Remember last year's Greek debt negotiations? It was a game of he said, she said that dragged on for months. We are playing the same song once again only on this side of the pond. I guess the best that can be said for this American version is that if nothing happens before January 1 we all think we know the outcome.
But unlike Greece, where the country either received a bail-out or went bankrupt, this U.S. event would not be as dramatic, at least at first. If for some reason the politicians miss the deadline, it would take several days and even weeks before we feel the tax bite. As for the spending cuts, those draconian measures will be enacted piecemeal and over several years. Why is this important?
Well, the stock markets are acting like January first is a do or die event. It's not. Politicians can continue to agree to disagree; delay a compromise and either extend the deadline or let the country fall off the cliff (really a ditch) temporarily. They would still have time to come up with a solution sometime in 2013 without much impact to the economy.
But that kind of scenario would sell fewer newspapers and reduce the ratings on business shows. Brokers would have less to talk about and retirees, rather than being pinned to their televisions, could actually go out and do something productive like exercise or read a good book.
If you are in that stressed-out category, remember this. How much did all that angst over Greece help you? In the end, Greece did get a bail-out, their market is up 25% since then and the U.S. market is up substantially as well. So relax, will you?
Warren Buffet may not be right about everything but one reason I believe he is so successful and still in the business is because he takes a long term view. Sure, time has become compressed. Fortunes have been made and lost in years rather than decades and it has become fashionable to "trade" the markets. I am as guilty as the next person, but only to a point.
In the past, we've had to refuse clients because we didn't see eye to eye when it came to investment style. They insisted we sell every down move in the market before it occurred and jump back in "at the right time," which for them, was before the markets moved back up.
"If I could do that," I explained, "I wouldn't need to work. I could simply sit home, trade my own account and make a couple billion dollars a year."
Here's my take. The anxiety over this Fiscal Cliff is overblown. Focus instead on the increasingly positive economic data in the United States. In addition, I expect the Fed may announce further stimulus moves in the coming month. The stock market, which is trading around 13 times earnings, is fairly valued given a modest growth scenario. We may be underestimating that growth and prospects for a better 2013 than most people expect. Buy the dips.
Bill Schmick is registered as an investment advisor representative and portfolio manager with Berkshire Money Management (BMM).