“Hyperinflation and hyper-deflation are just two different forms of the same phenomenon: credit collapse. Arguing which of the two forms will dominate is futile: it blurs the focus of inquiry and frustrates efforts to avoid disaster.”
I think this is a time where people will look back on us and see it as a period of practically central bank worship. The central bankers – Draghi, Yellen, Bernanke – have become almost celebrities in America. People have invested unreasonable hopes in what these central banks can know, and what they can do. I think that, sooner or later, the investing public will become disillusioned of these ideas.... I dare say that stock prices will not continue to rise uninterrupted at the same pace. That’s not a very interesting prediction, but the stock market is certainly a cyclical thing. I think it’s fair to observe that today’s ultra-low interest rates flatter stock market valuations. Stock prices are partly valued based on a discounted flow of dividend income. To the extent that the discount rate you use to value that stream of dividend income, which depends on interest rates, is artificially low, stock prices are artificially high. I think that the burden of proof is on anyone who would assert that we are in a new age of persistently and steadily rising stock prices.
On Nov. 15, 2010, a letter signed by academics, economists and money managers warned that the Federal Reserve's strategy of buying bonds and other securities to reduce interest rates risked "currency debasement and inflation" and could "distort financial markets." As Bloomberg reports, they also said it wouldn't achieve the Fed's objective of promoting employment. Four years later, many members of the group, which includes Seth Klarman of Baupost Group LLC and billionaire Paul Singer of Elliott Management Corp., explain why they stand by the letter's content...
"The central bank imposed interest rates are the source of global financial instability now and in the future," warns Grant's Interest Rate Observer's Jim Grant, adding that "The Fed... has manipulated us into a period of quite eerie stability and measured volatility." Grant believes, given the values (and aware of the risks) that Russian "stocks stand to do very well," and also likes mining stocks as he warns credit markets are overvalued (especially sovereign debt). His conclusion, own gold as "it stands to benefit from the demonstrated, as opposed the theoretically likely, crack up of the [current] monetary arrangements."
There has been no forward progress in US hourly compensation over the last half century. How it is possible that the world’s richest and most technologically advanced economy ever, operating during a 50-year period that included the invention of the Internet … the triumph of capitalism in China and Russia … and a landing on the moon – that is the most bountiful half-century in human history – failed to make its most important component parts better off. And at the bedrock level, we find the explanation: Fed policies are dangerous claptrap.
The only thing that can be said about Janet Yellen’s simple-minded paint-by-the-numbers performance yesterday is that the Keynesian apotheosis is complete. American capitalism and all political life, too, is now ruled by a 12-member monetary politburo, which is essentially accountable to no one except its own misbegotten doctrine that prosperity flows from the end of a printing press.
“Excessively low interest rates are inflationary because they mean that bonds, stocks, real estate and unincorporated businesses are capitalized at excessively high rates, and will fall in value even though the annual income they pay remains the same, if interest rates rise.” If interest rates were artificially low, it would follow that prevailing investment values are artificially high. I contend that they are, and you may or may not agree. Natural interest rates — free-range, organic, sustainable — are what we need. Hot-house interest rates — the government’s puny, genetically modified kind — are the ones we have.
We do not need “monetary policy” any more than we need a paintbrush policy, a baseball bat policy, or an automobile policy. We do not need a monopoly institution to create money for us. Money, like any good, is better produced on the market within the nexus of economic calculation. Money creation by government or its privileged central bank yields us business cycles, monetary debasement, and an increase in the power of government. It is desirable from neither an economic nor a libertarian standpoint. If we are going to utter monetary truths, this one is the most central and subversive of all.
In three concisely-worded, precisely-defined, factually-correct minutes, Jim Grant not only deconstructs Janet Yellen's mumblings this morning but explains how each of the Fed's three beholden doctrines...
- We believe in price control
- We believe in market manipulation
- We believe in the Phillips Curve
...have been discredited as heresies over time; and, as Grant so poetically notes, Yellen "did not touch on the moral quandary that low interest rates introduce into our country - grandmothers, grandfathers, savers are figuratively on their hand and knees and rooting around in bushes and between sofa seats for lose change on which to sustain themselves."
From 110 slides of Ackman-inspired Fannie Mae bullishness to Tudor-Jones "Central Bank Viagra", and from Jim Grant's "Buy Gazprom because it's the worst-managed company in the world" to Jeff Gundlach's housing recovery bearishness and "never seeing 1.5 million home starts ever again"... there was a little here for every bull, dick, and harry at the Ira Sohn conference. Perhaps noted behavioral psychologist said its best though: "be careful about the quality of advice you get."
For 18 years, the Ira Sohn Conference has enabled hedge fund managers to pitch their best long (and short) ideas to the rest of the investing public. This year's speakers include Bill Ackman, David Einhorn, Jeff Gundlach, Jim Grant, and Paul Tudor Jones. Listen carefully, trade accordingly, but bear in mind the following table when judging just how masterful of the universe these guys really are...
At the young age of 22 Henry Hazlitt figured out the future involves too many factors for anyone to predict, not to mention just knowing what the relevant factors are. Jim Grant admitted it took him 40 years in the business to finally realize he couldn’t understand the future, noting, however, unfortunately the folks working at the Eccles Building have not come to this realization. The PhDs believe they can depreciate the currency at the proper rate to cause everyone gainful employment and live happily ever after. Hazlitt also has a fan in Rich Santelli who notes that if government makes loans, that private lenders won’t make, to entities that can’t pay back, economic signals get destroyed, and chaos ensues. Chaos, indeed...
With 40% of the portfolio in cash and having returned $4 billion to clients at year-end, Seth Klarman's Baupost Group has "drawn the line in the sand" as they reflect on the diminished opportunities in the so-called "Truman Show" market we see today. In the face of mixed economic data and at a critical inflection point in Federal Reserve policy, Klarman notes, the stock market, heading into 2014, resembles a Rorschach test - "what investors see in the inkblots says considerably more about them than it does about the market." From "born bulls" to "worry genes" and from Bitcoin to flash-mob-speculation, "there is a growing gap between the financial markets and the real economy...and the overall picture is one of growing risk and inadequate potential return almost everywhere one looks... as every 'Truman' under Bernanke’s dome knows the environment is phony."
In less than 30-seconds, the always eloquent founder of the Interest Rate Observer 'translates' Yellen's Fed speak into reality:-
"What we mean to do is continue to nationalize the yield curve... and we would like to enlist the stock market in a program of wealth creation for the security holders of America."
The Fed has manipulated interest rates for 100 years but Grant adds, "never - until now - has it manipulated the stock market as if it were a lever of public policy." His discussion ranges from the bubble in Biotech to holding Gold (which he describes as "nature's bitcoin") because it is "the reciprocal of faith in Central Banks."