The next 1,000 points on the Dow Jones Industrial Average in either direction are going to be determined by what happens in two cities thousands of miles from our own shores…
Athens and Berlin.
What's more, the risks associated with Europe's redemption, or its failure, are more concentrated now than they were before the crisis began.
There are two reasons: a) Europe won't help itself and b) Wall Street may still have $1 trillion or more in exposure to European problems.
What makes me crazy right now is that European chatter is what's driving the markets.
Every sound bite from Europe is critical these days. Not because there is anything relevant in the political babbling from financial ministers tasked with fixing this mess, but rather that there is a cascade of events that could take us in either direction.
Fix this mess and the markets will take off for a 1,000 point gain that will leave anybody who is on the sidelines hopelessly behind.
Fail and the markets could tank.
It certainly fits the pattern established in recent months. News leaks suggesting solutions have brought on rallies, while negative leaks have caused a ripple effect that has quickly dumped stocks into the hopper.
Yet, it's not really the numbers that matter at the moment – even with the Fed rumored to be considering another $1 trillion stimulus and reports that the European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) may be seeking as much as $600 billion each.
No. The market swings we are seeing are all about confidence or, more specifically, the near complete lack thereof.
The Mattress vs. The Markets
A recent report from TrimTabs shows that checking and savings accounts attracted eight-times the money that stock, bond and mutual funds did from January to November 2011.
That is a whopping $889 billion that went under "the mattresses" versus only $109 billion that went into the markets.
In fact, CNBC is reporting that the pace of money headed for plain-Jane savings and checking accounts from September to November accelerated to nearly 13-times the average monthly flow rate of the preceding nine months from September to November.
What's significant about this is that the money has headed for the sidelines when the markets have rallied. Usually it's the other way around. Normally money floods into the markets when they move higher.
The other notable thing here is that, generally speaking, up days this year have had thinner volume than down days. This means that most investors just can't handle the swings. In other words, every time the markets dip, they're packing it in.
Pessimism is the Breeding Ground of Opportunity
Bottom line: Investors are making a gigantic mistake – especially those with a longer-term perspective.