The Market

Isn’t the market doing great?

Yesterday morning when I left town, the price of gas was 3.23. By the time I got home (about 6 pm) it was down to 3.16. When I went out this morning (about 9am), it was down to 3.08. Just now (1:20) it is down to 3.04. Down about 6% in just over a day!

What action should I take in the face of this plunging market? Well, in the case of gas, I’m dealing with a commodity that I will need again before too long. Right now my tank is just under a half so I don’t need any gas. Besides, if I went and bought now, how would I feel if tomorrow it’s down to 2.99? Sure, if I bought ten gallons I’d only be spending an extra fifty cents by buying now. But haven’t you ever groused over missing a deal like that? The way the market is acting now is training me to expect it to go down further. Will it? Probably – I saw gas for 2.89 in Sulphur Springs yesterday – but I have no guarantee. I know it won’t reach the place where they just give it away. It has in intrinsic value – at least in our culture, given our network of transportation methods and practices – so it’ll continue to be worth something.

But that’s not the market most of us are concerned about, is it? We watch the stock market – the vehicle transporting much of the resources for our retirements and savings – going down. We don’t see ourselves as the consumers here – we’re the sellers – or at least we imagine ourselves to be. IF I need to sell my stocks now, to find my education, retirement, trip to Europe, etc., then I want to be able to sell for a high price; at least higher than I bought in at.

If I were a buyer of stocks, I’d be standing on the sidelines asking something like, “How far down is it going? When will it be low enough that I ought to buy some?” Unlike gasoline, we don’t have a “stock tank” that will run empty if we don’t fill up at regular intervals. We might also get the idea that stocks are of no real value – or are simply too unpredictable for us to risk. On the other hand, we might be able to take ourselves out of the fear and panic all around us and recognize that at least some parts of the market do retain value, and might, in fact, be currently undervalued.

Stocks don’t have the same kind intrinsic value that gasoline does. They can decline in value to the point that they’re only valuable as wall paper or kindling. But, like gasoline, they have the value they do through the network of economic practices of our culture. We decide that they have value. In that sense, market valuations are subjective. Sure, we develop formulas and equations to express or compute those values, but that layer of objectivity is laid on top of our subjective valuations.

Our economies crash when we value things wrongly. Supposedly the spur behind the current crash was an overvaluing of real estate. We valued it so much that we were willing to pile up huge debts to acquire it.

Once upon a time Jesus said the Kingdom of God was like a man who found a treasure in a field. He valued that treasure so much that he sold everything he had so he could buy that field and gain that treasure. When Jesus told that story he was surrounded (as are we) by people who were valuing the wrong things, or wrongly valuing the right things.

I’d like to be able to retire someday. I’d like to own my own home someday. I’d like to be able to get my children through college. Because I value these things, I value my participation in the economy. I want my investments to do well.  But I’m not staking my life on them. I know that even the surest of them (after all, we buy gas, with its intrinsic value, to burn it!) can only bear so much weight. They’re not lasting. I’m putting my primary trust in God and God’s promises, rather than the market.  When the market fails (even if it turns around soon and happy days are here again, it will fail again in the future) I’m unhappy – for myself and for the other people who suffer from it. But I’m not lost. I’m not all-in for the market. But I am all in for Jesus.

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2 Responses to The Market

  1. Kim says:

    Doug has always been obsessed with getting the best price on gasoline. I am obsessed with getting what I need just before my car quits burning the fumes from the last tank. I guess we balance each other out nicely.

    We balance in other ways too — he wants a nice house, I want one full of kids and dogs … so we have a nice house that is slightly chewed up, and vibrating with the sounds of Guitar Hero.

  2. joan says:

    these financial thunders make me again wonder what that old testament prohibition against “usuary”
    meant. We always think that it has to do with unfair , exploitive interest, not all interest-bearing transactions.

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