I shall take a holistic approach to the future of Europe. I have developed a conceptual framework, which has guided me in my decisions throughout my adult life. The framework is much broader than the financial markets; it deals with the relationship between thinking and reality. What makes that relationship so complicated is that the thoughts and actions of participants are part of the reality they have to think about. Their thinking serves a dual function: on the one hand they try to understand the world in which they live – that is the cognitive function; on the other, they want to influence the events in which they participate – that is the manipulative function. The two functions interfere with each other – I call the interference reflexivity. The cornerstone of my conceptual framework is the human uncertainty principle, which is based on the twin pillars of fallibility and reflexivity. … The human uncertainty principle has far reaching implications for scientific method. It applies only to social phenomena and thereby it separates the social sciences from the natural sciences.
The past five years have been challenging for long-term value-based asset allocation. We do not believe this constitutes a paradigm shift, dooming such strategies in the future. The basic driver for long-term value working historically has been the excessive volatility of asset prices relative to their underlying fundamental cash flows, and recent history does not show any evidence of that changing. Outperforming the markets given that pattern requires either betting that the excessive swings will reverse over time or accurately predicting what those excessive swings will be. The former strategy amounts to long-term value-based investing, while the latter requires outpredicting others as to both what surprises will hit the markets and how the markets will react to them. Our strong preference is to focus on long-term value, despite the inevitable periods of tough performance that strategy will entail. ... The volatility of U.S. stocks since 1881 has been a little over 17% per year. The volatility of the underlying fair value of the market has been a little over 1% per year. Well over 90% of the volatility of the stock market cannot be explained as a rational response to the changing value of the stream of dividends it embodies. This means that the volatility is due to some combination of changing discount rates applied to those cash flows, and changes to expectations of future dividends that turned out to be incorrect. It is difficult to determine exactly which has been the driver at any given time, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence for changing discount rates having been a major force. Even in the most extreme overvaluation in U.S. stock market history, the 1999-2000 internet bubble, none of the investors we heard explaining why the stock market was rational to have risen to such giddy heights explained it on the basis that future returns should be lower than history.
Think of two significant trend lines in the world today. One is the increasing ambition and activism of the two great revisionist powers, Russia and China. The other is the declining confidence, capacity, and will of the democratic world, and especially of the United States, to maintain the dominant position it has held in the international system since 1945. As those two lines move closer, as the declining will and capacity of the United States and its allies to maintain the present world order meet the increasing desire and capacity of the revisionist powers to change it, we will reach the moment at which the existing order collapses and the world descends into a phase of brutal anarchy, as it has three times in the past two centuries. The cost of that descent, in lives and treasure, in lost freedoms and lost hope, will be staggering. ... Where exactly we are in this classic scenario today, how close the trend lines are to that intersection point is, as always, impossible to know. Are we three years away from a global crisis, or 15? That we are somewhere on that path, however, is unmistakable. ... Both seek to restore the hegemonic dominance they once enjoyed in their respective regions. For China, that means dominance of East Asia, with countries like Japan, South Korea, and the nations of Southeast Asia both acquiescing to Beijing’s will and acting in conformity with China’s strategic, economic, and political preferences. ... For Russia, it means hegemonic influence in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which Moscow has traditionally regarded as either part of its empire or part of its sphere of influence. Both Beijing and Moscow seek to redress what they regard as an unfair distribution of power, influence, and honor in the U.S.-led postwar global order. ... The democratic order has weakened and fractured at its core. Difficult economic conditions, the recrudescence of nationalism and tribalism, weak and uncertain political leadership and unresponsive mainstream political parties, and a new era of communications that seems to strengthen rather than weaken tribalism have together produced a crisis of confidence not only in the democracies but in what might be called the liberal enlightenment project. That project elevated universal principles of individual rights and common humanity over ethnic, racial, religious, national, or tribal differences. It looked to a growing economic interdependence to create common interests across boundaries and to the establishment of international institutions to smooth differences and facilitate cooperation among nations. Instead, the past decade has seen the rise of tribalism and nationalism, an increasing focus on the Other in all societies, and a loss of confidence in government, in the capitalist system, and in democracy. ... Both the crises of the first half of the 20th century and its solution in 1945 have been forgotten. As a consequence, the American public’s patience with the difficulties and costs inherent in playing that global role have worn thin.
- Also: The Atlantic - How to Build an Autocracy 5-15min
- Also: The American Interest - Donald Trump’s New World Order 5-15min
- Repeat: Institutional Investor - The 4 Major Geopolitical Challenges Investors Must Face 5-15min
- Repeat: The National Interest - China: Superpower or Superbust? 5-15min
- Repeat: Bloomberg - Vladimir Putin Just Wants to Be Friends 13min
The challenge of normalizing policy will be to undo bad habits that have developed in how monetary policy is explained and understood. ... To re-establish a shared understanding, we will need to reassess both the imperatives that justified the extraordinary actions and the imperatives about monetary policy that were claimed. This will require candidly acknowledging the uncertainty associated with the transmission mechanism and the challenge of decision-making in conditions of uncertainty. ... It appears to me that the Fed and other central banks have avoided being candid about the uncertainty in order to maintain their credibility. I think this is backwards. Central banks cannot and will not regain their credibility unless they are candid about the uncertainty and how they confront that uncertainty.
- Also: Financial Times - US Treasuries: On the cusp of a reversal < 5min
- Also: FiveThirtyEight - The Fed’s Favorite Inflation Predictors Aren’t Very Predictive < 5min
- Also: Absolute Return Partners - A Note on Inflation: Is it here or isn’t it? 5-15min
- Also: Janus - Show Me The Money < 5min
- Also: Financial Times - Three ways the economic and financial cycle could end < 5min
How do experts go wrong? There are several kinds of expert failure. The most innocent and most common are what we might think of as the ordinary failures of science. Individuals, or even entire professions, get important questions wrong because of error or because of the limitations of a field itself. They observe a phenomenon or examine a problem, come up with theories and solutions, and then test them. Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong. ... Science is learning by doing. Laypeople are uncomfortable with ambiguity, and they prefer answers rather than caveats. But science is a process, not a conclusion. Science subjects itself to constant testing by a set of careful rules under which theories can be displaced only by other theories. Laypeople cannot expect experts to never be wrong; if they were capable of such accuracy, they wouldn’t need to do research and run experiments in the first place. If policy experts were clairvoyant or omniscient, governments would never run deficits, and wars would break out only at the instigation of madmen. ... The most important point is that failed predictions do not mean very much in terms of judging expertise. Experts usually cover their predictions (and an important part of their anatomy) with caveats, because the world is full of unforeseeable accidents that can have major ripple effects down the line. ... The goal of expert advice and prediction is not to win a coin toss, it is to help guide decisions about possible futures.
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.
- Also: The New York Times - The Car Was Repossessed, but the Debt Remains < 5min
- Also: Wall Street Journal - For Consumers, Less Debt but Lots of Bills < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - Bankers Ditch Fat Salaries to Chase Digital Currency Riches < 5min
- Also: Business Insider - US home sales volume to Canadians surges < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - New U.S. Subprime Boom, Same Old Sins: Auto Defaults Are Soaring