This isn’t 1997

One last financial headline from the tail end of 2013: “S&P 500 Little Changed, Poised for Best Year Since 1997” — Bloomberg News. The final years of the 1990s crossed my mind a lot during this past year, my first annum in the boating industry.

I spent a lot of time following business headlines and watching economic charts rise and fall. In the first months of 2013, it became apparent that we were finally heading into a year of solid growth in the recreational motorsports biz. Many wondered, myself included, when it was going to come crashing down. Snake flu, ice-pocalypse, collapse of the Luxembourg economy, a massive dam failure … something.

We gave ourselves a few opportunities to fail throughout the year, with various government shutdowns, fiscal cliffs and other imaginary-but-scary demons. None of them really mattered. Things continued to improve and, in the stock market and automobile market, talk of recovery was superseded with words like “boom” and “bubble.”

Back in 2005, referring back to the salad days of the late 1990s was meant fondly. The stock market seemingly rose every day, just as the unemployment rate fell to historic lows. Asia was rising, but nowhere near the weight it carries in the present day. Global terrorism occasionally gave us clips of foreign lands on the evening news — but it wasn’t a frequent topic at the dinner table.

They were great days. I remember playing a stock market game in school back then. I didn’t win, but everybody realized great returns on investment. The late 1990s were pre-Enron and Internet bubble, too. Invest in Cisco! Energy! Housing! Finance! Pharmaceuticals!

I’ve encountered a lot of 1990s references this year, with many economic indicators posting gains not seen in 10-15 years. This time the references are typically used with hesitation. Our world has changed so significantly in the decades since then.


No quick-cash or zero-down mortgage schemes are coming to inflate our fun-based industries. Housing has recovered, but not boomed, especially accounting for the shift from rural to urban, from single- to multifamily housing that continues marching on. Automobile sales had an amazing year, but general expectations are for this sector to cool in 2014.

This past year has been a time of solidification and gradual improvements. Nothing crazy this time around. Let’s keep an eye on that stock market, though, because it’s the major outlier amid other sustainable trends — which brings us to a lesson: If it doesn’t look or feel right, it probably isn’t. Exercise caution, but go forward with hope.

Tom Kaiser

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