I Hit the Mark on Markets Again in 2012

Howard Gold Founder & President, GoldenEgg Investing

This is the third extraordinarily successful year in a row for MoneyShow's Howard R. Gold, also of The Independent Agenda, who credits a middle-of-the-road approach that tunes out talking-head gibberish for having his hits greatly outnumber his misses.

It's now time for my annual review of this column's "performance." Though I don't manage other people's money, I do give investment advice, and being accountable comes with the territory.

In brief, I had my third consecutive year of correctly calling the big moves in the market. Going back to 2010, following this column's recommendations would have kept you more heavily invested during major advances and less exposed during corrections. (I never recommend being 100% in or out of stocks.)

I've made mistakes and have sometimes featured advisors who got it wrong. But my columns were pretty much on target.

It actually started before the calendar turned. In a November 10, 2011 column called "2012 Could Be a Good Year for Stocks," I wrote: "If we can stay out of recession in the US and avoid one in the developing world, earnings of US-based companies may hold up well enough to support somewhat higher stock prices."

I also wrote that election years historically were the second best of the four-year presidential cycle for the stock market "and during years in which incumbent presidents run for re-election, the market has beaten its average election-year performance significantly." The S&P 500 is up 13.7% since then.

On January 5, in my first column of the new year, I laid out six big themes for 2012, and five substantially came to pass:

  1. The European debt crisis will drag on, but there may be some progress. "And don't underestimate the willingness of the European Central Bank under Mario Draghi to take a page from Ben Bernanke's playbook and flood the zone with cash if things get rough." Check to both.
  1. Still, several European countries will go into recession, and some could lose their AAA rating this year. Standard & Poor's downgraded France and Austria from AAA a week later, and the Eurozone had negative GDP growth in the second and third quarters.
  1. The US will avoid recession for much of the year, and growth will be decent. "No great shakes, maybe 2% or so-and continued slow improvement in private-sector employment throughout the year." Bingo on both counts.
  1. US stocks should have a decent year, too, though the cyclical bull market is near its end-we covered that, but I'm not sure about the second part yet.
  1. Emerging markets continue to lose their luster-and ETFs tracking them have lagged the S&P 500 badly since September 2011.

My only big theme that didn't pan out was that "black swans are lurking," but since black swans by definition are unpredictable events, I'll call that a draw.

The following week, I wrote a column called "US Stocks Are Still Investors' Best Bet," in which I repeated my long-held belief that investors would do well investing stateside.

I didn't foresee the strong performance of German and other developed European stock markets, but if you had most of your equity exposure in US stocks of all sizes and some other money in diversified international funds, you reaped most of those gains, too.

NEXT: Sell in April and Go Away

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In April, though, in a piece called, "It's Spring-Time to Take Profits," I wrote: "I think we'll see a long-overdue correction as we move deeper into spring. The weeks ahead may be a good time to take some profits and move money into more defensive areas, though I certainly wouldn't dump equities entirely."

The correction wasn't very deep-about 8%, less than half of what we saw in both 2010 and 2011. But the S&P now is slightly above where it was then, which was around 1,420. I did get a bit more bullish in July, when I repeated that "2012 still may be pretty good for stocks."

I also was correctly cautious on oil and gold. In early May, with gasoline prices near $4 a gallon nationwide, I wrote: "It looks to me as if higher oil and gas prices won't be a big worry when we head for the beach in a few weeks," and said they could fall below $3.50. By July 4, they got down to $3.41, and they're now just above $3.20.

And I earned the ire of gold bugs everywhere by speculating that "the end of the gold bull is on the horizon." In that piece, I envisioned "a scenario of slowly recovering global economies, gradual deleveraging, and little inflation in the real world-plus a firmer dollar. All in all, it would be a recipe for higher share prices but continued weakness for gold."

That has pretty much happened. Gold sits at around $1,644 an ounce, below where it was ($1,658) when that column appeared.

As I said at the outset, my good run of market calls goes back to early 2010, when I warned that a nasty correction was coming, tied to the European debt crisis. That happened, but then in August 2010 in a column called "Three Reasons to Be (at Least a Little) Bullish," I said stocks could move higher again. They did, in a rally that lasted eight months and took the S&P 500 index 30% higher.

But in early 2011, I predicted a big correction was coming. Stocks peaked in late April, then tumbled, and had just begun to recover when I wrote my November 2011 column saying this year could be good for stocks.

My biggest mistake this year: recommending dividend-paying stocks, which did OK, rather than consumer discretionary and housing stocks, which did spectacularly.

I don't have any "secret sauce." I tend to be moderately bullish and watch for extremes in sentiment. And I try to screen out the noise that constitutes too much market coverage these days.
 
Plus, I've had a run of good luck, which no doubt will end one day. Will it be next year? Maybe, but I'll take my chances-and give my 2013 predictions right after the new year.

Happy holidays and have a great New Year!

Howard R. Gold is editor at large for MoneyShow.com and a columnist for MarketWatch. Follow him on Twitter @howardrgold and catch his coverage of politics, the economy, and the fiscal cliff at www.independentagenda.com.