This week we visit an essay from an old friend of Outside the Box, Paul McCulley, the Managing Directpr of PIMCO. This is a speech he did at the Minsky Conference sponsored (I believe) by the Levy Institute. It was also the same speech he gave at my conference mid-April that was quite well received.
Essentially Paul argues that the cause of the recent crisis was the creation of the Shadow Banking System outside the purview of regulation. And while he did not use the line in this speech, he did at my conference, which is one of the truly great lines I have heard this year.
"The rating agencies were like the man who went to an under-age drinking party and handed out fake IDs (identification cards). They were the necessary enablers as Paul shows. This is a think piece and one you should take some time to read as when you "get it," you will have some understanding of what must be done all over the world to prevent the next crisis. Let me offer two paragraphs as teaser copy"
"And I think the first principle is that if what you're doing is banking, de jure or de facto, then you are in a joint venture with the public sector. Period. If you're issuing liabilities that are intended to be just as good as a bank deposit, then you will be considered functionally a bank, regardless of the name on your door. That's the first principle.
"Number two, if you engage in these types of activities – call it banking, without making a big distinction here between conventional banking and shadow banking, as Paul Krugman intoned this morning – in such size that you pose systemic risk, you will have higher mandated capital requirements and you will be supervised by the Federal Reserve. Yes, I just told you who I think the top-dog supervisor should be. You will have tighter leverage and liquidity restrictions: You will have to live by civilized norms. In fact, a great deal of what is on the regulatory reform table right now proceeds precisely along those lines. If you're going to act like a bank, you're going to be regulated like a bank. That simple. And maybe you just might find the time to go back to working on your golf game at 3. That is the core principle.
(Note: Paul uses the following Latin terms a lot. For those not familiar with them, Ex-post is Latin for "after the fact." Ex-ante is Latin for "before the event or beforehand".)
Have a great week!
Your rushing to yet another plane analyst,
Nearly everyone I talk with has the sense that we are at some critical point in our economic and national paths, not just in the US but in the world. One path will lead us back to relative growth and another set of choices leads us down a path which will put a very real drag on economic growth and recovery. For most of us, there is very little we can do (besides vote and lobby) about the actual choices. What we can do is adjust our personal portfolios to be synchronized with the direction of the economy. The question is "What will that direction be?"
Today we are going to look at what I think is a very clear roadmap given to us by Dr. Woody Brock, the head of Strategic Economic Decisions and one of the smartest analysts I have come in contact with over the years. This week's Outside the Box is his recent essay, "The End Games Draws Nigh." For those who have the contacts in government, I urge you to put this piece into the correct hands so that Woody's very distinct message gets out. I think this is one of the most important Outside the Box letters I have sent out.
Woody normally does not allow his work to go beyond the circles of his clients, but I suggested to him that this piece was quite macro in cope and important for both individuals and policy makers everywhere to understand. In my own simple terms, trees cannot grow in some unlimited manner to the sky. Families cannot grow debt without limit beyond the growth of their incomes. And countries have the same constraints. While growth of debt in the short term is viable, growth of debt faster than the growth of GDP is not viable over the long run. This is not debatable. It is a simple fact. Therefore, as Woody says, it is important that you get the growth side of the equation right as you increase the debt side. Without the proper balance, you are heading for disaster.
From his intro:
"We weave these three concepts together so as to make possible an extension and generalization of "macroeconomic policy" as normally understood. Central to this extension is the need for policies that drive down the nation's Debt-to-GDP Ratio over time. Accordingly, we identify 15 policies that jointly reduce the growth of federal debt and increase the growth of GDP over time. Doing so not only points to a new set of policies for exiting today's quagmire, but also permits an appraisal of the Obama administration's current policy proposals. Regrettably these proposals do not fare well with respect to growth. Furthermore, the extension of macroeconomics we propose applies not only to the US economy, but to most all others as well. It should thus be of interest to readers everywhere."
This is longer than the usual Outside the Box, and will require you to put on your thinking cap. But you need to digest this, and especially the conclusions. But it is very important that you understand the principles and concepts Woody discusses. We are at a very critical juncture, and the paths we choose will have profound impacts on our lives and fortunes. I cannot overemphasize the point. If we choose a path of growing debt faster than we can grow GDP, the negative implications for many traditional asset classes are enormous.
Let me again thank Woody for allowing me to send this on to you. And for those who post this letter on various sites, just be sure to include a link to Woody's website, www.sedinc.com. For those interested in his subscription service you can contact Woody at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website.
What is fair value for stocks? Are they now cheap? You can certainly make that argument by comparing valuations based on past performance. But repeat after me, "Past performance is not indicative of future returns." The investment climate of today is almost certainly going to be quite different than that of the 80's and 90's. Thus, to expect stocks to repeat the performance of the last bull market in a climate of government intervention, deleveraging and increased regulations may not be realistic?
This week Bill Gross, the Managing Director of PIMCO (and one of my favorite analysts) moves away from his familiar neighborhood of bonds and offers a few thoughts on stock market valuations. This is not a lengthy read, but it is one you might want to read twice, as the concepts are important. And not just for stocks but for investments of all types. I trust you will enjoy this week's Outside the Box.