Marc Faber And Nassim Taleb On Risk, And The One Asset To Own Whether One Is Bearish Or Bullish

Last year's Russia Forum was one of the must see events of the year, pitting such high powered independent thinkers as Marc Faber, Hugh Hendry, Nassim Taleb in a free for all. While the cliffhanger back then was the suggestion by Hendry that he had recreated the Paulson ABX trade with "1.5% downside and 75% upside" (which has since not been fully revealed aside from some occasional snippets in the periodic letters that it is a synthetic China short trade), the true brilliance was in the debate between the Treasury skeptics and the fan (Hendry). That said, with the entire curve surging wider, we hope Hendry took profits on his short as we are now virtually exactly where we were a year ago. This year's forum was just as entertaining, and while it didn't have quite a distinguished audience, it did feature Marc Faber and Nassim Taleb in a discussion of whether Russia is the best or worst BRIC. That said, trust both Faber and Taleb not to stick to the script and go off on wild tangents. Sure enough, the line of the night as usual belonged to Faber: "We have a big debate in the world whether we will have a deflationary collapse or an inflationary boom...usually after a period of very heavy money printing war follows." That is the philosophical gist of it. As for Faber's recommendation, it is precisely the asset which has become a short-seller's nightmare in the current geopolitically fragile environment: oil. "Whether you are very bullish or very bearish you should invest in oil."

Some other key quotes from Faber:

"When it comes to assets there is no asset that is always the best. An asset can be the best at the right price, when the price can be depressed. And the best asset when the price is too high is not a good asset."

"In a deflationary bust you have a credit collapse so the one thing you don't want to own are US government bonds, because they won't be able to pay, and before they can't pay they would print money like there is no tomorrow so the dollar would continuously depreciate which would obviously be good for assets that you can't multiply such as commodities and precious metals."

"I also think it they print money what then usually happens is that standards of living of the middle class and the working class go down, because the cost of living increases faster than wage gains, and so the population becomes very distraught and dissatisfied and eventually the government to stay in power or distract the attention of the people, either goes to war or blames a minority for the mishaps, but usually after a period of very heavy money printing war follows."

"If I invest today, I am considering the following: it is conceivable that because of ultra expansionary monetary policies in the world, and ultra expansionary fiscal policies in the US in particular, we have a temporary crack up boom. And the demand for oil in the western countries which has been declining since 2008, starts to pick up, and combined the oil demand in the world surprises on the upside, and pushes up oil prices, which would be beneficial for the oil producers, in particular Russia and Kazakhstan. Or you have what I think eventually happens: a complete systemic breakdown. I am the most bearish person long-term. If there is a complete breakdown, as I described with money printing and war, you want to be in commodities, specifically oil, because during war times commodity prices go ballistic. So whether you are very bullish or very bearish you should invest in oil."

"I think most emerging stock markets will go down for the next 3-6 months."

As for Taleb, the NYU philosopher once again looks at the world in terms of his favorite risk parameters: fragility vs robustness. Nassim compares the US and Russia on the fragility vs robustness scale. Try to guess which one according to the polymath is the fragile and the robust one.

Faber starts at 25 minutes into the clip, while Taleb is 40 minutes in.



Is Russia the Best or Worst in BRIC? from Troika Dialog on Vimeo.

And as a reminder, here is what Hendry said of Treasury's almost exactly one year ago to the day:

"I am hugely intellectually bullish on Treasuries. I am long. I fear the end of QE, the money funds are making on the [curve], I am aware of the issuance, I am aware that the States is going to have to sell $2.5 trillion of this stuff. But that's the marketplace - the marketplace disseminates the bad stuff. I think there is a lesson in Japan. You think they are going to succeed - Mark [Faber] thinks they are going to create inflation. The precedent of Japan suggest that if you allow leverage in your society to breach a certain level, let's call it 200 or 230% of GDP, then what happens is monetary policy doesn't work, fiscal policy doesn't work. They've had helicopters, they have distributed free money to their citizens, they have built bridges to nowhere and prices are falling and look set to fall further. My fear just now is that the community of risk is very short treasuries, and is very long risk: risk assets are the hedge against inflation. Now if something untoward happens, the gamma on that trade bankrupts you."

Link to the 2010 Russia Forum.