Why Dylan Grice's Commodities "Pair Trade" Is Irrelevant During Times Of Central Planning And Failed Market Efficiency

Tyler Durden's picture

Some time ago, SocGen's Dylan Grice wrote an extended essay which could be synthesized in the following line: "to be 'long commodities is to be short human ingenuity'." Many took this statement as a sign of capitulation from the otherwise highly skeptical Grice, who not once has criticized the current financial and economic status quo.  Last week, as Zero Hedge pointed out, Grice made the effort to clear up any confusion about why gold is not and was never meant to be included under this broad umbrella defintion: "although I've said I'm not a fan of plain commodities as investment vehicles because buying commodities was equivalent to selling human ingenuity, I exclude gold from that logic. I prefer to see buying gold as buying into the stupidity of governments, policy-makers and economists, and I'm comfortable doing that." Then over the last few days, Diapason Securities' Sean Corrigan, took a turn at also deconstruction the corollary to the Grice "pair trade" adding the key qualifier: "while Mr. Grice is right in so far as he goes, he has only stated half the case. The true dictum is that 'to be long commodities is to be short human ingenuity but also to be long political stupidity and avarice.'" What has gotten Corrigan so riled up? Why the same underlying premise that makes all those who once had a fascination with the stock market, deride and ridicule it: namely the fact that in doing all he can to flip reality by 180 degrees, Ben Bernanke has completely destroyed the core principle of capital markets: price formation by way of proper information content, i.e. "the free market [must] be allowed to work its magic and that price formation not be deprived of much of its crucial informational content by our dysfunctional monetary and, hence, corrupted financial systems." Sadly, free markets are now only a topic best left to the history books, and as such any idealistic perspective on commodities and the like must take this key persistent variation from the mean into account.

An extract from Sean Corrigan's latest "Material Evidence":

Recently, the always-interesting Dylan Grice at SocGen received some well deserved blog virality for his aphorism that to be 'long commodities is to be short human ingenuity' — a sentiment with which the current author is fully in accord.

Several years ago — during the first wave of rediscovery of commodities as an investible medium — we used to warn everyone to whom we presented the relevant investment case not to confuse the exigencies of commodity production with the fashionable millennialism of the anti- carbon, Green Malthusians who pose such a threat to our future well-being, whether they are active at the bottom end of the power structure in their most virulently Luddite, Neo-pagan guise or conspiring together at its pinnacle, among the elite Fabians of Davos and the UN.

In our formulation of the issue, we used to say that, as with any good or service which meets an unanticipated demand, the signal encapsulated in any sustained rise in prices would trigger a compensating reaction we called I2E2S2 - namely, Innovation, Economisation, and Substitution driven by an Investment guided by Entrepreneurialism and fuelled by Savings.

The overriding caveat, however, was and remains that this beneficial adaptation requires that the free market be allowed to work its magic and that price formation not be deprived of much of its crucial informational content by our dysfunctional monetary and, hence, corrupted financial systems.

If we accept this line of reasoning, you quickly come to see that while Mr. Grice is right in so far as he goes, he has only stated half the case. The true dictum is that 'to be long commodities is to be short human ingenuity but also to be long political stupidity and avarice.'

This is therefore not so much an outright as a paired trade (or perhaps a call option where Grice's view constitutes the time decay element): one firmly based on Franz Oppenheimer's observation that the only two ways to acquire wealth are to make it through honest work, or, once someone else has made it, to take it thence by dishonesty and force, i.e., via the terrifying apparatus of the state.

It is true that it has been humankind's great good luck that, on the broadest of time scales and over most of its known history, the former has tended to win out over the latter, which is why even the most ordinary of us today, in lands where the sanctity of contract and the rule of impartial law are not completely dead letters, enjoy a material standard of living greater than any of which the tyrants of old could dream. Every man a Sun King, even despite a stultifying bureaucracy and penal levels of taxation.

However, to know that we usual win the war against our would-be oppressors is not to say that we may not lose the occasional battle, or even be bested in one or two more protracted campaigns. It is during these reverses that commodities tend to do their best, eschewing the slow, secular path of declining real prices for a medium term advance, often interspersed with spectacular spikes, periods during which the returns to invested capital in other forms are usual exceedingly hard to come by.

War is the obvious case in point: inflation (always a state-incubated pestilence) is another and hardly a novel one, either. As Karachi newspaper baron and would-be monetary reformer, Sir Montagu de Pomeroy Webb, had already noted in 1912:-

"Reference has already been made to the fact that gold [i.e., money] is now slowly but steadily depreciating in value—that prices are everywhere rising. To all fixed wage earners, and particularly to all workers on the lowest stages of the mechanism of modern production, (i.e., to over three quarters of the population of every nation, India included), this loss of purchasing power involves the cruellest injustices which it ought to be one of the first aims of Government to remove.., promoting the manufacture of millions after millions of [new money]... is simply to swell the volume.., available in the world, and so to emphasize the rise in prices which, on every ground, —justice, expediency, sound administration,—it is Government's first duty to arrest."

No longer the first duty to arrest, but rather the first duty to ensure, alas!

But to these two concentrated evils we must add the whole litany of venality, special-interest rent- seeking, and economic illiteracy which may manifest themselves in a far less striking fashion but which, nonetheless, are far more insidious — and certainly more persistent - inhibitors of the capitalist immune system.

With the rights to so much of the resource base of the world claimed as
its fiefdom by the dead hand of the state and so subject not just to a
lamentably inefficient and ill-directed exploitation, but to a heavy and
harmfully inconsistent burden of taxation and regulation, is it any
wonder that the scope for the exercise of 'human ingenuity' can
sometimes seem so cramped?

With voluntary choices about the merits of commodity usage - subject to
consumer sovereignty under the discipline of hard budgetary arithmetic -
being abrogated in favour of wasteful, collectivist conceits such as
biofuel legislation or the forced diversion of time, capital, and effort
such to woefully, sub-optimal boondoggles as windmills and
sun-catchers, are we surprised when 'human ingenuity' does not manage to
forestall all occasions for a counter-secular rise in hydrocarbon

When governments - whose own execrable record in providing the framework
for the enjoyment of just and transparent property rights thus condemns
their people to scrabble unnecessarily at the edges of subsistence -
penalise production (as well as encourage precautionary stockpiling
elsewhere) by imposing arbitrary export bans, while simultaneously
subsidizing the consumption of motor gasoline, or wheat, or cooking oil,
in order to placate the immiserized masses, can we really expect 'human
ingenuity' to alleviate any increase in scarcity in the swiftest and
most rational manner?

When, in accordance with the unsung triumph of Silvio Gesells'
ideas, the global monetary Hoi Phyllakes routinely attempt
to atone
for each of their preceding, disastrous interventions by promoting yet
further debasements of the medium of exchange and by overtly
cheerleading the resulting rise in asset prices - which, nowadays, must
inevitably include assets based upon the prices of raw materials (a Bad
Thing!) as well as those of financial claims upon those same materials'
makers and users (a Good One!) - are we then so shocked to find so much
of that same 'human ingenuity' being devoted to making money from the
process of despoilment rather than engineering solutions to it?

Sadly not.


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Cpl Hicks's picture

"the only two ways to acquire wealth are to make it through honest work, or, once someone else has made it, to take it thence by dishonesty and force."

Oh, really? How about getting lucky at the slot machine or with a lottery ticket? You can marry it or inherit it. You could have been one of the early employees of Microsoft (a FYIFV 'club' member).

gmrpeabody's picture

"can marry it or inherit it"

They would fall under the second category.

slewie the pi-rat's picture

the e4 has some hot licks.

w/ the run on the banx, we're steamin in!

duh.  what else does our mil. shine it's brass for, anymore? corrigan seems incorrigible,  sounds like he may hava bit o the blarney pumpin, which may at least partly explain his ability to see straight.  ty, T.

be pretty cool if, in solidarity w/ the people of egypt, we cld get a few big gunners to cash out, along with the small fries fryer chefs,  tomorrow morning.  don't even buy the puts. just get out, go to ground, and hang out. following TD, here, hang w/ the PM's (don't sell yer money for green stamps).YouTube - Meet Asmaa Mahfouz and the vlog that Helped Spark the Revolution (fr. a blindman)

get out now, and avoid the rush. we're talkin 2 vigs for the egyptian peeps, and maybe a re-entry point you can live with, if there's anything left, by wed.  unwind.  relax.  take a few days off w/ yer family.

share their ankhst! peace.

slewie the pi-rat's picture

you could gives the banks a little kiss, too:  ya might wanna visit an ATM near you during halftime, if ya can still navigate, or just while out if not into the stupor bowl, and let rocky (not the squirrel, ok, peabody?) know how yer feelin. whose money is it?  seems like the banksters might  have some kinda bowel blockage and maybe justa little drano would  be just the tick-ette...  i have TWO accounts, one w/ a little over $10, the other? $2+++.  NB:  do not take ALL the green stamps out, b/c the shitheads will automatically close the acoount for you, if you doodoo.

hoi, hoi, hoi polloi!

fractional fractal fracture?


slewie the pi-rat's picture

there is no substitute for luck, Corporal;  ya certainly got that right.

keep yer head down and don't be a hero;  if ya hafta advance to the rear, di di mau!

mynhair's picture

Ala, (I served in Vietnam) Kerry.

slewie the pi-rat's picture

most of the heroes in DC volunteered.  i was drafted, and decided to go, after a chat about it with my mother.  kafka-esque experiences; a few nightmares and sweats afterwards, but i never filed for any disabilities, and threw my medals in the fuking sewer, along w/ about a miilion other men who likewise marched.  assuming hicks is on active duty, i hope you don't mind me encouraging him to make it home in one piece too much...

blind squirrel's picture

I often think the same thing about people trading on technicals today.  Doesn't technical trading sort of assume a free market and people looking to make profit and/or protect principal.  The fed's inexorable buying regardless of looming losses kind of makes support and resistance levels meaningless.

Dismal Scientist's picture

Not owning commodities, in all their various forms, constitutes financial suicide. Never mind the nonsense about 'shorting human ingenuity', that is strictly for the intellectual masturbators.

slewie the pi-rat's picture

cash talks, bullshit walks.  be advised.

0'course the PM's are gonna hafta be settled in green stamps pdq, anyhow.

i think i'm gonna CUM!!!!


Dollar Bill Hiccup's picture

"Freedom!" -- Mel Gibson as William Wallace on the rack.

Zhongguo markets have neither been free nor transparent for quite some time (Decades?).

Meiguo markets have neither been free nor transparent for quite some time. Wishful thinking says since 2007. Probably at least since 2001.

BernankeHasHemorrhoids's picture

Bernanke is a criminal who should be swinging from a light pole.

Panafrican Funktron Robot's picture

Yeah, lost a bit going short at a litte under Dow 10K, went long at 10.8 and have been riding it since.  So frickin' retarded, this market.  What can you do though.

OptionsHedge's picture

The assumption that the markets were ever efficient is a hole for Alice in Wonderland.

slewie the pi-rat's picture

YouTube - Down the Rabbit Hole

the doorknob may have been one of corrigan's progenitors...


slewie the pi-rat's picture

you look like you might have an i for detail, OH.

doncha think butterfly straddles are pretty?

KickIce's picture

When you see that government is running society into the ground you do it for personal insurance.  To think that if another is incapable or refuses to come to this realization it is MY fault is beyond stupidity.

slewie the pi-rat's picture

no doubt, you are entitled to your insurance.  i am incapable.  too poor.  i have a few things.  insurance is not one of them.  i like silver (physical---a few coins).  and peace.  and for children to eat.

stupid is what stupid does, sir.   1 or 2 outa three ain't good.  just one man's opinion.  you are most welcome to yours, also.  peace.

mynhair's picture

The true dictum is that 'to be long commodities is to be short human ingenuity but also to be long political stupidity and avarice.'

More truer words have never been spoken.  BTFD!

mynhair's picture

Ron Paul to the Bernank: What part of "I will not monetize the debt". was a lie?

The "I"?

slewie the pi-rat's picture

ah, the time decay of 'options'...  the sure, steady heartbeat of the Faustian Fallacy.......................................................................................................................................................

tom's picture

Since gold is fundamentally an ornament, the only way that innovation could affect its value would be if someone invented new ways to find or extract it (this has happened historically, especially with the invention of cross-Atlantic travel, but seems well pretty exhausted now), or if some newly invented ornaments supplanted demand for gold (which, although new ornaments are constantly being invented, seems never to have happened in many thousands of years of human history).

Besides, innovation is too slow of a process to interfere much with the usually short-term bets on supply/demand of raw materials that people make when they say they are "long commodities".

epwpixieq-1's picture

"to be 'long commodities is to be short human ingenuity'."

to be 'long commodities is to be short in human stupidity'.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the the universe.”  · Albert Einstein

Panafrican Funktron Robot's picture

The trick in the commodity space is to be long on that which supports human ingenuity (rare earths), AND the commodities that act as a counterbalance to our more destructive impulses (precious metals).  It definitely doesn't have to be an either/or situation here. 

Panafrican Funktron Robot's picture

Another point I felt was missed was the reality that the near-universal commodity run up is basically just a way of shorting paper currency as a whole.  As human ingenuity (of the productive kind) is actually protected by hedging against human ingenuity (of the destructive kind), I see this activity as being humanity-positive overall.  Yes, I do realize that real people are being systematically killed as a result of the price increase in essential commodities such as rice, I in no way place the blame on the folks buying the commodities, but rather the folks pushing the paper currency policy that forces the commodity buys.