Will investing based on fundamentals eventually find favor once again with investors? The problem is that market participants no longer view the financial markets as a place to invest savings over the "long term" to ensure future purchasing power parity. Today, they view the markets as a place to "create" wealth to offset the lack of savings. This mentality has changed the market dynamic from investing to gambling. As Seth Klarman warned, "There is a growing gap between the financial markets and the real economy. Not surprisingly, lessons learned in 2008 were only learned temporarily. These are the inevitable cycles of greed and fear, of peaks and troughs." Simply put, fundamentals will matter, but only after the fact.
Yet another in a long stream of relatively esteemed hedge fund managers has decided enough-is-enough and is shuttering his firm. The reason? Same as the rest... As WSJ reports, Steve Eisman, who emerged as one of the stars of the financial crisis with a winning bet against mortgages, has wound up his fund because he believes that "making investment decisions by looking solely at the fundamentals of individual companies is no longer a viable investment philosophy." As Baupost's Seth Klarman reminds us "Six years ago, many investors were way out over their skis. The survivors pledged to themselves that they would forever be more careful, less greedy, less short-term oriented. But here we are again, mired in a euphoric environment in which some securities have risen in price beyond all reason, where leverage is returning to rainy markets and asset classes, and where caution seems radical and risk-taking the prudent course. Not surprisingly, lessons learned in 2008 were only learned temporarily. These are the inevitable cycles of greed and fear, of peaks and troughs."
As the Buddha taught, “This is like this, because that is like that.” Extraordinary long-term market returns come from somewhere. They originate in conditions of undervaluation, as in 1950 and 1982. Dismal long-term returns also come from somewhere – they originate in conditions of severe overvaluation. Today, as in 2000, and as in 2007, we are at a point where “this” is like this. So “that” can be expected to be like that." As Seth Klarman from Baupost Capital recently stated: "Can we say when it will end? No. Can we say that it will end? Yes. And when it ends and the trend reverses, here is what we can say for sure. Few will be ready. Few will be prepared."
The conventional view of deflation is that if it sets in, “the banking industry, the financial markets, and much of the rest of the economy will be wiped out in a bottomless deflationary spiral.” But, such a spiral would not prove fatal to the lives and welfare of the general population. Rather, it would destroy “essentially those companies and industries that live a parasitical existence at the expense of the rest of the economy, and which owe their existence to our present money system.” Let us be more explicit. Severe deflation threatens at an existential level bankrupt banks and the bankrupt governments that perpetuate their existence. Deflation is a mortal enemy to the heavily indebted state and its embedded parasites, but it is a friend to the saver and to anyone with a positive net worth.
The market has had a rough start of the year flipping between positive and negative year-to-date returns. However, despite all of the recent turmoil from an emerging markets scare, concerns over how soon the Fed will start to hike interest rates and signs of deterioration in the underlying technical foundations of the market, investors remain extremely optimistic about their investments. It is, of course, at these times that investors should start to become more cautious about the risk they undertake. Unfortunately, the "greed factor," combined with the ever bullish Wall Street "buy and hold so I can charge you a fee" advice, often deafens the voice of common sense. "Not surprisingly, lessons learned in 2008 were only learned temporarily. These are the inevitable cycles of greed and fear, of peaks and troughs."
Howard Marks once wrote that being a "contrarian" is a lonely profession. However, as investors, it is the downside that is far more damaging to our financial health than potentially missing out on a short term opportunity. Opportunities come and go, but replacing lost capital is a difficult and time consuming proposition. So, the question that we will "ponder" this weekend is whether the current consolidation is another in a long series of "buy the dip" opportunities, or does "something wicked this way come?" Here are some "words of caution" worth considering in trying to answer that question.
Ordinarily Grant Williams would bet the ranch on this spat being defused diplomatically and everybody leaving the negotiating table a little disgruntled (which would mean the outcome was just about perfect); but he suspects that markets have become dangerously conditioned — by one perfectly executed landing after another in recent years — to expect (and position for) the best. The trouble is we've been here before and pulled back from the brink every time, but this time that outcome is expected again by most, and that is extremely dangerous; as markets are most assuredly NOT ready for reality. Add to that the fact that every new Fed chief gets a serious test - perhaps it is Yellen's turn?
"All the Trumans – the economists, fund managers, traders, market pundits –know at some level that the environment in which they operate is not what it seems on the surface…. But the zeitgeist is so damn pleasant, the days so resplendent, the mood so euphoric, the returns so irresistible, that no one wants it to end."
Klarman is here referring to the waning days of this third and greatest financial bubble of this century. But David Stockman's take is that the crack-up boom now nearing its dénouement marks not merely the season finale of still another Fed-induced cycle of financial asset inflation, but, in fact, portends the demise of an entire era of bubble finance.
Seth Klarman's comments on "The Truman Show" market and "born bulls" appeared to upset the status quo today on CNBC leaving none other than Joe Kernan and then later, Jim Cramer questioning Klarman's credentials with a passive-aggressive "when did Klarman turn negative? We should look into that..." question. We found it intriguing and wondered how much the investing public weights the differing views of these veritable titans of stock market wisdom. The answer - a market-based answer - lie in the purest measure of all... the cost of acquiring their knowledge...
- Index of largest Chinese stocks drops to lowest since February 2009 (BBG)
- Plane-Debris Hunters Seek Suspected Aircraft Window Part (BBG)
- New-Home Building Is Shifting to Apartments (WSJ)
- Forward Guidance Risks Stoking Instability, BIS Says (BBG)
- Alleged Bitcoin Millionaire Nakamoto Gets $28,000 Donations (BBG)
- Mexico kills drug kingpin reported dead years ago (Reuters)
- Tencent to Buy 15% Stake in JD.com to Boost E-Commerce (BBG)
- Bitcoin exchange MtGox 'faced 150,000 hack attacks every second’ (Telegraph)
- Noyer Says Stronger Euro Creates Unwarranted Pressure on Economy (BBG)
- Russian Forces Gain in Ukraine as Separatist Vote Looms (BBG)
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."
As Bill Clinton once famously stated; "What is....is" and while the current market "IS" within a bullish trend currently, it doesn't mean that this will always be the case. This is why, as investors, we must modify Clinton's line to: "What is...is...until it isn't." That thought is the foundation of this weekend's "Things To Ponder." In order to recognize when market dynamics have changed for the worse, we must be aware of the risks that are currently mounting.
If they’re bailing on the market… what are the odds trouble is approaching?
Size matters, it would seem, in the world of elite hedge fund managers. George Soros' Quantum Fund had its 2nd-best year on record, adding $5.5bn (22%) to the pound-breaking billionaire's horde and has now shifted above Ray Dalio's Bridgewater fund as the most successful hedge fund of all time. As The FT reports, since inception in 1973, Quantum has generated almost $40bn. Four other funds including Tepper's Appaloosa, Mandel's Lone Pine, and Klarman's Baupost also made more than $4 bn for their investors. Since they were set up, the top 20 hedge funds have made 43 per cent of all the money made by investors in more than 7,000 hedge funds.
These men are masters of the capital markets. They are voting with their feet and pulling their capital out of them. Given that their personal compensation is closely linked to assets under management and profit sharing, this decision is akin to the choice to forego additional wealth that could be made quite easily (none of these individuals would have trouble raising several billion more in capital) rather than trying to find opportunities in a challenging market.