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Posts Tagged ‘Mohamed El-Erian of Pimco’

Investing Uncertainties in the World of Fat Tails

Posted by Larry Doyle on August 3rd, 2010 1:26 PM |

There is little doubt we are living through a period of great uncertainty. There are a wide array of vastly diverging opinions as to what our future economic landscape entails. How often have you felt that people with dramatically disparate outlooks on the market and economy each encompass a number of cogent points? I have felt that sensation numerous times. What is the key variable in each and every opinion and assessment? Timing. When things occur is often more important than what actually occurs.

The expected timing of events leads many to believe that we are living through a period with elevated tail risk, or more succinctly fat tails. In layman’s terms:

What Does Tail Risk Mean? (more…)

GM: A Question of Trust

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 2nd, 2009 8:00 AM |

“Trust me.”

Have you ever walked away from a discussion with a person–be it a boss, a business associate, a prospective partner–in which you wondered why they felt the need to make that statement?

In regard to trust, I feel much more comfortable when others assert, “you can trust him” rather than an individual asserting, “trust me.”  Why? Very simply, trust is a virtue. As such, it is not given like a cheap bauble. Trust is earned. The foundation of our capitalist system is trust. When a basic trust is violated, regulators are compelled to act to rectify that violation.

Let’s enter the Brave New World of the Uncle Sam economy and address the credibility of this virtue known as trust.

CNBC recently aired a fabulous roundtable discussion, “The Future of Capitalism,” which touched on many of the economic issues currently debated. In the midst of the discussion, Mohamed El-Erian of Pimco strongly asserted that capitalism is ultimately a system based upon trust. Without trust, investors will not willingly commit capital to drive future economic growth.

As with any virtue, trust is not a one way street. While trust is earned, it needs to be rewarded so as to promote even greater trust. In so doing, the model of trust is displayed as the shining beacon for personal and professional relationships, whether between two people or amongst three hundred million.

Let’s get more specific. Investors who committed capital to General Motors in the form of equity took the greatest risk. In so doing, they positioned themselves to reap the greatest reward were the company to prosper. The company entered bankruptcy; the shareholders got wiped out. That is the way capitalism works. Or does it?

Investors who committed capital to General Motors in the form of senior debt took lesser risk. In so doing, they positioned themselves to receive a lower fixed return knowing if the company failed they would be first in line. They made this investment based upon trust in longstanding rules of bankruptcy proceedings. These investors include large institutions and thousands of individuals. Their trust was violated in the GM bankruptcy proceedings. They were not first in line. Junior creditors, specifically the UAW, received substantially better treatment. What happened? Uncle Sam rationalized this “violation of trust” as being in the common good of our country. Regrettably, this violation received no real debate in our court system and limited debate within our general media.

Uncle Sam, in the persons of Barack Obama and Tim Geithner, have put forth that the automotive situation is a special case; standard bankruptcy proceedings will continue to be practiced elsewhere. I would counter that we have a responsibility to future generations of investors to challenge Obama and team on this point. The future of capitalism itself rests on this debate.

The true costs of this violation will be borne by future iterations of unionized companies that can not easily access the capital markets. I personally would only commit capital to such an entity at a much higher rate of return knowing full well the risks I am taking are now greater given the precedent set via the Chrysler and GM bankruptcies.

Analysts, government officials, and others will continue to rationalize this violation of trust. In my opinion, this rationalization is akin to “the ends justifying the means.” That is a dangerous weapon.

This “question of trust” will certainly be an ongoing theme as we venture further into the Brave New World of the Uncle Sam economy. In the process of making investment decisions, we now need to more aggressively question just how much we trust our counterparties, especially Uncle Sam.

Please share your insights and thoughts so we can collectively be more diligent in navigating the economic landscape.

LD

Inflation, Deflation, or Stagflation?

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 1st, 2009 11:06 AM |

I am an eternal optimist and, as such, I never want to see people’s spirits waver. I encourage people not to allow the current economy to “deflate” their hopes for better days. By the same token, I am a pragmatist and caution people not to view the recent bounce in our equity markets as reason for an overly “inflated” sense of optimism. In this same spirit, though, we need sufficient optimism along with practical analysis to avoid the perils of “stagflation.” Let me expound.

The debate between analysts touting prospects for inflation versus deflation is ongoing. Those concerned with deflation highlight increasing levels of unemployment pressuring wages, falling asset valuations, and slack consumer demand. Those concerned with inflation point toward the unprecedented levels of liquidity injected into our system via all of the government programs. The inflation hawks maintain the economy merely needs a small spark and inflation will spread in an uncontrollable arson-like fashion.

I actually believe there is a very real chance we get developments from both camps leading to the scourge known as stagflation. How may this play out?

Many respected analysts are promoting the concept of a new “normal” economy. This scenario entails an economy operating with enormous government deficits, an elevated level of unemployment, and little to no shadow banking system (securitization of loans and other assets).

In this new “normal” economy, GDP may only eke out small positive growth given these heightened pressures. Pimco’s Mohamed El-Erian writes of A New Normal:

This reflects a growing realization that some of the recent abrupt changes to markets, households, institutions, and government policies are unlikely to be reversed in the next few years. Global growth will be subdued for a while and unemployment high; a heavy hand of government will be evident in several sectors; the core of the global system will be less cohesive and, with the magnet of the Anglo-Saxon model in retreat, finance will no longer be accorded a preeminent role in post-industrial economies. Moreover, the balance of risk will tilt over time toward higher sovereign risk, growing inflationary expectations and stagflation.

Even as we come out of this recession, our economy will run increased risks of slipping into another recession given the lack of cushion provided by a strong consumer, the burdens of heavy government debts, and inability to easily access credit.

El-Erian adds:

For the next 3–5 years, we expect a world of muted growth, in the context of a continuing shift away from the G-3 and toward the systemically important emerging economies, led by China. It is a world where the public sector overstays as a provider of goods that belong in the private sector. (As one of our speakers put it, we have transitioned from a world where the private sector provided public goods to one where the public sector provides private goods.) It is also a world in which central banks and treasuries will find it difficult to undo smoothly some of the recent emergency steps. This is particularly consequential in countries, such as the U.K. and U.S., where many short-term policy imperatives materially conflict with medium-term ones.

As our global economy transitions to this new “normal,” I believe the likelihood of stagflation is quite high. For those who recall the perils of our economy in the early 1980s, stagflation is not a pretty picture. How does one manage investments and personal finances in an environment of stagflation?

Let’s deal with the component parts. Given sluggish growth, limited credit, and lessened opportunities, it is of paramount importance to cut expenses and minimize debt as much as possible. Servicing debt will be an ongoing challenge and increasingly problematic. Be proactive at this point in time in adjusting your finances to this reality.

Where will the inflation come from and how does one address it? In my opinion, the inflation “train” will arrive sooner than we think. Some of the savviest investors, including Financial Pacific Advisors’ Bob Rodriguez and noted Black Swan author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, are already positioning themselves for it. (The WSJ reports, Black Swan Fund Makes a Big Bet on Inflation).

How can people protect themselves from the inflation monster? Increase exposure to the following:

  – precious metals and commodities

  – critical infrastructure (power plants, agriculture, water, transportation)

  – necessary life items (drugs, medicines, food)

  – stronger and more fiscally prudent foreign markets

Decrease exposure if not get outright short

  – longer maturity (5yr and and longer) Treasury bonds

This stagflation story will have many chapters and I will be writing extensively on it. Please share your thoughts, opinions, and recollections of the early 80s economy so we can all move forward most effectively in navigating the economic landscape.

LD






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