Friday, October 10, 2008

The Smartest CEO

It is said that the stock market is a forecasting mechanism. Let's pray it is a bad one. Otherwise, we may be in for a deep depression. The sell-off we have been witnessing is simply unbelievable. Investors, especially institutional investors, are selling everything—the good, the bad, and they ugly.

In December 2007, when I still held a bearish view of the economy and stock market, a colleague and I met with the CEO of a small biotechnology company. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss his finances and a proper asset allocation. Because of my bearish outlook, I made what I thought was an extremely conservative recommendation, suggesting he keep much of his money in cash (i.e., short-term Treasuries, CDs, and municipals) for the time being and put only about 50% in stocks.

He thanked me for my advice, but said he had an even more bearish view. He said he was convinced that leverage was going to come back to haunt us. He said he was worried about counter-party risk and did not trust the investment banks. He said he was using some cash to buy gold coins and he was shorting as many financial stocks as he could-the investment banks in particular.

When we left his office, I was in shock. I was bearish myself and had spoken with a number of bearish investors, but I had never met anyone who was so full of doom and gloom. I knew this CEO was a smart man, but I hoped he was wrong. Unfortunately, he wasn't.

If he maintained his short positions, he is no doubt a very wealthy man today. For the sake of the economy and all long-term investors, let's hope the selling is finally done. At this point, it's hard to imagine stocks going any lower.