- Inside advice, legal in those days, from friends in the company is a particularly dangerous basis for decisions; you know little how limited their knowledge really is and you are overexposed to sustained enthusiasm;
- Always diversify, particularly for your pension fund;
- Fraud, near-fraud, or colossal incompetence can always strike;
- Don’t buy stocks yourself if you’re an amateur: invest with a relatively rare expert or in a low-cost index;
- Investing when young will start your brain turning on things financial;
- Painful errors teach you more than success does;
- Luck helps; and finally,
- Have a convenient mother to be the fall guy.
Dick Clark didn't poll America to determine their taste in music. He told them their taste in music ... not directly, but by creating common knowledge — ideas that a crowd believes that the crowd believes. With the American Bandstand group dance staging and scripted questions, Clark allowed the TV audience to see a crowd of attractive young people act as if the music were popular. This is all it takes. Clark didn't have to force his preferred choice of popular culture on his audience like some centrally-planned Ministry of Culture. The TV audience chose it all on their own, thinking all along it was their choice! This is the power of the Emperor's New Clothes. This is the power of the sitcom laugh track and the live studio audience. This is the power of public coronations and executions. This is the power of Tahrir Square and Tiananmen Square. This is the power of the crowd seeing the crowd, and it is the most potent force in the social world. It's certainly the most potent force in the social world of markets, and every Central Banker today is playing the Common Knowledge Game just as hard as Dick Clark ever did.
With just a tad more than three weeks left in the year it is time to start focusing on what 2014 will likely bring. Of course, what really happens over the next twelve months is likely to be far different than what is currently expected but issuing prognostications, making conjectures and telling fortunes has always kept business brisk on Wall Street.
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."