The True Contrarian Is On An Island

“The further a society drifts from the truth the more it will hate those who speak it.” -George Orwell

It is both a blessing and a curse to be a true contrarian. It’s a blessing because you don’t follow the rest of the lemmings off of the cliff. It’s a curse, and a miserable one at that, because to be a true contrarian you consciously and completely ostracize yourself.

It might be the most poignant form of loneliness there is, intellectual and psychological solitude. And it goes against our most important need as human beings, community and connection to our fellow man. This is why almost nobody is willing endure it even if somewhere in their subconscious their rational brain is telling them it’s true.

I’ve felt this feeling many times before during my career in the markets. For the most part, I sat out of the internet bubble only committing capital to a handful of terrific value opportunities that went completely overlooked by the ravenous speculators of the day (read this for more). I ran a trading desk at a hedge fund at the time and watched a few of our individual clients triple and quadruple their accounts in a matter of months during 1999. They all thought I was the crazy one to not get in on the “free money.”

I started this blog, actually back in early summer 2005, at the height of the real estate bubble, primarily to warn of its inevitable consequences (read my first few posts here). Here in Bend, Oregon the bubble was magnified by limited inventory and mass immigration to the area primarily from California. In fact, we were named the most overvalued market in the country around the peak. Still, plenty of my friends literally “hated” to hear what I had to say about their speculative activities at the time.

In February 2009, at the tail end of the financial crisis, I was incredibly bullish (see my posts here), calling the stock market a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” I was pounding the table but my powerful and persistent calls fell on deaf ears. Despite my shift from market skeptic to evangelist – pessimism to optimism – I found my views shunned yet again.

Today I find myself in, what’s become over the past 15 years, a very familiar position. I couldn’t be more vocal about the risks to investors in the US stock market than I have been here in these pages and across the internet, thanks to the likes of Business Insider and Huffington Post. And as a result I’m marginalized by the crowd who merely wants to know why stocks will double again over the next three years.

Maybe I’m wrong this time. I’ve certainly been wrong before. And I’ve been bearish and wrong for about a year now. I was also early (or wrong, depending on your time frame) at all of those earlier inflection points I described above. So I agree that you can’t buy the bottom or sell the top. That’s not what I’m trying to do here. But it’s not rocket science to effectively decide whether it’s time to be aggressive or defensive.

Everything tells me that it’s time to be as defensive as possible right now. And after all these years and various bubbles, the fact that I’m on an island in that regard only serves to confirm that conclusion.