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NEW YORK — Hemming and hawing with the bulls.
This story first appeared in the February 21, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That’s what business journalist Ron Insana was doing Thursday, when he forecast it will be a decade or more before the bulls return to Wall Street — particularly if the miniskirt’s current weakness at retail is any indication.
The senior anchor at CNBC, hawking his new book, “Trendwatching” (Harper Business) at the Metropolitan Club on Thursday, said it will probably be 10 years or so until the stock market stages a strong comeback, and he held up the newly revived miniskirt’s lackluster sales performance as (serious) evidence to support his prognostication.
“There has been a very high correlation, historically, between rising hemlines and bull markets,” Insana said, invoking laughter from the crowd, even though he wasn’t joking. “Rising hemlines typically occur in a free-spirit environment, and it’s one that’s seen as good for the stock market.”
It’s not quite so simple, however, Insana noted. For the miniskirt to become a fashion accessory to a bullish stock market, the item has had “to take hold for a while,” as was the case in the Twenties and Sixties. “That’s when it suggests a broader cultural climate conducive to a bull market,” he added.
The climate of today’s stock market is much like that of the Seventies, Insana contended, when, after topping out in 1968, it faced tension in the Middle East, an erratic economic environment at home, and rising inflation. Although inflation is not yet accelerating, Insana projected that condition could arise in the near term, given the Fed’s apparent determination to deflect any deflationary spiral.
Those similarities, Insana said, are why “I see a Seventies [recovery] scenario more likely than a Twenties scenario, when it took 25 years for the stock market to recover, rather than 10 to 15 years, or a situation like Japan’s, where the economy has been ailing for more than 12 years and they still can’t correct the problem.”
In times of a bearish stock market, hard assets are usually the source of investment bubbles and, according to Insana’s crystal ball, there are a handful of likely candidates on today’s scene. “The two best performers in the year-to-date are gold, up 25 percent [versus a year ago], and oil, up 50 percent,” he noted. “No one would have predicted this when the stock market was heading south.” The journalist also likes the prospects for the real estate market, which may get an assist from the Fed, Insana said, “so that real estate replaces the stock market bubble and keeps the consumer from going south.”
Responding to a question regarding the revival of celebrity chief executive officers, like Martha Stewart, Insana stated flatly: “The day of the celebrity ceo is over for now. But it will never be over forever. We had them in the Twenties and the Sixties,” he recounted. “It may take awhile; it could be a generation away. Someone will probably write about [celebrity ceo’s] and call them quaint and nostalgic — and they’ll be wrong.”