Trading Desk: Party Like 1985

The market mood is quiet as traders who just came back from a four-day week look forward to the long Independence Day break coming up. While I’m always alert for emerging opportunities, it makes sense for a lot of other people to stop paying attention right now.

If the recent bear run tested your nerve, it’s all right to unplug. Decompress. When the bulls are back in control, you’ll know. Just make sure you don’t miss the recovery when it comes.

I’m seeing encouraging signs of life among the speculative stocks that led the way down a year and a half ago. A few IPOs are actually doing well . . . and the market as a whole is finally finding support at these levels thanks to big names at the top rebounding from deeply oversold territory.

This is too early to call a rally. There could be relapses and more pain ahead. But at least it’s a rebound.

We’re looking for revised GDP numbers on Wednesday to confirm that adjusted for inflation “real” economic activity actually declined last quarter. Money is still circulating at a fast rate. People are buying and selling.

It’s just that the surface heat is largely inflationary. There isn’t a lot of sustainable growth going on right now. By definition, that’s a stall . . . and a continued stall in the face of inflation means stagflation, which nobody wants.

However, the real number that’s interesting this week is consumer confidence tomorrow. We’re looking to see the reading drop to 100, which is an interesting milestone because it signals a reversion back to how Americans felt about the economy back in 1985.

Was 1985 the end of the world . . . or even the American way? No way. At the time, unemployment was on the way down after spending most of 1983 above 10%.

The job market got better and better over the next four years, then hit a bump again as the 1990-1 recession developed. Remember, that’s the kind of bump the Fed’s economists say is the likeliest “hard landing” in the current cycle.

In that scenario, the hard landing could easily be years away. Who wants to stay on the sidelines that long? Other investors will reap the rewards.

And the rewards can be considerable. Even if the mood is only as fractious as it was in 1985, that was a great year for the S&P 500, which rallied close to 30%. That’s not a doomsday mood.

It only feels like it, with pain at the gas pump and pain at the grocery. We’re tired as a nation. It’s been a disorienting and disrupted couple of years, to put it mildly. A lot of expectations have gone out the window as the flood of free Fed money came and went.

The mood has receded along with the free money. But if these consumer confidence targets are right, this is actually something like “normal.” A little pain, a little gain. Challenges along with opportunities.

You just have to keep your eyes on the prize.