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Dreaming of a Multiyear Bull Market

This bull market will get a kick when funds begin flowing into equity funds and ETFs.
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The current circumstances in the U.S. stock market remind me of one of my favorite bands from college, Supertramp, and its song,

Nothing But a Dreamer

. It appears that individual investors and many of the financial advisers who take care of them have their "head in their hands, oh no!" This was pointed out to us in one of Mark Hulbert's columns in

The New York Times

on Nov. 8, and in a piece on Nov. 12 by Hays Advisory's Mark Dodson.

Hulbert's column explained that the lack of buying interest, in fact, recent net selling, of U.S. equity mutual funds and exchange-traded funds could be useful as a short-term contrarian indicator, but is disconcerting from the standpoint of his long-term view of the market. His research, assisted by Ned Davis's research, concludes that this bull market must see net inflows into equity funds and ETFs at some point to be anything more than the bounce-back rally from the steep decline of October 2007 to March 2009. The research showed that the stock market generally performs better after inflows into equity funds.

In his missive, Dodson calls stocks "Public Enemy No. 1." His charts show that we had fund flows in October (bond flows compared to stock flows) similar to the bear market lows of 2002-2003. Combined with the continued steepness of the yield curve, his research shows that any little pullback in the stock market sends many investors scurrying for the exits because "now they've got their head in their hands, oh no!"

How will this contradiction get resolved? Will individuals not get any confidence back in common stock ownership for five to 10 years? Will the yield curve stay steep and rates stay incredibly low for an extended period of anemic economic growth (the "new normal")? Is this the biggest and best bear market rally in history or was March a historic low that could hold for the rest of my career?

We at Smead Capital Management could be called "dreamers," but we like to stack the probabilities heavily in our favor as we dream. Here is a list of some of our observations that lead us to be very excited about owning our portfolio of large-cap quality U.S. common stocks.

  • Amazingly good negative psychology to create a continued "Wall of Worry."
  • Discounted price-to-earnings ratios on large cap stocks.
  • Hardly anyone talking or writing about a three to five-year bull market.
  • Crowded trades in oil, gold, emerging markets, commodities, treasuries, certificates of deposit, etc.
  • Negligible investor zeal for common stocks.
  • Near universal negative brainwashing among the most popular experts in 24-hour news and Internet outlets.
  • Massive cash sitting on corporation balance sheets.
  • Companies are buying companies -- Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) - Get Free Report bought Burlington Northern (BNI) , Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) - Get Free Report is buying 3Com (COMS) - Get Free Report, Stanley Works (SWX) - Get Free Report is purchasing Black & Deckerundefined.

This bull market has gone up 60% from its low of March with little or no support from net inflows into equity funds and ETFs. What might happen if those flows kick in at some point is a multi-year bull market similar to the ones which followed past deep recessions. As Supertramp sang, "You know -- well you know you had it comin' to you."

We'd like to think that patient common stockholders do have it coming to them.

-- Written by Bill Smead in Seattle.

At the time of publication, Smead was long Bershire Hathaway.

Bill Smead is the chief investment officer of Smead Capital Management in Seattle. Bill started at Drexel Burnham Lambert in 1980. He then spent 11 years at Smith Barney, beginning in 1990. While at Smith Barney, Smead started managing money in the same program that spawned the careers of Bruce Berkowitz and Robert Olstein. Bill founded SCM in July 2007 after managing money under Wachovia Securities from 2001 to 2007. A fan of Warren Buffett, Smead's writings (Smeadblog.com) and his Roadshow talks are all focused to remind investors that owning a few great companies can create wealth. Bill is a regular guest on CNBC.