The internal model of the world generated by the human brain helps us to navigate through three-dimensional space, understand complex ideas and adapt to the world around us.
It also is a self-fabricated fiction, but it allows most of us to get through each day without any sort of existential crisis. This is critical for investors to keep in mind because our internal thought processes are so filled with potential for bias and error that unless we are vigilant, we are easily fooled by our own narratives.
I was reminded of this last week when I saw a chart at CNN Money. It may not be fake news, based on the definition used by the president, but it is one of those things that gets passed around despite being deeply flawed. The chart encapsulates the conventional story that markets are rallying on expectations for tax cuts, infrastructure spending and deregulation — in other words, adoption of the Trump legislative agenda.
It is a tale that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, as we have discussed before. First there is the tendency of markets to ignore the dysfunction in Washington — as they have for most of the past decade. If markets are really rallying on expectations of good things from the government, then the inability to get anything done in the past few years should have thrown them into reverse.
Folks have difficulty with this. If their internal models tells them the U.S. president is important (he is) to the economy (somewhat less so) and the stock market (even less so), then the goings-on inside the beltway must be significant (they mostly are not).
Special investigations, congressional incompetence and endlessly fevered news cycles simply doesn’t add up to record highs for markets. Our mental models struggle to make sense of it, and so we latch onto any explanation that seems even remotely plausible. Hence, the reason that the deregulation/tax cuts/infrastructure spending/repatriation of overseas profits story easily fits so readily into our flawed models.
Too bad it’s wrong.
The latest explanation is that the so-called Trump rally doesn’t need Donald Trump to succeed. Some analysts are coming around to recognizing that markets can do well despite an economic recovery, full employment and rising corporate profits. (I am only saying that partly in jest). Even after the Federal Reserve’s recent interest-rate increases, borrowing costs are historically low. Emerging markets are doing better as the dollar weakens, and Europe’s corporate earnings are strengthening.