Thank you, Cyprus.
Or, more aptly, thanks Germany and the rest of the dummkopfs in the eurozone. The U.S. stock market was overbought and due for a 5% to 10% cleansing pullback. Now — voila — it looks like the never-ending debt crisis in Europe might have sparked one up.
In case you missed it over the weekend, this time around the European burn zone is the puny island of Cyprus, a nation of about 1 million people with an economy smaller than that of Shreveport, La. (No kidding.)
Cyprus’s bloated banking sector will go under (and the nation will get kicked out of the eurozone) if the country doesn’t get a bailout. But the eurozone will only kick in part of the bailout funds if the remainder comes via a tax on deposits in those very same Cypriot banks.
The worry is that we’re either going to get a destabilizing bank run in Cyprus — and possible contagion to other wobbly eurozone economies (Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy) — or Cyprus’s parliament rejects the bailout plan, at which point its money laundering, er, financial system collapses.
True, there’s no telling how this plays out. But with markets back at all-time highs, this is just the buying opportunity we needed. If anything, the crisis in Cyprus makes U.S. stocks even more attractive for international investors — heck, maybe even a screaming buy.
For one thing, we’ve gone through this market pattern every year for three straight years now: Stocks get off to a strong start; the eurozone scares the hell out of everyone; we have a spring or summer swoon; equities rally into year-end.
No, you can’t time the market, but if you bought at the points of maximum pessimism in 2010, 2011 or 2012, you caught some amazing rallies.
Even better, this time around the case for domestic stocks is so much stronger than it was in years past. The U.S. economy is no longer just the cleanest shirt in a big old pile of dirty laundry. Sure, it needs a good ironing and is missing some buttons, but it’s actually quite presentable now.
The housing and job markets are at long last picking up. Corporate profits keep chugging along. Consumers are no longer just cleaning debt off their books — they’re back to buying stuff too.
As Barry Ritholtz, CEO and director of equity research at Fusion IQ, writes:
“We seriously doubt Cyprus’ $20 billion economy is going to derail the fundamentals that have been driving the U.S. stock market. Will it end fracking and cheap energy? Derail the housing market? Cause the Fed to remove quantitative easing prematurely and raise interest rates? Get frickin’ real, comrades.”
More important, the sheer awfulness of most of the rest of the world — from the big emerging markets of Brazil, India and China to recession-wracked Europe — only makes U.S. stocks look that much better in relief.
Here’s Ritholtz again:
“Money is flowing into U.S. equities and some select countries with weak currencies, mainly Japan and the United Kingdom … The Cyprus deal only reinforces the 2013 trade. The U.S. and its large-cap stocks will be now viewed even more as a safe haven, in our opinion.”
If Cyprus does prove to be the catalyst for the long-anticipated sell-off in U.S. stocks, it’s a process that could take months to unfold. So what? If you dollar-cost average in on the way down, you’ll be buying good stocks at ever-cheaper prices.
Either way, this too shall pass, and U.S. equities will be at prices you can’t afford to miss when it does.