At last report, it still appears as if someone has to win the U.S. presidency despite ample evidence that both leading contenders are doing their level best to fumble away the opportunity.
So let me be among the first to offer my congratulations to Americans' new leader, whichever uninspiring candidate it happens to be.
Here's the good news: You won the election.
Here's the bad news: You won the election.
From an investor's perspective, you now occupy a position roughly equivalent to the First World War soldier chosen to be the first one out of the trenches and into no-man's land.
Yes, it's quite the honour. But you may want to consider why everyone else stared at their shoe laces when the job came up for grabs.
One possible reason – just to put it out there – is that the position carries risks you haven't fully grasped.
For instance, have you looked at the stock market?
Wall Street analysts will tell you that stocks only go up, except of course in cases where stocks go down, which only means an even better buying opportunity. But even analysts' unsinkable optimism may not survive the next few years.
At least two highly regarded money management firms are warning that U.S. stocks offer dismal prospects.
Research Affiliates LLC, the Newport Beach, Calif., firm that has spearheaded many of the "smart-beta" indexing strategies of the past few years, estimates that large U.S. stocks are positioned to produce real returns of about 1 per cent a year over the next decade.
As lacklustre as that sounds, it's better than the outlook for small U.S. stocks, which Research Affiliates says are poised to produce zero profit for their investors over the next 10 years.
Depressing, isn't it? Remarkably, though, the Research Affiliates people look like giddy optimists compared to folks at GMO LLC, the Boston-based money manager that oversees $88-billion (U.S.) in assets.
GMO figures that large U.S. stocks will lose an average of 3.1 per cent of their value each year between now and 2023. Small U.S. stocks will also produce negative returns over that seven-year period, losing about 1.8 per cent a year.
GMO and Research Affiliates come by their pessimism honestly. Over the years, both firms have placed their faith in mean reversion, the idea that profit margins and stock valuations display a strong tendency to come back to long-term trend lines.
Neither forecaster is explicit about its calculations, but both appear to believe that today's market is seriously out of whack with historical norms.
They could be wrong, of course, but the two firms have strong track records and impressive intellectual pedigrees.
The gist of their current thinking is that investors would be well-advised to tilt away from a frothy, fragile U.S. stock market and look toward foreign shores – notably in emerging markets, where returns are likely to be erratic and volatile, but long-term positive for those with the guts to hang on.
It's not an outlook that bodes well for the winner of the election. If Research Affiliates and GMO are even approximately correct, the new president is likely to preside over a serious bear market at some point in the next few years.
Stock market returns are not a president's direct responsibility, or even a primary concern, but there is a strong link between S&P 500 performance and a president's place in public esteem.
Stocks fell during the administrations of Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush; they rose strongly under Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. People remember the latter pair far more fondly than the first duo. Maybe, just maybe, stock returns have something to do with those contrasting opinions.
If so, the winner of the election deserves congratulations – and pity for what is likely to come.