Pictures & Slides

“The mind-numbing media avalanche threatens to make war, terrorism and catastrophe banal, to turn the maimed and the dead into mere meat. What many of the pictures here do, though, is turn the shallow creeks of the general into the profound deeps of the particular – shocking us awake. I found myself hooked hardest by those images that seized the rare quiet moment, scenes that pirouetted away from hype and cliché, showing us at our most human and our most vulnerable.”

This brilliant collection of photos from The New York Times Year in Pictures offers a thoughtful look back on the past year, and goes remarkably well with a hot cup of coffee on a cold Sunday morning.  Make sure you view it in Internet Explorer – I had some problems with the slideshow in Chrome.

Moving onto the investment landscape, JPMorgan’s Quarterly Guide to the Markets is perhaps one of the best quarterly compilation of slides on the street.  Investors can browse the guide by asset class, download it in full or review select portfolio discussions.  This is an excellent collection of charts that illustrate the current economic backdrop and allow for individual interpretation.  One word of advice – pay attention to time horizon, particularly when viewing “long-term” averages presented across this (and any) presentation of financial data.  More often than not, JPM offers the proper long term context here, but there are a number of exceptions.  For example, slide seven (incorrectly) presents stocks as inexpensive relative to long-term averages, but average valuations calculated on “long-term” earnings only go back 15 years here. While 15 years may be considered ancient on Wall Street, we tend to make decisions based upon complete market history, rather than the time horizon which best suits one’s needs.  In this case, the current Shiller P/E of 25.4x is best compared against the long-run average of 16.5x rather than the 19.1x presented by JPM.  On this basis, US equities are approaching nose-bleed valuations rather than this mildly expensive illustration.  Similarly, the current dividend yield of 2.1% is less than half the 4.4% long-run average, although it may look acceptable based upon JPM’s 1.9% fifteen-year average.