Top 10 Reasons for Being Cautious; An Oldie But Goodie: Best of Kass

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Doug Kass of Seabreeze Partners is known for his accurate stock market calls and keen insights into the economy, which he shares with RealMoney Pro readers in his daily trading diary.

Last week, Kass wrote about caution in the market and pabulum in business media.

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Top 10 Reasons for Being Cautious

Originally published on Thursday, Sept. 25, at  3:22 p.m. EDT

My view has been, and continues to be, that the market's reward vs. risk appears unattractive for the remainder of this year.

Unlike others, I don't approach my investment conclusion with self-confidence. While I am explicit in the reasons for my caution ("Sell Strength"), these are my strong views. But I may be wrong, as the only certainty is the lack of certainty. That is why I always qualify my views and average into positions:

  1. A market bounce is possible at any time, as the market's character has changed.
  2. We are in a market without memory from day to day. Mr. Market will be increasingly volatile and unpredictable. Opportunistic trading may trump buy-and-hold investing.
  3. A rally should be sold, as expressed in "Sell Strength." (Short-selling is not for many, but most should consider erring on the side of conservatism.)
  4. The market's internals have been deteriorating for months (a constant theme of mine). The accumulated advance/decline line (breadth) has been weakening, the Russell 2000 Index's drop has presaged today's schmeissing, and the number of new highs has contracted.
  5. The erosion in the high-yield market is an important and negative development.
  6. The world has grown increasingly unsafe. This is not likely to change for years.
  7. The market's multiyear advance has benefited from the rising role of high-frequency trading and momentum-based strategies. A downturn could have the opposite effect in a herd-dominated investor base.
  8. Global economic growth is moderating and the European economies are problematic. In its extreme, the leveraged European banks represent systemic risk.
  9. Before today's schmeissing, few investors envisioned the possibility of a major market correction.

10. Our political leaders have failed us. The burden of growth now lies on monetary policy, which is losing its effectiveness. The Fed's zero-interest-rate policy (ZIRP) is not a permanent condition.

Adding up these 10 conditions, I conclude that most investors should maintain above-average cash reserves.


An Oldie But Goodie

Originally published on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 2:21 p.m. EDT

"I don't know."

-- Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), Fast Times at Ridgemont High

We need more Jeff Spicolis who "don't know!"

The investment game and the media that serves it demand endless opinions about which most people have limited information -- I describe this as being 3 miles wide and 1 inch deep. Sometimes the respondents just make the answers up.

In a rare expression of truthfulness (in the business media arena) my pal/buddy/friend, Ritholtz Wealth Management's Josh "Downtown" Brown, today uniquely responded to a question from Fast Money's version of Judge Wapner with the words "I don't know."

In keeping with my policy of irregularly repeating past "oldies but goodies" posts, here in its entirety is the column "I Don't Know" from last February:

Late yesterday, I asked: Why aren't there more talking heads like Fast Times' Jeff Spicoli, who is brutally honest (with Mr. Hand) when he says "I don't know" in response to why he is constantly late to Mr. Hand's history class?

I got quite a response from my brief post on the know-it-all people that trot out their self-confident views (bullish and bearish).

"I've been thinking about this, Biz TV Talking Heads. If I am here and you're here, doesn't that make it our time?"

-- Jeff Spicoli watching Biz TV

The fact is that snark (a combination of snide and remark) and opinion far too often envelop the business media instead of facts and figures. Equally infuriating is the confidence of view in the delivery of the snark. Sometimes the reason for this is necessity, as the media appearances are typically brief and expected to be on point. Nevertheless, in a world characterized by an absence of certainty and an interrelated and complicated market mosaic (and complexity of issues) without memory from day to day, too many attach self-confident reasons to randomness.

I would characterize a lot of the pabulum in the business media as instantaneous entertainment and not as rigorous analysis.

Of course, there are exceptions. Consider, as an example, the preparation that Jim "El Capitan" Cramer goes through when he interviews a corporate executive on Mad Money. Another example is CNBC's Squawk Box with Joe Kernen, Becky Quick and Andrew Sorkin, which provides a guest host with one to three hours to do a deeper dive in analysis (e.g., just watch Jim Grant's appearance yesterday, which was solid and thoughtful in analysis). Or Bloomberg's Market Surveillance, in which Tom Keene shares the spotlight with an interviewee for almost a half an hour, digging into the analysis that forms the foundation of view.

Not every move in the markets is explainable, though far too many observers attach a reason for every wiggle and move. (Consider the 5% correction that was recently erased. Why? I have no clue, though many express a strong understanding in the moves.)

To some, the projection of confidence of view is seen as a validation of an intense and rigorous decision-making process. Increasingly, however, many are fooled by the abbreviated, simplistic, staccato-like explanations and conclusions, because, more often than not, the snark is shown to be wrong in short order as the curtain disclosing a mere human (not the Wizard of Oz) is revealed.

In a market that has many feeling uber smart, there are too many Good Will Huntings (i.e., geniuses) and not enough Jeff Spicolis out there these days who say "I don't know."

My experience is that the most valuable views are based on intensity of hard-hitting and time-consumptive analysis. Less valuable (though self-confident) views, which are 3 miles long but only a few inches deep in knowledge, can get viewers/listeners in a lot of investment "hot water" and are not healthy for your financial well-being.

Accordingly, to make my point, in the future, I will simply solicit Spicoli's famous phrase when "I don't know" and when I have not the answer to the question (of the day or the week).

Again, such was the case in the media's discussion of yesterday's rise and fall (of half the gain late in the day) in which all-knowing talking heads explained the causality. (Note: With futures down another 4 handles in premarket trading, the overall S&P futures gain, including yesterday's 10-handle rally, is only 6 points.)

I simply don't know why the market behaved as it did yesterday.

"Aloha, Mr. Hand." -- Jeff Spicoli



Doug Kass is the president of Seabreeze Partners Management Inc. Under no circumstances does this information represent a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any security.

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