STRATEGIES

A fascinating comparison of today's market with the 1970s may mean stocks could be the best Christmas gift this year. Also, MoneyShow's Tom Aspray navigates the fiscal cliff to find his best picks for what could be choppy markets through the holiday season.

By the middle of Friday's session, stocks were still marginally higher for the week, though Thursday's drop has taken the major averages below their best levels.

The news of the Fed's $85 billion plan to keep rates low until unemployment drops spurred a quick 80-point rally in the Dow, but it only ended the day a bit lower.

The Fed hopes that an extended period of low rates will make other investments, like stocks, more attractive. It is my view that it will ultimately be bullish for stocks, but it will likely take a resolution of the fiscal cliff and debt ceiling to encourage companies to start spending again.

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The chart above shows that overall investment spending was negative in the third quarter for the first time since the first quarter of 2011. In 2011, spending increased sharply for the rest of the year, and a similar turnaround in 2013 should give the corporate earnings a nice boost.

Of course, it may take more than that to encourage the individual investor to buy stocks again. The bear market in the 1970s dropped the stock market 45%, and the 1973 highs were not exceeded until 1982. Over the next ten years or so, interest in stocks reached a very low point, as money was not even moving into mutual funds.

Sound familiar? As this chart from The Wall Street Journal indicates, in 1987 only 20.2% were invested in stocks. This was well after the bull market lows in 1982.

As the technology sector peaked in 2000, this number had risen to 50.5%, up 20% from 1995 to 2000. This reinforces the long-held belief that the public is selling when they should be buying, and tend to only get back into stocks as the market is near a top.

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At the end of the bear market, only 33% were invested in stocks, with the level peaking at 42.3% in 2007 . As of the third quarter of 2012, just 37.9% are invested.

If you read the analysis of the 1970s, there are many parallels to current investor attitudes, suggesting that history is indeed repeating itself. For those not invested in stocks at all, I would suggest you start to put even a small amount regularly in a low-cost mutual fund or ETF.

NEXT: US Economy and What to Watch

Tickers Mentioned: GLD, IWM, QQQ, DIA, SPY