this notion. In fact, it's probably contributing to its increasingly popularity.
This growing negative sentiment is both good news and bad news for investors. Let's hit the bad news first: so far this has been one epic bear market since 2000. But it's probably not over yet. Yes, this is the kind of sentiment that you expect to see at bear market bottoms BUT individual investors have not yet given up the bull ghost.
The speed and magnitude of the rally over the past year is evidence of investors hopping right back on the “buy the dip” freight train to trading riches. When they finally give up on this strategy, and only then, will we see a major bear market low.
Sometime during 2011 will mark the 61.8% time retracement of the bull market that began in 1982 and ended in 2000. This may coincide with the pervasive negative sentiment/investor despair that I believe will signify the end of the pain and the start of a new, real bull market.
And now for the good news: this next selloff may finally be THE buying opportunity of a lifetime. The last major bull market that ended 1966 can be instructive here. Stocks went sideways for a few years before selling off dramatically during 1973-74 (akin to the 2008-09 selloff). Still, the bear market didn't come to its conclusion until 1982 amidst pervasive investor malaise and extraordinary undervaluation.
This is a pattern that has repeated itself many, many times over the course of market history. The “buy the dip” mentality must die before a new bull market can be born. Polls like this one show we are well on our way there. One more major selloff may be all it takes.