Window Dressing in the Dark: Funds Set to Close Books on 2012 Amidst Market Closure


Studies have shown as much as 95% of us procrastinate. But even if that statistic is high, it's a safe bet that a good chunk of the nation's mutual fund managers didn't get everything on their year-end checklists done by last Friday, largely because they presumed that they would have three day this week to wrap things up for their fiscal year. While you and I still may have 60 days to go before we say goodbye to 2012, the majority of money managers will do so tomorrow, in order to get their final list of holdings and performance figures off to the bookkeeper.

This swirl of activity is typically called window dressing and entails a flurry of last minute transactions designed to get big losers off the books for the new year (or new quarter) in order to start over with as little baggage as possible. Not only do fund managers procrastinate, they also tend to have big egos and therefore hate to admit when they are wrong. It's a quality that - in and of itself - makes closing out positions that didn't work as planned that much more painful, and often times delayed.

So if we assume that markets will re-open (to some degree) on Wednesday, professional investors are not only going to have to jam three days of housekeeping into one, but they will have to do so within a system that still may very well be teetering along at half its normal capacity. Not to over-dramatize the situation, but adding to the chaos will be the fact that most of the so-called pros are "trailing their benchmarks," which is Wall Street's polite way of saying ''getting their tails whooped." (See Related: What it Takes to Close the Stock Market)

You also have to remember that fiscal 2012, while a very good year in total, did not just hand the Dow, S&P 500 and the Nasdaq 7 to 10% gains over the past 12 months. Oh no, it was a year of chasing, a year of false starts, dashed hopes and delayed recovery. It was a year of European turmoil, Chinese slowdown and global central bank coordination to fight it. It was fluctuation between fear and an appetite for risk, that began last November with a month-long sell off, before whipping around and becoming a four-month blistering rally that left many investors in the dust, waiting for an entry point that wouldn't come. Add in a second-quarter correction followed by a summer rally and a post-QE3 slump and you have all the makings of a manic market that was really hard to beat. (See Related: Good Economic Data Meets Bad Earnings: Which One Is Wrong?)

In some ways it almost seems fitting in this year of high stakes politics, torturous economic data, and a looming fiscal cliff that our October Surprise did not come from the mouth of Donald Trump, but rather, from the hand of Mother Nature.

Happy New Year investing professionals. Here's to closing the books on fiscal 2012 with your heads held high and renewed hopes for a fresh start Thursday morning.

View Comments (13)