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.
Jeremy Grantham: "I like the analogy of the Fed beating a donkey (the 1% growing economy) for not being a horse (his 3% growing economy). I assume he keeps beating it until it either turns into a horse or drops dead from too much beating!"
Presenting Dave Collum's now ubiquitous and all-encompassing annual review of markets and much, much more. From Baptists, Bankers, and Bootleggers to Capitalism, Corporate Debt, Government Corruption, and the Constitution, Dave provides a one-stop-shop summary of everything relevant this year (and how it will affect next year and beyond).
Or Maybe the Biggest of All Time ...
With a little luck, U.S. GDP growth (even after an increasing squeeze from rising resource costs and environmental damage) should remain modestly positive, even out to 2030 and 2050, in the range of 1% at the high down to a few basis points at worst. Increasingly, the growth will be qualitative. Qualitatively, growth is likely to be limited to services as manufactured goods will bear the brunt of the rising input costs. It would certainly help a lot if considerable changes were made in how GDP is measured. It needs to be closer to what we all apparently think it is already: a reasonable measure of the utility of useful goods and services. The key issue will be how much unnecessary pain we inflict on ourselves by defending the status quo, mainly by denying the unpleasant parts of the puzzle and moving very slowly to address real problems. This, unfortunately, is our current mode. We need to move aggressively with capital – while we still have it – and brain power to completely re-tool energy, farming, and resource efficiency. We need to do all of this to buy time for our global population to gracefully decline. It can certainly be done.
Timberrrrr!... Will Be The Best Performing Asset In Next 7 Years Per Jeremy Grantham; Large Caps To Return 0.0%Submitted by Tyler Durden on 10/15/2012 13:30 -0400
Going forward, when traders yell "Timberrrrrr!" it just may mean the diametrical opposite of what said announcement has traditionally implied. At least according to the latest just released 7 year forecast of various asset class returns as per Jeremy Grantham's GMO. In it, the $100 billion asset manager sees Timber returning an annualized 6.5% over the next 7 years (as of September 2012), outperforming virtually every other asset class tracked by GMO, with Emerging Market stocks (supposedly Africa is envisioned here, as China's debt encumbrance is almost maxed out) second at 6.1%, and International Large stocks in third place. Those who hope to retire with their holdings of US Large Cap firms may want to reconsider, following a 0.0% return in 7 years, underperforming such simple things as cash which GMO sees as returning 0.1% (arguably this implies modest to quite modest deflation in the future). The worst of the worst? US and International bonds, with Inflation Linked bonds underperforming virtually everything with a -2.7% return.
"The economic environment seems to be stuck in a rather unpleasant perpetual loop. Greece is always about to default; the latest bailout is always about to save the day and yet never seems to; China is always about to collapse but instead teases us by inching down; and I swear the Financial Times is beginning to recycle its reports! In the U.S., the fiscal cliff looms along with debt limits and the usual election uncertainties. The dysfunctional U.S. Congress continues for the time being in its intractable ways. The stock market rises and falls and rises and falls again. It is getting difficult to find anything new to say at client meetings. I, for one, wish that the world would get on with whatever is coming next."
It appears that when it comes to mocking consensus groupthink emanating from lazy career 'financiers' who seek protection from their lack of imagination and original thought, 'creation' of negative alpha and general underperformance (not to mention reliance on rating agencies, only to jump at the first opportunity to demonize the clueless raters), in the sheer herds of other D-grade asset "managers" (for much more read Jeremy Grantham explaining this and much more here), David Rosenberg enjoys even more linguistic flexibility than even us. Case in point, his just released trashing of the latest Barron's permabull groupthink effort titled "Outlook: Mostly Sunny." And just as it so often happens, no sooner did those words hit the cover of that particular rag, that it started raining, generously providing material for the latest "Roasting with Rosie."
"You apparently can survive betting against bull market irrationality if you meet three conditions. First, you must allow a generous Ben Graham-like “margin of safety” and wait for a real outlier before you make a big bet. Second, you must try to stay reasonably diversified. Third, you must never use leverage."...It is the classic failing of value managers (and poker players for that matter) to get impatient and bet too hard too soon. In addition, GMO was not always optimally diversified. We are generally more cautious (or, if you prefer, “more experienced”) now than in 1998 with respect to, for example, both patience and diversification, and at least we in asset allocation always stayed away from leverage. The U.S. growth and technology bubble of 2000 was by far the biggest market outlier event in U.S. market history; we had previously survived the 65 P/E market in Japan, which was perhaps the greatest outlier in all important equity markets anywhere and at any time. These were the most stringent tests for managers, and we were 2 to 3 years early in our calls in both cases. Yet we survived, although not without some battle scars, with the great help that we did, in the end, win these bets and by a lot. Hypothetically, resisting the temptation to invest too soon in 1931 may have been a tougher test of survival in bucking the market. Luckily we, and all value managers, were not around to be tempted by that one.