Caroline Ritchie: Mules morph into show ponies as world goes slightly mad

By Caroline Ritchie -
Caroline Ritchie
Caroline Ritchie

I have been long-haul flying a bit lately and, when you are God's captive in the sky, you end up eyeballing movies.

The new releases never interest me, so I watch Gone With The Wind. Three times. That's 11 hours and 54 minutes of classic celluloid.

It is enthralling and I get seriously into it. I come home and make Mr Indoors view it for the first time.

He does it in one go, which gets him extra points. And he says, "Wow, the protagonist seems familiar", and gives me a long, sideways kind of a look.

Despite all the gilt-soaked excess of Hollywood's golden age that was packed into production, the underside was dark.

The leading actress was bipolar, unstable, quite unwell. Filming was horrendous. The male love (unrequited, mostly) character hated his counterpart.

The visage versus the reality was, to quote the film itself: "A mule in horse harness".

That stuck with me, because in 1939, when Gone With The Wind was made, the stockmarket was still suffering from the effects of a decade before, when a nag of a market dressed up in silver breastplate was flogged to death.

The crash of 1929 exposed a new brutish outcome of share ownership. The huge amounts of leverage used (the total out on loan was reportedly more than the entire value of currency circulating in the USA at the time), ensured pain for years to come.

Anyhoo, in America in 1939 things still completely economically sucked; the recession would not end, stocks were tanking again and World War II had not yet arrived Stateside to kick-start the final recovery out of the Great Depression.

Although by 1937 the US market had made a staunch comeback, the Dow Jones being 300 per cent higher in January of that year than it was on the blackest day in May 1929, things still did not return to the 1929 peak until 1954.

Twenty-five years is an awfully long time to wait for your money back.

So, rather like now? Are we looking at a market dressed to the nines but secretly out to kill?

They said a lack of communication back then (the ticker tapes became illegible on Black Tuesday and Thursday, customers had no idea at what price they were buying or selling) made things worse.

Today I think it's an overload of information that is hurting us.

The investor is now soaked in a barrage of financial commentary, most of which contradicts itself, half of which is fake or in self-interest, with a small corner being reasoned, intelligent thought.

Who to believe?

Politics in the US has become a compulsory-viewing daily sideshow, with bombastic statements and back-pedalling at every quarter.

The investment commentators who jog along behind like puppies slurping up the financial crumbs all mimic the moves.

The market is certainly expensive on the usual terms, but does it mean anything, absolutely?

In a world going slightly mad, in this Trump-esque era, shares, which have usually been viewed as the risky buggers in all this, are being turned into a safety card, the paper play morphing into hard asset.

It's a daring perception. Shares, however, are always the mule: great as a workhorse, less so as a master. Today, I feel, they are all dressed up with no place to go.

* Caroline Ritchie is a former AFA, sharebroker and portfolio manager. She runs Investment Stuff, a sharemarket-based investment coaching service. Visit her at www.investmentstuff.co.nz

* This column is not personalised financial advice.

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