A world, in which former permabears David Rosenberg, Jeremy Grantham and now Hugh Hendry have thrown in the towel and gone bull retard, and where none other than the Chief Investment Officer of General Re-New England Asset Management - a company wholly-owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, has issued one of the direst proclamations about the future to date and blasts the Fed's role in creating the biggest mess in financial history, is truly upside down...
"What keeps us up at night? Well I can’t speak for the others, having spoken too much already to please PIMCO’s marketing specialists, but I will give you some thoughts about what keeps Mohamed and me up at night. Mohamed, the creator of the “New Normal” characterization of our post-Lehman global economy, now focuses on the possibility of a” T junction” investment future where markets approach a time-uncertain inflection point, and then head either bubbly right or bubble-popping left due to the negative aspects of fiscal and monetary policies in a highly levered world. ... investors are all playing the same dangerous game that depends on a near perpetual policy of cheap financing and artificially low interest rates in a desperate gamble to promote growth. The Fed, the BOJ (certainly), the ECB and the BOE are setting the example for global markets, basically telling investors that they have no alternative than to invest in riskier assets or to lever high quality assets. “You have no other choice,” their policies insinuate.... Deep in the bowels of central banks research staffs must lay the unmodelable fear that zero-bound interest rates supporting Dow 16,000 stock prices will slowly lose momentum after the real economy fails to reach orbit, even with zero-bound yields and QE." - Bill Gross
Here’s the crucial part of what Summers and Krugman are saying: this is not a temporary gig. This isn’t going to just “get better” on its own over time. This really is, as Mohamed El-Erian of PIMCO would call it, the New Normal. And if you’re Jeremy Grantham or anyone for whom a stock has meaning as a fractional ownership stake in a real-world company rather than as a casino chip that gives you “market exposure” … well, that’s really bad news... Just don’t kid yourself into thinking that your deep dive into the value fundamentals of some large-cap bank has any predictive value whatsoever for the bank’s stock price, or that a return to the happy days of yesteryear is just around the corner. It doesn’t and it’s not, and even if you’re making money you’re going to be miserable and ornery while you wait nostalgically for what you do and what you’re good at to matter again. Spoiler Alert: Godot never shows up.
Hugh Hendry Capitulates: "Can't Look At Himself In The Mirror" As He Throws In The Towel, Turns BullishSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 11/22/2013 12:55 -0500
"I cannot look at myself in the mirror; everything I have believed in I have had to reject. This environment only makes sense through the prism of trends."
- Hugh Hendry
Barring any exogenous shock, and assuming that current reported earnings estimates actually occur, the S&P 500 will be sporting a P/E ratio of 21.17x in 2015 if fed balance sheet correlations hold. However, if earnings growth stagnates then valuation multiples will rise dramatically from current levels. The further that multiples deviate from the long term mean the greater the eventual reversion will be. Should we have an expectation that the same monetary policies employed by Japan will have a different outcome in the U.S? Anything is certainly possible. However, history suggests that artificial, liquidity driven, market inflations always end poorly.
My personal guess is that the U.S. market, especially the non-blue chips, will work its way higher, perhaps by 20% to 30% in the next year or, more likely, two years, with the rest of the world including emerging market equities covering even more ground in at least a partial catch-up. And then we will have the third in the series of serious market busts since 1999 and presumably Greenspan, Bernanke, Yellen, et al. will rest happy, for surely they must expect something like this outcome given their experience. And we the people, of course, will get what we deserve. We acclaimed the original perpetrator of this ill-fated plan – Greenspan – to be the great Maestro, in a general orgy of boot licking. His faithful acolyte, Bernanke, was reappointed by a democratic president and generally lauded for doing (I admit) a perfectly serviceable job of rallying the troops in a crash that absolutely would not have occurred without the dangerous experiments in deregulation and no regulation (of the subprime instruments, for example) of his and his predecessor’s policy. At this rate, one day we will praise Yellen (or a similar successor) for helping out adequately in the wreckage of the next utterly unnecessary financial and asset class failure. In the meantime investors should be aware that the U.S. market is already badly overpriced. This market is already no exception, but speculation can hurt prudence much more and probably will. Ah, that’s life. And with a Fed like ours it’s probably what we deserve.
It has been a while since we heard from the rational folks over at GMO. Which is why we are happy that as every possible form of bubble in the capital markets rages, Jeremy Grantham lieutenant Ben Inkster was kind enough to put the raging Fed-induced euphoria in its proper context. To wit "the U.S. stock market is trading at levels that do not seem capable of supporting the type of returns that investors have gotten used to receiving from equities. Our additional work does nothing but confi rm our prior beliefs about the current attractiveness – or rather lack of attractiveness – of the U.S. stock market.... On the old model, fair value for the S&P 500 was about 1020 and the expected return for the next seven years was -2.0% after inflation. On the new model, fair value for the S&P 500 is about 1100 and the expected return is -1.3% per year for the next seven years after inflation. Combining the current P/E of over 19 for the S&P 500 and a return on sales about 42% over the historical average, we would get an estimate that the S&P 500 is approximately 75% overvalued."
The U.S. economy weakened appreciably in the first quarter of 2013. But what if this weakness persists into the second quarter just completed, and worsens still in the second half of this year? Q1 GDP, as reported on June 26th, was revised lower to just 1.8%. And various indications suggest that Q2 could come in slightly lower still, at 1.6%. Might the U.S. economy be guiding to a long-term GDP of 1.5%? That’s the rate identified by such observers as Jeremy Grantham – the rate at which we combine aging demographics, lower fertility rates, high resource costs, and the burdensome legacy of debt. After a four-year reflationary rally in just about everything, and now with an emerging interest rate shock, the second half of 2013 appears to have more downside risk than upside. Have global stock markets started to discount this possibility?
One of the problems with QE is that the Fed is forcing people to buy riskier investments than they otherwise would have. The immorality of their actions aside, they create a significant psychological mismatch between assets and their holders. Stocks are in weak hands, insuring one great stampede for the chairs when the music stops.
It’s amazing what people can trick themselves into believing and even shout about when you tell them exactly what they want to hear. It was disappointing to see Brad DeLong’s latest defense of Fed policy, which was published this past weekend and trumpeted far and wide by like-minded bloggers. If you take DeLong’s word for it, you would think that the only policy risk that concerns hedge fund managers is a return to full employment. He suggests that these managers criticize existing policy only because they’ve made bad bets that are losing money, while they naively expect the Fed’s “political masters” to bail them out. Well, every one of these claims is blatantly false. DeLong’s story is irresponsible and arrogant, really. And since he flouts the truth in his worst articles and ignores half the picture in much of the rest, we’ll take a stab here at a more balanced summary of the pros and cons of the Fed’s current policies. We’ll try to capture the discussion that’s occurring within the investment community that DeLong ridicules. Firstly, the benefits of existing policies are well understood. Monetary stimulus has certainly contributed to the meager growth of recent years. And jobs that are preserved in the near-term have helped to mitigate the rise in long-term unemployment, which can weigh on the economy for years to come. These are the primary benefits of monetary stimulus, and we don’t recall any hedge fund managers disputing them. But the ultimate success or failure of today’s policies won’t be determined by these benefits alone – there are many delayed effects and unintended consequences. Here are seven long-term risks that aren’t mentioned in DeLong’s article...
The U.S. stock market rally has recently passed its fourth anniversary after the terrifying lows of March 2009. During that time, massive and unconventional reflationary policy from the Federal Reserve has managed to lift the S&P 500 to new all-time highs. But perhaps even more improbably, it has finally (for now?) built a floor under U.S. residential real estate prices. This 'Less Bad' Recovery continues in other ways as well. Jobs have been created. Not good jobs. Not high paying jobs. Not full time jobs. But some rudimentary sets of tasks and responsibilities that could be called jobs. There has also been deleveraging. But here, too, the scale of debt reduction is nothing close to the unadjusted figures often touted in the media. Americans, and more generally, OECD citizens, remain highly burdened by debt. When combined with poor wage growth, this explains the continued suppressed demand so pervasive in developed nations. And of course, oil prices – as expressed through prices at the pump – remain stubbornly elevated and are likely to persist at their new elevated level. Combined, these factors have kept a lid on consumer confidence and make for a precarious disparity between the stock market and the real economy. Welcome to the Great Constraint - a growing failure to thrive.
The lessons of Jeremy Grantham's recent interview with Charlie Rose seem to be becoming increasingly prescient as the stock market surges to new highs amid a crumbling macro (and micro) economy. "Bernanke is whipping the economic donkey that can only grow at 1-2% as if it was a race horse growing above 3%," and unfortunately he will keep doing it "until the donkey is dead." As Grantham says, it is a "very dangerous situation to have the most powerful man in the world," doing this as simply put, the Fed, "does not have the tools to generate employment." But while Grantham's clarity on Bernanke's actions are unquestionable in their endgame, his views (below) on Keynes, debt, and wealth transfer are even more concerning. "We had this amazing experiment... but we have been conned into believing by the financial world that debt is everything."
In a slight digression from the usual pure market-based discussions of Jeremy Grantham's perspectives, the fund manager addresses what is potentially and even more critical factor for the markets. As he writes, we are in a race for our lives, as our global economy, reckless in its use of all resources and natural systems, shows many of the indicators of potential failure that brought down so many civilizations before ours. By sheer luck, though, ours has two features that might just save our bacon: declining fertility rates and progress in alternative energy. Our survival might well depend on doing everything we can to encourage their progress. Vested interests, though, defend the status quo effectively and the majority much prefers optimistic propaganda to uncomfortable truth and wishful thinking rather than tough action. It is likely to be a close race.
Am I a great investor? No, not yet. To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway’s “Jake” in The Sun Also Rises, “wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?” But the thinking so and the reality are often miles apart. When looking in the mirror, the average human sees a six-plus or a seven reflection on a scale of one to ten. The big nose or weak chin is masked by brighter eyes or near picture perfect teeth. And when the public is consulted, the vocal compliments as opposed to the near silent/ whispered critiques are taken as a supermajority vote for good looks. So it is with investing, or any career that is exposed to the public eye. The brickbats come via the blogs and ambitious competitors, but the roses dominate one’s mental and even physical scrapbook. In addition to hope, it is how we survive day-to-day. We look at the man or woman in the mirror and see an image that is as distorted from reality as the one in a circus fun zone.
Whether you're aware of it or not, a great battle is being waged around us. It is a war of two opposing narratives: the future of our economy and our standard of living. The dominant story, championed by flotillas of press releases and parading talking heads, tells an inspiring tale of recovery and return to growth. The other side, less visible but with a full armament of high-caliber data, tells a very different story. One of growing instability, downside risk, and inequality. As different as they are in substance, they both share one fundamental prediction – and this is why you should care: This battle is about to break. And when it does, one side will turn out to be much more 'right' than the other. The time for action has arrived. To position yourself in the direction of the break you think is most likely to happen. It's time to choose a side.