Bloomberg - A Few California Farmers Have Lots of Water. Can They Keep It? 5-15min

A handful of landowners—about 500 farms in all—control the rights to 3.1 million acre-feet a year from the Colorado River. That’s equal to about a third of the water used by California’s cities, with 37 million people, where a four-year drought means neighbors report you if your lawn is green. Or, to measure another way, it’s half again as much water as Governor Jerry Brown aims to save under his April executive order, which set a February 2016 deadline for a 25 percent reduction in urban use. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons (1.2 million liters) and can supply the household needs of about 10 people for a year, though actual water use rates vary widely. ... Imperial Valley farmers know their water is precious and understand that to preserve a way of life that runs back a century they have to grapple with the needs of a drought-stricken state. Politicians, regulators, and lawyers have squeezed the valley before to get at its water. In 2003, the Imperial Irrigation District, under pressure from Senator Dianne Feinstein and other federal and state officials, controversially agreed to sell as much as 280,000 acre-feet a year to San Diego. Farmers here still discuss that episode at length, and emotions are still raw, because they believe similar water transfers are likely in the valley’s future. ... “People think transferring water out of the valley is a great sin,” he says. “Wasting water can be an even greater sin.” The neatly prepared field he’s inspecting is perfectly level—he uses lasers to make sure—and slightly lower than adjacent sections so water moves by gravity at an optimal speed. ... The most basic principle governing water use in the western U.S. is this: first in time, first in right. That’s why Imperial Valley farmers have so much water. They arrived early, building the first canal to withdraw Colorado River water and ship it to the valley in 1901. ... More than half the people who own land in the valley today live elsewhere.

Artemis Capital - Volatility and the Allegory of the Prisoner’s Dilemma: False Peace, Moral Hazard, and Shadow Convexity > 15min

Today we have the highest living standards in human history that co-exist with an ability to destroy our planet ecologically and ourselves through nuclear war. We are in the greatest period of stability with the largest probabilistic tail risk ever. The majority of Americans have lived their entire lives without ever experiencing a direct war and this is, by all accounts, rare in the history of humankind. Does this mean we are safe from the risk of devastating conflict on our own soil? ... Peace has a dark side. Peace can exist due to hidden conflict in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. ... Global Capitalism is trapped in its own Prisoner’s Dilemma; forty four years after the end of the Bretton Woods System global central banks have manipulated the cost of risk in a competition of devaluation leading to a dangerous build up in debt and leverage, lower risk premiums, income disparity, and greater probability of tail events on both sides of the return distribution. Truth is being suppressed by the tools of money. Market behavior has now fully adapted to the expectation of pre-emptive central bank action to crisis creating a dangerous self-reflexivity and moral hazard. Volatility markets are warped in this new reality routinely exhibiting schizophrenic behavior. The tremendous growth of the short volatility complex across all assets, combined with self-reflexive investment strategies, are creating a dangerous ‘shadow convexity’ that will fuel the next hyper-crash. Central banks in the US, Europe, Japan, and China now own substantial portions of their own bond or equity markets. We are nearing the end of a thirty year “monetary super-cycle” that created a “debt super-cycle”, a giant tower of babel in the capitalist system. As markets now fully price the expectation of central bank control we are now only one voltage switch away from the razors edge of risk. Do not fool yourself - peace is not the absence of conflict – peace can exist on the very edge of volatility. ... Since 2012, the Federal Reserve have been engaged in a pre-emptive war against financial risk, and other central banks are forced to follow suit in a self-reinforcing cycle of devaluation and a mad game of Prisoner’s Dilemma. This unofficial, but clearly observable policy has the unintended consequence of socializing risk for private gain and introduces deep ‘shadow’ risks in the global economy. ... At this stage, absent continuous intervention, a large deflationary crash in the global economy is inevitable. The greatest risk is that if central banks continue a policy of competitive devaluation and hyper-asset bubbles the end result will be an even more devastating crash, followed by sovereign defaults, and then class warfare. The next Lehman brothers will be a country. The real ‘shadow convexity’ will not come from markets but political unrest or war. ... History shows us that economic recovery from a depression has never been successfully engineered without major debt reduction, devaluation, default, hyperinflation, political revolution, or world war.

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Hoisington - Economic Realities 5-15min

Future business activity will reflect two economic realities: 1) the over-indebted state of the U.S. economy and the world; and 2) the inability of the Federal Reserve to initiate policies to promote growth in this environment. ... The first reality has been widely acknowledged, as developed and developing countries both have debt-to-GDP ratios sufficiently large to argue for a slowing growth outlook. ... The second economic reality is the failure of the Federal Reserve to produce economic progress despite years of wide-ranging efforts. The Fed’s zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) and quantitative easing (QE) have been ineffectual, if not a net negative, for the economy’s growth path. ... The evidence speaks for itself: the Fed cannot print money. The Fed does not have the authority or the mechanism to print money. They have not, they are not and they will not print money under present laws.

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Wired - Solar, Eclipsed 5-15min

Coal? Or the Sun? The power source India chooses may decide the fate of the entire planet. ... Already Earth’s fastest-growing major economy and its biggest weapons importer, India is on track to become the world’s most populous nation (probably by 2022), to have its biggest economy (possibly by 2048), and potentially to build its biggest military force (perhaps by 2040). What China was in the American imagination in the 1990s and 2000s, India will be in the next two decades—a cavalcade of superlatives, a focus of fears. ... officials and academics have long argued that Western nations are demanding that India industrialize without burning even a fraction of the fossil fuels that developed nations consumed when they industrialized. And Indians resent that Western nations insist on the right to judge Indian performance while refusing to help with the cost of transition. ... India’s demand for electricity is widely expected to double by 2030. …= Soon after being elected prime minister in 2014, he announced that India would produce 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022 (the US now has about 20 gigawatts). ... To generate electricity from it, India plans to build 455 new coal-fired electric power plants, more than any other nation—indeed, more than the US now has. (India’s existing 148 plants, which provide two-thirds of its electricity, are among the world’s dirtiest and most inefficient.)

AEI - Isn’t it ironic? The outlook for Federal Reserve policy 5-15min

Fed Chair Janet Yellen is widely viewed as a dovish central banker, but she is about to lead her institution into a prolonged campaign of raising the policy interest rate. Starting now is a tactical decision on Yellen’s part to achieve her longer-run strategic aim. Hiking the funds rate, even as economic growth disappoints and inflation remains subdued, buys Yellen the credibility with her colleagues and market participants to subsequently tighten slowly. Thus, US monetary policy will remain accommodative for a considerable period. ... That Yellen may go down in central banking history as “The Great Tightener” appears to pose more than a little irony, perhaps to the coming surprise and irritation of Senate Democrats who signed a letter to the president endorsing her Fed-chair candidacy in 2013. Yet, the shift in policy does not reflect a transformation of her beliefs, but rather their pursuit by different means. Tightening now follows logically from Yellen’s understanding of the economic outlook and the dynamics of the Fed’s policymaking group, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). Hiking the funds rate, even as economic growth disappoints and inflation remains subdued, buys Yellen the credibility with her colleagues and market participants to subsequently tighten slowly. That is, Yellen positions herself now as a conservative central banker to ensure that she can be a compassionate one later by allowing Fed policy to remain considerably accommodative for a considerable time. ... An important ongoing conversation is in our future: who is right about rates in the long run, the Fed or investors?

PIMCO - Serial Financial Crises, r* and the Savings Glut < 5min

Famous German soccer coach Sepp Herberger once said, “After the match is before the match.” The same can be said for financial markets: After the crisis is before the crisis. The complication, of course, is that while soccer players usually know exactly when the next match will kick off, the timing of the next crisis is always uncertain for financial players. All we know is that, eventually, there will be another one. ... What’s perhaps less obvious is that the global savings glut also helps to explain the occurrence of financial bubbles and subsequent crises of the past few decades. ... the global savings glut plays an important role in explaining this evidence. How? Excess savings not only pushed down r* and actual interest rates but also drove up asset prices and caused serial asset bubbles in equities, emerging markets, housing, credit, eurozone peripheral bonds and commodities. Whenever a bubble burst, it sparked financial distress and crisis. ... there is a feedback loop between financial crises and the savings glut. This is because a financial crisis and the related destruction of wealth leads to even higher desired saving (or deleveraging), and because the depressing impact on growth reduces investment and thus the demand for savings. ... now that exhaustion has set in almost everywhere for many unconventional policy tools, such as quantitative easing, there is a significant risk that central banks may not be able to deal effectively with the next crisis. ... It’s likely the only viable way out would be a joint effort by the major countries to raise public spending on infrastructure, education, and more in order to absorb excess savings and raise r*.

FRBNY - Crisis Chronicles: The Cotton Famine of 1862-63 and the U.S. One-Dollar Note < 5min

When the U.S. Civil War broke out in 1861, cotton was king. The southern United States produced and exported much of the world’s cotton, England was a major textile producer, and cotton textiles were exported from England around the world. At the time, many around the world depended on cotton for their livelihood. The South believed this so deeply that when the North blocked Southern ports to cut off the South’s primary means of financing war—cotton sales—Southern leaders were sure that Britain would enter the war on their side. That never happened. So when cotton supplies dried up in late 1862, thousands in Manchester and Lancashire who either directly or indirectly depended on cotton for a living found themselves without work. In this post, we describe the British cotton famine of 1862-63 and the stoic British national response. We draw primarily from a fascinating BBC Radio broadcast on the subject and John Watts’ matter-of-factly named Facts of the Cotton Famine, published in 1866.

Eurasia Group - Top Risks 2016 > 15min

1. The Hollow Alliance: The trans-Atlantic partnership has been the world’s most important alliance for nearly seventy years, but it’s now weaker, and less relevant, than at any point in decades. It no longer plays a decisive role in addressing any of Europe’s top priorities. Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and the conflict in Syria will expose US-European divisions. As US and European paths diverge, there will be no more international fireman—and conflicts particularly in the Middle East will be left to rage.
2. Closed Europe: In 2016, divisions in Europe will reach a critical point as a core conflict emerges between Open Europe and Closed Europe—and a combination of inequality, refugees, terrorism, and grassroots political pressures pose an unprecedented challenge to the principles on which the new Europe was founded. Europe’s open borders will face particular pressure. The risk of Brexit is underestimated. Europe’s economics will hold together in 2016, but its broader meaning and its social fabric will not.
3. The China Footprint: Never has a country at China’s modest level of economic and political development produced such a powerful global footprint. China is the only country of scale today with a global economic strategy. The recognition in 2016 that China is both the most important and most uncertain driver of a series of global outcomes will increasingly unnerve other international players who aren’t ready for it, don’t understand or agree with Chinese priorities, and won’t know how to respond to it.
4. ISIS and “Friends”: ISIS is the world’s most powerful terrorist organization, it has attracted followers and imitators from Nigeria to the Philippines, and the international response to its rise is inadequate, misdirected, and at cross purposes. For 2016, this problem will prove unfixable, and ISIS (and other terrorist organizations) will take advantage of that. The most vulnerable states will remain those with explicit reasons for ISIS to target them (France, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United States), and those with the largest numbers of unintegrated Sunni Muslims (Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and across Europe).
5. Saudi Arabia: The Saudi Kingdom faces a growing risk of destabilizing discord within the royal family this year, and its increasingly isolated status will lead it to act more aggressively across the Middle East this year. The threat of intra-royal family strife is on the rise, and a scenario of open conflict, unimaginable prior to King Salman’s January 2015 ascension, has now become entirely realistic. The key source of external Saudi anxiety is Iran, soon to be free of sanctions.
6. The rise of technologists: A variety of highly influential non-state actors from the world of technology are entering the realm of politics with unprecedented assertiveness. These newly politically ambitious technologists are numerous and diverse, with profiles ranging from Silicon Valley corporations to hacker groups and retired tech philanthropists. The political rise of these actors will generate pushback from governments and citizens, generating both policy and market volatility.
7. Unpredictable Leaders: An unusually wide constellation of leaders known for their erratic behavior will make international politics exceptionally volatile this year. Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan are leaders of an unruly pack that includes Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and – to a lesser but important extent – Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko. These unpredictable leaders make our list for 2016 because their interventions overlap and conflict. One powerful, erratic leader spells trouble; four spell volatility with major international implications.
8. Brazil: President Dilma Rousseff is fighting for her political survival, and the country’s political and economic crisis is set to worsen in 2016. Contrary to hopes among pundits and many market players, the battle over Rousseff’s impeachment is unlikely to end the current political stalemate. Should the president survive, her government won’t gain the political boost necessary to move on the economic reforms needed to tackle the country’s growing fiscal deficit. If Rousseff is ousted, an administration led by Vice President Michel Temer won’t fare much better.
9. Not enough elections: Emerging markets underwent a historic cycle of national elections in 2014-2015, but this year there are relatively few opportunities for EM voters to make themselves heard at the ballot box. As slower growth and stagnating living standards stoke popular discontent, governance and stability will suffer. Historically, markets have been less volatile in non-election years, but this time will be different. By raising popular expectations, the massive income growth that most EMs enjoyed over the past 10 years has created conditions for a rude awakening.
10. Turkey: After a decisive victory for his AK party in late-2015, President Erdogan will now push to replace the country’s parliamentary system with a presidential one. He’s unlikely to reach his goal in 2016, but his aggressive electioneering will further damage an already battered Turkish business and investment climate. On the security front, there is little prospect of an imminent end to PKK violence, and unrelenting US pressure on Ankara to clamp down on the Islamic State will produce only modest results while making Turkey more vulnerable to new attacks by ISIS.
* Red Herrings: US voters aren't going to elect a president who will close the country to Muslims. China’s economy isn’t headed for a hard landing, and its politics will remain stable. Continued strong leadership from Japan's Shinzo Abe, India's Narendra Modi, and especially China's Xi Jinping will keep Asia's three most important players focused on economic reform and longer-term strategy, reducing the risk of conflict in Asia’s geopolitics.

National Geographic - Why We (Still) Can’t Live Without Rubber 5-15min

Because rubber is so common, so unobtrusive, so dull, it may not seem worth a second glance. This would be a mistake. Rubber has played a largely hidden role in global political and environmental history for more than 150 years. You say you want an industrial revolution? If so, you need three raw materials: iron, to make steel for machinery; fossil fuels, to power that machinery; and rubber, to connect and protect all the moving parts. Try running an automobile without a fan belt or a radiator hose; very bad things will happen within a minute. Want to send coolant around an engine using a rigid metal tube instead of a flexible rubber hose? Good luck keeping it from vibrating to pieces. Having enough steel and coal to make and drive industrial machinery means nothing if the engines fry because you can’t cool them. ... To the extent that most people think about rubber at all, they likely picture a product made from synthetic chemicals. In fact, more than 40 percent of the world’s rubber comes from trees, almost all of them H. brasiliensis. Compared with natural rubber, synthetic rubber is usually cheaper to produce but is weaker, less flexible, and less able to withstand vibration. For things that absolutely cannot fail, from condoms to surgeon’s gloves to airplane tires, natural rubber has long been the top choice. ... Iron can be found around the globe; so can fossil fuels. But rubber today is grown almost exclusively in Southeast Asia, because the region has a unique combination of suitable climate and infrastructure. Despite all the ups and downs in the global economy, the demand for tires continues to grow, which has created something akin to a gold rush in Southeast Asia. For millions of people in this poor part of the world, the rubber boom has helped bring prosperity

GMO - Just How Bad Is Emerging, and How Good Is the U.S.? (Inker) p. 1-16 > 15min

Is it any wonder investors are questioning why they allocate to emerging markets in the first place? Even going beyond the woes of emerging, we are starting to hear some investors asking whether holding non-U.S. stocks is at all necessary. As market historians we can say that the timing of such sentiments tends to be bad – no one seems to ever decide to give up on an asset class after it has just had good performance, and the last burst of “why bother with non-U.S. stocks” occurred just before the top for the S&P 500 in 2000. But just complaining that investors got it wrong last time they voiced these sentiments does not qualify as thoughtful analysis. ... while emerging markets “deserved” some of their bad luck over the last several years and the outperformance of the U.S. has made some sense, we do not believe that emerging is a value trap, nor do we believe that the U.S. has proved itself particularly extraordinary. ... In total, we can surmise that emerging currencies are a “risk asset” of sorts and that they have delivered a return above U.S. cash over time and should probably continue to do so given the capital needs and vulnerabilities of emerging economies. ... even if the U.S. has somehow managed to unlock the secret to permanently high profits and the economy remains solid, it seems unlikely that the secret will remain an entirely U.S. phenomenon. If we imagine a world in which U.S. profitability is able to remain well above historical levels, we would expect non-U.S. companies to begin to copy their American counterparts, similar to the way profitability converged from the 1970s to the early 2000s. ... we have seen an impressive expansion of American profitability that has not been mirrored in the rest of the world, and U.S. stocks have duly outperformed. This has, not surprisingly, led investors to try to convince themselves of the inherent superiority of U.S. stocks to justify continuing to hold them. We cannot completely reject the possibility that those arguments are correct, but the evidence seems pretty thin.

VoxEU - The profitability of early coinage < 5min

Minting small change was a big, expensive problem in the ancient world. This column argues that the ancient Lydian government and Greek city-states absorbed the cost of producing an extremely wide array of denominations of coins as a political strategy. Governments had much to gain from the spread of coinage in managing budgetary affairs. If it subsidised the mint, an ancient government would make savings in terms of transaction costs.

Wall Street Journal - Population Implosion: How Demographics Rule the Global Economy 5-15min

The developed world’s workforce will start to decline next year, threatening future global growth ... Ever since the global financial crisis, economists have groped for reasons to explain why growth in the U.S. and abroad has repeatedly disappointed, citing everything from fiscal austerity to the euro meltdown. They are now coming to realize that one of the stiffest headwinds is also one of the hardest to overcome: demographics. ... For the first time since 1950, their combined working-age population will decline, according to United Nations projections, and by 2050 it will shrink 5%. The ranks of workers will also fall in key emerging markets, such as China and Russia. At the same time the share of these countries’ population over 65 will skyrocket. ... reflects two long-established trends: lengthening lifespans and declining fertility. Yet many of the economic consequences are only now apparent. Simply put, companies are running out of workers, customers or both. In either case, economic growth suffers. As a population ages, what people buy also changes, shifting more demand toward services such as health care and away from durable goods such as cars. ... Demographic forces are assumed to be slow-moving and predictable. By historical standards, though, these aren’t ... it took 80 years for the U.S. median age to rise seven years, to 30, by 1980, and just 34 more to climb another eight, to 38. ... There is no simple answer for how business and government should cope with these changes, since each country is aging at different rates, for different reasons and with different degrees of preparedness.

Oaktree - On the Couch 5-15min

This memo is my attempt to send the markets to the psychiatrist’s couch, and an exploration of what might be learned there. ... One of the most notable behavioral traits among investors is their tendency to overlook negatives or understate their significance for a while, and then eventually to capitulate and overreact to them on the downside. ... “Everyone knew” for years that the Chinese economy had been overstimulated with cheap financing, and that this had led to excessive investment in fixed assets. … One of the most significant factors keeping investors from reaching appropriate conclusions is their tendency to assess the world with emotionalism rather than objectivity. Their failings take two primary forms: selective perception and skewed interpretation. ... The bottom line is that investor psychology rarely gives equal weight to both favorable and unfavorable developments. Likewise, investors’ interpretation of events is usually biased by their emotional reaction to whatever is going on at the moment. ... in the real world, things generally fluctuate between “pretty good” and “not so hot.” But in the world of investing, perception often swings from “flawless” to “hopeless.” ... There is a general sense among my colleagues that investors have gone from evaluating securities based on the attractiveness of their yield (with company fundamentals viewed optimistically) to judging them on the basis of the likely recovery in a restructuring (with fundamentals viewed pessimistically).

VoxEU - Trends and prospects for private-sector deleveraging in advanced economies < 5min

Major advanced economies have made mixed progress in repairing the private sector’s balance sheets. This column explores private sector deleveraging trends and calls for a set of policies that will return debt to safer levels. Monetary policies should support private sector deleveraging and policymakers should not ignore the positive impact of debt restructuring and write-offs on non-performing loans. ... Projections of debt ratios based on World Economic Outlook data of inflation and growth suggest that nominal growth might not be sufficient to eliminate high debt loads everywhere. Blanchard (2015) warns that there are no magic long-run debt-to-GDP numbers to target but a number of countries that saw sharp increases in debt levels would still remain above their pre-crisis averages (Figure 1). For example, gross non-financial corporate debt in France, Japan, Portugal, and Spain would remain above or near 70% of GDP by 2020 under current World Economic Outlook projections of growth and inflation, higher than their pre-crisis averages and higher than those of other major advanced economies.

The Economic Times - A million engineers in India struggling to get placed < 5min

Somewhere between a fifth to a third of the million students graduating out of India's engineering colleges run the risk of being unemployed. Others will take jobs well below their technical qualifications in a market where there are few jobs for India's overflowing technical talent pool. Beset by a flood of institutes (offering a varying degree of education) and a shrinking market for their skills, India's engineers are struggling to subsist in an extremely challenging market. … According to multiple estimates, India trains around 1.5 million engineers, which is more than the US and China combined.

Aeon - Money talks 5-15min

There is a common story about what money is, which is based on a common story about how money came to be. In the beginning, people lived in small communities of blood relatives and fended for themselves. They hunted and gathered for their subsistence, and learned how to weed out undesirable plants so that they would have easy access to plants that produce food. As people became more adept at cultivation, populations grew. And people found that they could not always grow or procure from nature the things they needed in order to survive. Trade was born. ... People in different communities had surpluses of different goods. They traded these goods with one another. They established value and conducted their trade by bartering a certain quantity of one good for a quantity of a different good. ... lugging around his own goods in sufficient quantities to trade became burdensome and impractical. Furthermore, stockpiling his surplus might have worked up to a point, but once the mice and the weather got at it, it quickly became worthless. ... In some accounts, people decided to use a thing of value to them, and intrinsically recognisable as valuable to others, for money. It would initially serve as a means of exchange, and would gradually take on other classic functions of money as people expanded their use of it to include the payment of fines, tribute or fees (as in ancient administrative states, tribute-based empires or the tax collectors of the Old Testament). Certain kinds of shells were good: they were pretty, of uniform size and shape, easily transportable, and durable. Precious metals were even better: they were universally valued; they did not rot, rust or degrade; and they were easy to store and to transport. ... Other accounts consider implausible the idea that certain things are of intrinsic value. ... an important problem in the history of money: is it a commodity in itself, or a token of an existing agreement, an agreement in turn resting on a prior social relationship? ... are new forms of money really more efficient? They often come at a price, after all. What does efficiency mean? Efficient for what purposes, and when?

McKinsey - Digital America: A tale of the haves and have-mores [Executive Summary] 5-15min

Digital capabilities, adoption, and usage are evolving at a supercharged pace. While most users scramble just to keep up with the relentless rate of innovation, the sectors, companies, and individuals on the digital frontier continue to push the boundaries of technology use—and to capture disproportionate gains as a result. ... The pronounced gap between the digital “haves” and “have-mores” is a major factor shaping competition at all levels of the economy. The companies leading the charge are winning the battle for market share and profit growth; some are reshaping entire industries to their own advantage. Workers with the most sophisticated digital skills are in such high demand that they command wages far above the national average. Meanwhile, there is a growing opportunity cost for the organizations and individuals that fall behind. ... provide a comprehensive picture of where and how companies are building digital assets, expanding digital usage, and creating a more digital workforce. ... also quantifies the considerable gap between the most digitized sectors and the rest of the economy over time and finds that despite a massive rush of adoption, most sectors have barely closed that gap over the past decade. ... Digitization is changing the dynamics in many industries. New markets are proliferating, value chains are breaking up, and profit pools are shifting. Businesses that rely too heavily on a single revenue stream or on playing an intermediary role in a given market are particularly vulnerable. In some markets, there is a winner-take-all effect. For companies, this is a wake-up call to use their digital transformation to reinvent every process with a fresh focus on the customer.

Research Affiliates - Peak Profits < 5min

Earnings per share for the S&P 500 Index peaked in the third quarter of 2014. The dramatic plunge in the prices of oil and industrial commodities as a result of slowing demand from China together with increased supply from the United States, decimated energy and materials companies’ profits. In the years ahead, oil production will decline to remove excess capacity, prices will again rise above costs, energy company margins will recover, and market-level earnings will return to a normal rate of growth. ... The future secular real rate of growth in corporate profits is far more important than the current commodity cycle to investors’ long-term real wealth accumulation. During the past quarter-century, politically facilitated globalization allowed profits to grow much faster than per capita GDP, wages, and productivity, propelling capital’s share of income to an unsustainable extreme. ... The distribution of the economic pie is ultimately a political choice. With populist frustration increasingly pressuring policy change around the world, investors should expect labor, tax, and interest expense to rise faster than sales, thereby depressing profit margins and slowing real growth in earnings per share over the decades ahead.

JP Morgan - Planet of the Aches > 15min

Some aches and pains are constraining the global economy, with more severe strains occurring in the emerging world. We believe contagion to the US and Europe will be limited in 2016, and expect their consumer revivals to continue, courtesy of low inflation, low commodity prices, central bank intervention and reduced fiscal austerity. However, above-average equity valuations, peaking corporate earnings momentum and stagnant productivity growth will likely result in a year of modest single- digit returns on diversified portfolios. ... This year’s cover art transforms some well-known aches and pains: exhaustion, tinnitus, periodontitis, bronchitis, acid reflux, hangovers, restless leg syndrome, appendicitis, conjunctivitis, anemia, mononucleosis, E. coli infections, iron deficiency, narcolepsy, macular degeneration and altitude sickness. These aggravating but generally not life- threatening conditions are meant to convey a slow growth world, but not one on the precipice of collapse or recession. Competitive devaluations are unlikely to alleviate these aches and pains; successive rounds of currency depreciation in Europe and Asia mostly redistribute income across countries, rather than boost aggregate demand. ... Most of these conditions are homegrown: Latin American and Australian overexposure to commodity prices, weak consumer activity in Japan, economic dissonance across countries in the Eurozone, a surge in dollar-borrowing emerging economies and slowing corporate profits growth in the US. However, some conditions are the result of contagion: “ECBotulism” refers to the impact of ECB policy on countries like Sweden that are forced to engage in destabilizing quantitative easing, or lose export market share (see page 15 for more details). As for Canada, there was no need to transform the name of an illness for our cover: “Dutch Disease” refers to an economic condition in which one sector of the economy (in this case, oil and gas) drives the currency to such a high level that it causes medium-term damage to the rest of the country’s export sectors.

Brookings - The Other Aging of America: The Increasing Dominance of Older Firms 5-15min

Like the population, the business sector of the U.S. economy is aging. Our research shows a secular increase in the share of economic activity occurring in older firms—a trend that has occurred in every state and metropolitan area, in every firm size category, and in each broad industrial sector. ... The share of firms aged 16 years or more was 23 percent in 1992, but leaped to 34 percent by 2011—an increase of 50 percent in two decades. The share of private-sector workers employed in these mature firms increased from 60 percent to 72 percent during the same period. ... Perhaps most startling, we find that employment and firm shares declined for every other firm age group during this period. We explore three potential contributing factors driving the increasing share of economic activity occurring in older firms, and find that a secular decline in entrepreneurship is playing a major role. We also believe that increasing early-stage firm failure rates might be a growing factor. ... We are unable to find strong evidence of a direct link between business consolidation and an aging firm structure. Though we document a clear rise in consolidation during the last few decades, it doesn’t appear to be a major contributor to business aging directly—which has been occurring across all firm size classes, and the most in the smallest of businesses. ...This leaves some questions unanswered, but it clearly establishes that whatever the reason, it has become increasingly advantageous to be an incumbent, particularly an entrenched one, and less advantageous to be a new entrant. ... The trends described here raise some cause for concern in our view. Holding all factors constant, we’d expect an economy with greater concentration in older firms and less in younger firms to exhibit lower productivity, potentially less innovation, and possibly fewer new jobs created than would otherwise be the case.

Aeon - The new astrology 5-15min

Unlike engineers and chemists, economists cannot point to concrete objects – cell phones, plastic – to justify the high valuation of their discipline. Nor, in the case of financial economics and macroeconomics, can they point to the predictive power of their theories. ... In the hypothetical worlds of rational markets, where much of economic theory is set, perhaps. But real-world history tells a different story, of mathematical models masquerading as science and a public eager to buy them, mistaking elegant equations for empirical accuracy. ... take the extraordinary success of Evangeline Adams, a turn-of-the-20th-century astrologer whose clients included the president of Prudential Insurance, two presidents of the New York Stock Exchange, the steel magnate Charles M Schwab, and the banker J P Morgan. To understand why titans of finance would consult Adams about the market, it is essential to recall that astrology used to be a technical discipline, requiring reams of astronomical data and mastery of specialised mathematical formulas. ... ‘An astrologer’ is, in fact, the Oxford English Dictionary’s second definition of ‘mathematician’. For centuries, mapping stars was the job of mathematicians, a job motivated and funded by the widespread belief that star-maps were good guides to earthly affairs. The best astrology required the best astronomy, and the best astronomy was done by mathematicians – exactly the kind of person whose authority might appeal to bankers and financiers. ... Romer believes that macroeconomics, plagued by mathiness, is failing to progress as a true science should, and compares debates among economists to those between 16th-century advocates of heliocentrism and geocentrism. Mathematics, he acknowledges, can help economists to clarify their thinking and reasoning. But the ubiquity of mathematical theory in economics also has serious downsides: it creates a high barrier to entry for those who want to participate in the professional dialogue, and makes checking someone’s work excessively laborious. Worst of all, it imbues economic theory with unearned empirical authority.

BlackRock - Investors Must Account For Complex Market Fault Lines 5-15min

As we have observed in the past, financial markets appear to solely focus on one major risk/return catalyst at any given time, before, like a bored teenager, turning attention to the “next new thing.” Over the past year and a half, we have seen primary market focus transition from the dramatic decline in oil prices, to economic stresses in China, and most recently to the forthcoming referendum in the United Kingdom and the possibility of “Brexit.” We are not for a moment suggesting that these factors are unimportant, as indeed they are all critical parts to a broader puzzle, but we would suggest that stepping back to apprehend the full image on the puzzle is vital when too many market participants are overly focused on one part of it. In fact, we think that such an overly limited focus in a world of complex market crosscurrents may be part of what leads many to underperform. To that end, we seek to take a broader view with our market outlook. ... In this edition of the outlook we begin by sorting through and evaluating some partial market myths that have recently been promulgated to explain market volatility. These include exaggerated concerns that the volatility is due to bond market illiquidity, or overdone assertions that markets are being driven higher and lower primarily on the back of oil price movements. Rather, we think that secular structural changes involving demographic trends and profound technological innovations are much more important considerations when judging those forces that are truly impacting economic and asset valuation dispersions. Further, we believe these secular challenges should also be the focus of the risk factors that represent the major fault lines in markets today, or the locations of potentially serious left tail risks.

Blackrock
Hoisington - 2015’s Surging Debt 5-15min

Most significant for future growth, however, is that the additional layer of debt in 2015 is a liability going forward since debt is always a shift from future spending to the present. The negative impact, historically, has occurred more swiftly and more seriously as economies became extremely over-indebted. Thus, while the debt helped to prop up economic growth in 2015, this small plus will be turned into a longer lasting negative that will diminish any benefit from last year’s debt bulge. ... Our economic view for 2016 remains unchanged. The composition of last year’s debt gain indicates that velocity will decline more sharply in 2016 than 2015. The modest Fed tightening is a slight negative for both M2 growth and velocity. Additionally, velocity appears to have dropped even faster in the first quarter of 2016 than in the fourth quarter of 2015. Thus, nominal GDP growth should slow to a 2.3% - 2.8% range for the year. The slower pace in nominal GDP would continue the 2014-15 pattern, when the rate of rise in nominal GDP decelerated from 3.9% to 3.1%. Such slow top line growth suggests that spurts in inflation will simply reduce real GDP growth and thus be transitory in nature.

Hoisington
McKinsey - Digital globalization: The new era of global flows [Executive Summary] 5-15min

Conventional wisdom says that globalization has stalled. But although the global goods trade has flattened and cross-border capital flows have declined sharply since 2008, globalization is not heading into reverse. Rather, it is entering a new phase defined by soaring flows of data and information. ... Remarkably, digital flows—which were practically nonexistent just 15 years ago—now exert a larger impact on GDP growth than the centuries-old trade in goods ... although this shift makes it possible for companies to reach international markets with less capital-intensive business models, it poses new risks and policy challenges as well. ... The world is more connected than ever, but the nature of its connections has changed in a fundamental way. The amount of cross-border bandwidth that is used has grown 45 times larger since 2005. It is projected to increase by an additional nine times over the next five years as flows of information, searches, communication, video, transactions, and intracompany traffic continue to surge. In addition to transmitting valuable streams of information and ideas in their own right, data flows enable the movement of goods, services, finance, and people. Virtually every type of cross-border transaction now has a digital component.

Digital flows
Absolute Return Partners - Abnormalities in the New Normal 5-15min

My point is a simple one: Innovations are rarely life-changing events nowadays. Almost as important, at least from a macro-economic point of view, they are not likely to have nearly the same impact on productivity as the car had on the productivity of my parents, or the washing machine had on my grandmother’s ability to free up precious time. Productivity enhancements simply get more and more marginal, even if we think that all these new gadgets are wonderful. ... I am aware that there are people out there who would disagree with that statement; they don’t think the marginal impact of innovations is diminishing at all, but the macro-economic data suggests otherwise. ... at the most fundamental level, the change in economic output is equal to the sum of the change in the number of hours worked and the change in the output per hour. ... The workforce will fall nearly 1% per year in Japan and Korea between now and 2050; it will fall almost 0.5% per year in the Eurozone but only marginally in the UK, whereas it will rise almost 0.5% per year in the U.S. Significant regional differences in economic growth are therefore to be expected, but economic growth will be weak everywhere, at least when compared to what we got used to between the early 1980s and the Global Financial Crisis (‘GFC’). Those who argue that GDP growth will be disappointingly low for many years to come are on very solid ground. ... Some dynamics behave in the New Normal no different from the way they used to, but many don’t. In the following, I will review some of the outliers, and I will explain why (and how) that is an opportunity for investors, as long as the investment strategy is adjusted accordingly. Only the most naïve would expect an investment strategy that worked well in the great bull market to deliver similar, spectacular results in the years to come.