Many in the art world are worried about bubbles. The market, they say, is becoming too fast, and too short term. They have reason to fret. The price swings for these artists – rises and falls of 500% or more in less than two years – make this market more volatile than even the most turbulent financial ones. Mini-crashes are becoming more common. They risk doing both financial and creative damage to the art world – financial, because it could put off serious, long-term investors; creative, because artists burn out before they really get started. ... The blame for this is directed at a new breed of art dealer, known as “flippers”. In contrast to a traditional dealer, who may stay with an artist for a lifetime and keeps tight control over who buys his work, flippers buy low and sell high to anybody who will buy. They treat art as though it were a financial instrument. ... His plan is based on his second big influence, the notion of “creative destruction” set out in Joseph Schumpeter’s book “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”. ... Simchowitz dislikes the art-world hierarchy, which he thinks excludes people from buying art; he would like to dislodge it and make art easier to see and buy.
Financial markets accommodate both prudent insurers and reckless gamblers. They provide investors with an opportunity to diversify their portfolios, and allow gamblers to bet on future movements in interest rates. The coexistence of the two can allow speculators to make profits by stabilising prices—buying when markets are fearful, and selling when they are greedy. But when the gambling motive overwhelms the insurance motive, speculation becomes destabilising and then risk, far from being minimised by careful management, becomes concentrated in the hands of those who understand least what they are doing. And when regulators perceive insurance when they should see wagering, their actions magnify a crisis rather than minimise it. Such destabilising speculation, mischaracterised by regulatory authorities as prudent risk assessment, is what caused the global financial crisis of 2008. ... The coexistence of insurance and gambling goes back to the earliest days of markets in risk, and the interaction of the two has been central to financial history. But it was four developments in the second half of the 17th century that combined to frame the way we think about risk, and the institutions we have for dealing with it, through to the present day.
Along the way there were early signs that things had changed. First was the decline from the greatest bubble in US equity history, the 2000 tech bubble. Compared to the previous high of 21x earnings at the 1929 bubble high, this 2000 market shot up to 35x and when it finally broke, it fell only for a second to touch the old normal price trend. And then it quite quickly doubled. Compare that experience to the classic bubbles breaking in the US in 1929 and 1972 (Exhibit 2) or Japan in 1989. All three crashed through the existing trend and stayed below for an investment generation, waiting for a new crop of more hopeful investors. The market stayed below trend from 1930 to 1956 and again from 1973 to 1987. And in Japan, the market stayed below trend for… you tell me. It is 28 years and counting! Indeed, a trend is by definition a level below which half the time is spent. Almost all the time spent below trend in the US was following the breaking of the two previous bubbles of 1929 and 1972. After the bursting of the tech bubble, the failure of the market in 2002 to go below trend even for a minute should have whispered that something was different. Although I noted the point at the time, I missed the full significance. Even in 2009, with the whole commercial world wobbling, the market went below trend for only six months. So, we have actually spent all of six months cumulatively below trend in the last 25 years! The behavior of the S&P 500 in 2002 might have been whispering in my ear, but surely this is now a shout? The market has been acting as if it is oscillating normally enough but around a much higher average P/E. ... We value investors have bored momentum investors for decades by trotting out the axiom that the four most dangerous words are, “This time is different.”2 For 2017 I would like, however, to add to this warning: Conversely, it can be very dangerous indeed to assume that things are never different. ... I believe it was precisely these other factors – increased monopoly, political, and brand power – that had created this new stickiness in profits that allowed these new higher margin levels to be sustained for so long.
They think Amazon is going to grow faster, longer and bigger than almost any firm in history ... only ten firms with sales of more than $50bn have managed to grow by an average of 15% or more for ten years straight since 1950; no company with sales of more than $100bn has done so. If Amazon were to pull it off, it would be the most aggressive expansion of a giant company in the history of modern business. ... That raises two questions. The first is how Amazon could possibly achieve this. The second is which industries it might upend in the process. ... Mr Bezos claims, as a corollary to thinking only of customers, never to think of rivals. However, the list of current and possible competitors that Amazon is required to include in its annual filings is long and getting longer. It ranges from retailers and search engines to film producers and, as of last year, logistics and advertising firms. ... the best defence is simple: sell something that customers want and Amazon does not have. Exceptional merchandise and service helps.
Investment rules shouldn’t be static. Investors should adapt their rules per the environment they are in. From experience, I can confirm that those who don’t adapt usually get into trouble sooner or later. My first and most important rule when investing is therefore a rule that defines the rules I should adhere to. ... What exactly do I mean by that? How can I possibly have a rule about rules? Allow me to explain. As I see things, there are rules and then there are rules. The most important ones always apply; those are my first frontier rules. There are not many of them, but they are all critically important. ... The second layer of rules – the second frontier – are strictly speaking not rules but principles. I treat them as rules, though, because I follow them almost whatever happens.
A skyrocketing interest in Amedeo Modigliani’s work is producing Picasso-level price tags, with major museum shows stoking the flame. Buyers are wary, though: the mystery surrounding one of the world’s most-faked artists has led to death threats, lawsuits, and hoaxes. ... Perhaps appropriately for one of the world’s most faked artists, there have even been fake fakes. Experts, meanwhile, are jockeying to be recognized as the ultimate authority on what should and should not be accepted as authentic. ... The stakes are high and are only getting higher. Modigliani prices, long dormant, have been climbing dramatically. Liu Yiqian, a former taxi driver who built a fortune in the stock market and has become one of China’s leading art collectors, paid $170.4 million in 2015 at Christie’s in New York for a Modigliani painting, Nu Couché (Reclining Nude). The previous record for a Modi-gliani was $70.7 million, paid at Sotheby’s in 2014 for a carved-stone head of a woman. The acceleration in the Modigliani market is said to have begun in 2010 at a Christie’s sale in Paris, where a Modigliani sculpture, expected to sell for between $5 million and $7 million, went for $52 million. ... Modigliani died of tubercular meningitis in Paris in 1920 at the age of 35.
Talking Tom Cat was an instant hit, launching a franchise whose titles have reached No. 1 in more than 100 countries on the App Store. Today, almost 350 million monthly active users support the apps, and Tom’s YouTube channel has more than 2 billion views. Unlike many mobile app creators, the Logins have proved adept at turning popularity into profit. Playing Talking Tom triggers an onslaught of advertising and in-game purchase offers, and Outfit7 earns more than $100 million a year. In early 2016 the Logins decided to cash out, hiring Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to find the most lucrative deal. ... The industrialists were willing to match the Logins’ asking price of $1 billion and let their team maintain autonomy. Samo and Iza signed away their company—having never taken money from outside investors, their stake was worth about $600 million. ... It’s hard to see the synergies between a maker of chemical solvents and a digital cat perched over a toilet. And curiously, the buyer, which had recently been renamed Zhejiang Jinke Entertainment Culture Co., had revenue of only $133 million in 2016, according to Bloomberg data pulled from regulatory filings, and its gross profit was $55 million. Jinke won’t say where the money to buy Outfit7 came from. ... The deal activity can best be understood as a consequence of quirks in the Chinese stock market. In China, industrial companies trade at valuations they’d never receive elsewhere in the world. ... some may trade at as much as 100 times their annual earnings—more than four times the multiple of General Electric Co. This means they can acquire companies at what is effectively a discount. ... Chinese companies are betting that by adding game studios that have better margins than a stodgy industrial business, their stock price will rise.
Since I’ve written so many cautionary memos, you might conclude that I’m just a born worrier who eventually is made to be right by the operation of the cycle, as is inevitable given enough time. I absolutely cannot disprove that interpretation. But my response would be that it’s essential to take note when sentiment (and thus market behavior) crosses into too-bullish territory, even though we know rising trends may well roll on for some time, and thus that such warnings are often premature. I think it’s better to turn cautious too soon (and thus perhaps underperform for a while) rather than too late, after the downslide has begun, making it hard to trim risk, achieve exits and cut losses. ... Since I’m convinced “they” are at it again – engaging in willing risk-taking, funding risky deals and creating risky market conditions – it’s time for yet another cautionary memo. Too soon? I hope so; we’d rather make money for our clients in the next year or two than see the kind of bust that gives rise to bargains. (We all want there to be bargains, but no one’s eager to endure the price declines that create them.) Since we never know when risky behavior will bring on a market correction, I’m going to issue a warning today rather than wait until one is upon us.
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Long-time GMO clients have become accustomed to a certain kind of behavior from our asset allocation portfolios. If they are reading stories about how well an asset class has been doing, chances are pretty good that their next account statement will show that we are a seller of that asset (assuming we owned some in the first place). If, on the other hand, headlines are about how horribly things are going for an asset class, our clients have come to expect to see us buying in the coming quarters. But recently we made a move across a number of our asset allocation portfolios that goes counter to that general pattern. After a strong first half of 2017 for emerging equities that saw them rise over 18%, we actually bought more emerging in early July. It seems like a non-intuitive move for us to make, but we believe it is the correct one despite the fact that the prospective returns to emerging equities have dropped a bit since the beginning of the year. Even though the absolute expected return for emerging market value stocks has decreased, we believe the margin of superiority of emerging value over other assets has actually increased. As its superiority is higher and emerging-specific risk is relatively benign, our willingness to bear its risk has increased at the margin, which created the opportunity for us to increase our allocation.
In an investing and economic world in which almost everything seems to have changed in the last 20 years, one thing has remained constant: human nature. And, we can more or less prove it. At least in the case of the stock market. ... Our model does not attempt to justify the P/E levels as logical or deserved, nor does it attempt to predict future prices. It just shows what has tended to be the market’s typical response over the years to major market factors. By far, the two most important of these are pro t margins, the higher the better, and inflation, where stable and lower is better, except not too low. ... A third behavioral factor, which we first modeled 16 years ago and still has explanatory power, although much less than the first two, is the volatility of GDP growth. Notice that this is absolutely not the growth rate of GDP. ... we added two new factors, which we believe provide a little further value. The first addition was an on-off switch, which causes P/Es to be a bit lower after a down quarter. Again, not a very scientific reflex in a mean-reverting world, but understandable. The second was to add the US 10-year bond rate, where higher rates are negative, modestly improving the model even after the inflation component had done the heavy lifting for nominal interest rates. ... The market, however, appears not to care at all about the past or to learn much from it. This model for sure seems to say that for 92 years, at least, the market has with remarkable consistency been a coincident indicator of superficially appealing variables that in a strict economic sense have been inappropriate, and that have caused spectacular and unnecessary market volatility. The model is apparently a reflection of human nature and, of all factors influencing the market, human nature, as economically inefficient and unsophisticated it may be, seems the least likely to change.
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