What’s causing all the volatility?

Europe. But before we try to explain, let’s remember all the problems when we turned the corner into September. The markets were burdened with the possibilities of entering another U.S. recession, Europe had debt issues, there was a recent downgrade of U.S. debt, and it appeared our politicians in Washington were adding on more issues. Not to mention we were still dealing with supply disruptions and Japan’s economic fears caused by the Japanese earthquake.

Now it appears most of these fears, except Europe, have dissipated for the time being. Moreover the U.S. economy is showing some signs of growth, corporate earnings have held up fairly well, and the S&P 500 has regained 8.5% since the bottom on October 3rd according to Morningstar data.

So what is Europe’s problem? It seems the culprit could be the four letter word: Debt. More specifically, as the fallout from the U.S. sub-prime mortgage problems spread and economies around the world slowed, the so-called “PIGS” of Europe (Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain) showed signs of defaulting on their debt. Many believe the reckless, socialistic government spending of the past, as well as weak economies may have brought some other small countries into risk. And not being under one government rule, both the citizens and politicians in the stronger European countries (France, Germany, etc.) may not be willing to provide the necessary aid these countries require.

Yes, we have serious government debt issues in the U.S. As of recent we have seen our politicians “kick the can” down the road. The most recent occurrence of this was the Super Committee failure last week to provide significant helpful solutions.

Sure we could eventually be exactly where Europe is today, and with serious ramifications. However as for now, and excluding our government debt, our banks, consumers, and corporations have made significant progress since 2008 in improving their financial position and building larger amounts of cash to possibly weather another storm if it comes.

What could the European problems mean to our economy? On Monday’s CNBC broadcast, the discussion mentioned that the possibility Europe’s “pain” could actually be our “gain”. In other words, more foreign capital could find its way to the U.S. (via investments into the U.S. dollar and treasuries) and eventually make its way into our stock market. But more serious pains could rise up, according to Miles Betro of Fidelity Investments, should there be a major bank failure in Europe. He suggests that we could see another “Lehman-type” event that could trim as much as 1.5% off our economy (GDP). If this happens we could move right back into a new recession.

So when will this volatility end? The consensus among investment experts is no time soon. It appears it’s going to take more time and pain before days become a little more predictable for the markets. Please know we realize this may be a scary and even tiring time for investors to see markets drop 200 to 300 points in the matter of just a few minutes. If we may suggest a helpful “tip” remember that volatility can also work to the upside. Just yesterday we saw the DJIA up 291 points.

And finally, try to focus on what things will be like a year or two from now rather than the next day or even month. In other words, could the deals today be the catalyst for better performance down the road? We believe so, and look forward to that day! Is this not the true definition of an investor?