“Discounting” is the jargon that Wall Street uses to describe the process of factoring changes in consensus beliefs about future happenings into today’s stock prices. I’ve outlined the basics of discounting in an earlier post.
fundamental vs. technical analysis
Fundamental analysis, the study of company-specific and economy-wide economic and financial information, and technical analysis, the study of charts, can be seen as two approaches to discounting. In the first case, researchers try to figure out what information is most important for making a security’s price go up or down, and then actively search for relevant data. In the second, investors study chart patterns as a way of figuring out what fundamental analysts are doing and then riding on their coattails.
The internet has changed the amount, quality and cost of information in dramatic fashion. For example:
–When I was building an international equity investing organization for a major financial institution in the early 1990s, it cost about $300,000 a year in today’s dollars to get access to all corporate SEC filings. The data came on microfiche and was available about six weeks after the documents were filed. Today, the information is free on the SEC’s Edgar website; documents are available the instant they’re filed (companies do this electronically).
–Thanks to regulation FD (Fair Disclosure), company presentations are routinely webcast and are available through the company website. Typically, they’re archived for at least a year. True, breakout sessions at conferences, small group meetings or one-on-ones aren’t, but these mostly serve to fill in the blanks for analysts not familiar with a firm. Companies may sound like they’re revealing new information, but they’re not.
–A Bloomberg terminal still costs $30,000-$50,000 a year, depending on its capabilities. But discount brokers offer most of what an individual investor needs to their customers on their websites for free.
discounting and Greece
Discounting isn’t a one-time event. It’s a process.
1. For one thing, what’s painfully obvious to a seasoned observer or an industry specialist may only dawn on the average investor a considerable time later.
2. Also, bad news that relates to a specific event is typically not fully discounted until the event occurs–no matter how far in the future that may be. The financial crisis in Greece is a good example.
A year ago, a new administration in Athens revealed that the country had been falsifying its national accounts for many years. Greece had taken in less in taxes and also spent a lot more than it had ever revealed. How so? Its membership in the EU had allowed it to borrow much more than it could ever repay.
For at least six months, it has been clear that either the rest of the EU will be forced to pick up the tab and let Greece remain in the EU, or that Greece will default and lose its EU membership. In default, holders of Greek sovereign debt would lose most of their money. But, since that’s mostly big EU banks which might need government bailouts as a result, the effect is basically the same. EU taxpayers ultimately foot the bill.
Over recent months, however, EU stock markets–and the financials, in particular–have been subject to periodic waves of selling, driving prices ever lower, as investors express their fears about Greece. …despite the fact that in general terms everyone has already read the closing chapter of the story.
This pattern of discounting the same news over and over again is typical. It begins in denial (inadequate discounting) and may end in despair (overdiscounting), the same emotional pattern that shapes a bear market. While bear markets end in a whimper sometimes, however, discounting that anticipates a discrete event usually involves a final selling bout as the event actually occurs.
Over the weekend, the G-20 seems to have given the EU an ultimatum to resolve the Greek crisis quickly. We’ll see tomorrow how the markets react.