Hedging The Twilight Zone
"The time had come, as in all periods of speculation, when men sought not to be persuaded by the reality of things but to find excuses for escaping into the new world of fantasy." – John Kenneth Galbraith, The Great Crash of 1929 via Hussman's Weekly Market Comment
"No one saw it coming." That was the popular refrain following the 2007-2008 financial crisis – explanation and excuse all rolled into one short, neat sentence. This time around, though, it's different. A chorus of naysayers, led by some of Wall Street's most respected figures, has come front and center to warn investors of a troubled economy and tenuous financial markets. One analyst aptly described the situation facing investors as being "trapped in a Twilight Zone" between the end of Fed's money printing policies and its first rate hike. Remaining fully committed to the Twilight Zone, though, is a matter of choice not necessity. It can be, and should be, hedged. Consider not just what is being said in the digest below, but who is saying it. These are some of Wall Street's big hitters, not the bottom of the batting order.
• Jon Hussman of Hussman Funds summarizes the state of the markets as follows:
"If you turn off CNBC and think about the market independently for even a few minutes. It is clear that this market displays none of the conditions which have historically been followed by sustained market advances, and all of the conditions which have historically been followed by market crashes. The aphorism 'Buy low, sell high' has long been discarded. The replacement 'Buy high, sell higher' has also been abandoned. The rallying cries of investors are now just 'Buy' and 'Get me in!'. . . . . In short, given currently extreme valuations, the most historically reliable valuation methods instruct us to expect total returns of roughly zero for the S&P 500 over the coming decade. If one believes that depressed interest rates 'justify' obscene valuations and associated expected returns of roughly zero for the S&P 500 over the next 10 years, then one is quite free to call stocks 'fairly valued' – it's just that those 'fairly valued' stocks are still likely to go nowhere over the coming decade, with some spectacular interim losses along the way."
• Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates, one of Wall Street's most successful and respected fund managers, at a Council on Foreign Relations conference when asked if he owns gold:
"Oh yeah. I do. [Nervous audience laughter] I think anybody, look let's be clear, that I think anybody who doesn't have…There's no sensible reason not to have some. If you're going to own a currency, it's not sensible not to own gold. Now it depends on the amount of gold. But if you don't own, I don't know 10%, if you don't have that and that depends on the world, then there's no sensible reason other than you don't know history and you don't know the economics of it. But, I. Well, I mean cash. So cash…view it in terms as an alternative form of cash and also view it as a hedge against what other parts of your portfolio are. Because as traditional financial assets, and so and in that context as a diversifier, as a source of that, there should be a piece of that in gold is all I'm saying." (Video link)
• HSBC's Stephen King writes in Financial Times sees Titanic problems,not enough lifeboats:
"We may not know what will cause the next downswing but, at this stage, we can categorically state that, in the event we hit an iceberg, there aren't enough lifeboats to go round. . . .Whereas previous recoveries have enabled monetary and fiscal policy makers to replenish their ammunition, this recovery – both in the US and elsewhere – has been distinguished by a persistent munitions shortage. This is a major problem. In all recessions since the 1970s, the US Fed funds rate has fallen by a minimum of 5 percentage points. That kind of traditional stimulus is now completely ruled out."
Greenlight Capital's David Einhorn talks of monetary distortions adding risk:
"We have passed the point where Jelly Donut policy [EdNote: QE and zero percent interest rates] is merely slowing the recovery. Distortions are now adding risk to the banking and insurance markets and leading to poor incentives for the largest players in the financial system. Monetary policy and regulations have combined like a failed chemistry experiment to create a potentially destructive force that should not exist outside of fiction. I think this adds to the ultimate attraction of holding gold instead of green."
• Janus Capital Group's Bill Gross provides a money manager's insight as to when and how the financial markets simply run out of gas.
"When does our credit based financial system sputter / break down? When investable assets pose too much risk for too little return. Not immediately, but at the margin, credit and stocks begin to be exchanged for figurative and sometimes literal money in a mattress. We are approaching that point now as bond yields, credit spreads and stock prices have brought financial wealth forward to the point of exhaustion. A rational investor must indeed have a sense of an ending, not another Lehman crash, but a crush of perpetual bull market enthusiasm. . . Stanley Druckenmiller, George Soros, Ray Dalio, Jeremy Grantham, among others warn investors that our 35 year investment supercycle may be exhausted."
• Michael Hartnett of Bank of America Merrill Lynch brings Rod Serling into the mix:
"[investors are] trapped in a Twilight Zone between the end of QE and the Fed's first rate hike. Markets it says will "be cursed by mediocre returns, volatile trading rotation, correlation breakdowns and flash crashes. For this reason we continue to advocate higher than normal levels of cash, adding gold and owning volatility in mid 2015. . . [A]cleansing drop in asset prices cannot be dismissed."
• Saxo Bank's Stephen Jacobsen talks of fundamental changes in asset allocation in coming years:
[Saxo Bank] "rarely makes significant changes to its long-term outlook, but this quarter is different. Not only do we expect a steep increase in yields but higher gold and energy prices too. The dynamics at work are plenty: The model's predictions are always based on the lead-lag of different economic factors. . . .The biggest "news" is that we are very close to the secular low in interest rates globally. This will have material impact on stocks, fixed income and asset allocation over the coming one to five years, and probably an 'upside-down' return profile relative to performance since the financial crisis started. Commodities will outperform and yields will move up by another 100 bps before Europe once again slides to downturn and the US flirts with recession in early 2016.
• UK Nobel Prize winner Andrew Smithers offers a brief but keen insight:
"QE is a very dangerous policy, in my view, because it has pushed asset prices up and high asset prices, we know from history, are very dangerous. It is very strongly indicated by reliable measures that we're looking at a stock market which is something like 80 percent over-priced."
• Universa Investments' Mark Spitznagel pulls no punches in a recent Bloomberg interview:
"The beautiful thing about the business is when the markets get really rich, really overvalued, really distorted like today, the cost of insurance goes way down. There's incredible complacency. People are selling (tail insurance). This is another one of those carry trades that are so popular today. We're back to this Great Moderation. There's a religious belief that the Fed is our savior. And it's priced into the market. We're at an extreme point today. We're as extreme as we've been n the last hundred years except for 2000. . . You can read into that what you want. (The year) 2000 was one of the great bubbles in human history. So here we are today just shy of that. . . Giant liquidity holes are a part of market dynamics. If you think you're going to lean on these buy orders (in order to get out) is the height of naivete." (Excerpts as posted at Zero Hedge)
• Legendary money manager Jeremy Grantham predicts a bust like no other:
"Over the next seven years we think the market will have negative returns. The next bust will be unlike any other because the Fed and other central banks around the world have taken on all this leverage that was out there and put it on their balance sheets. We have never had this before. . .Assets are overpriced generally. They will become cheap again. That's how we will pay for this. It's going to be very painful for investors. . .There is no evidence at all that quantitative easing has boosted capital spending. We have always come roaring back from recessions, even after the mismanaged Great Depression. This time we are not. It's anecdotal evidence, but we have never had such a limited recovery."
• "Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, surveying the financial landscape for signs of bubbles after more than six years of near-zero rates, warned that both stocks and bonds are richly valued. 'I would highlight that equity-market valuations at this point generally are quite high,' Yellen said in Washington on Wednesday in response to a question at a forum on finance. ' Now, they're not so high when you compare the returns on equities to the returns on safe assets like bonds, which are also very low, but there are potential dangers there. Yellen said bond yields 'could see a sharp jump' when the Fed raises its benchmark interest rate. Most Fed officials predict that will happen this year for the first time since 2006." (Bloomberg article)
Editor's Note: In the two year period between July of 2007 and July of 2009 – what many consider to be the peak years of the financial crisis – stocks fell by 40% and gold rose by 50%.
Exit stocks and buy gold?
Bottom line, make sure your portfolio is not underweight gold for the times
by Jonathan Kosares
"I would highlight that equity market valuations at this point generally are quite high," Yellen said. "There are potential dangers there." – Janet Yellen
I know two things that aren't 'overvalued'….One starts with a 'g' and ends with an 'old' and the other starts with an 's' and ends with an 'ilver'. In that same question and answer session with the IMF's Christine Lagarde, Fed chair Janet Yellen makes an interesting side comment about open-ended mutual funds – in which 46% of households and better than 90 million Americans hold assets (very often in their retirement plans). Here's a great article on the statistical distribution of ownership of mutual funds.
It should be noted that the most common investor in mutual funds is your average, every day worker, saving for retirement and hoping for a better future. If what Yellen says is right, as is often the case, when stocks start to slide, it won't be the big guys that get hurt. It will be everyone else. Those holding over-weighted percentages in stocks would be wise to ask themselves whether or not they'd prefer to be 'early' or 'late' when this inevitable cycle plays out…because if what Yellen is saying is correct, if you're late, it might be a question of whether or not you can get out at all in that moment, or are forced to make a choice to liquidate well below the market, or days to weeks later.
Even though we are precious metals brokers here at USAGOLD, we don't recommend a 100% portfolio allocation to gold and silver. We believe in prudent diversification, and a modest 10-30% of assets in precious metals – depending, of course, on your own personal financial picture, as well as your particular level of concern about the state of the US and world economy, the future of fiat currencies, and the potential long-term ramifications of our out of control debt, among other things. But no matter where you stand, today may be a good day to look at the value of your equity positions, look at the value of your real estate, and make sure that gold is still holding an appropriate percentage in your overall position. It may prove time well spent, and may prove to be the very move that keeps you resting easy when the 'dangers' Yellen speaks of move from the realm of 'potential' to full blown reality.
Disclaimer - Opinions expressed on the USAGOLD.com website do not constitute an offer to buy or sell, or the solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any precious metals product, nor should they be viewed in any way as investment advice or advice to buy, sell or hold. USAGOLD, Inc. recommends the purchase of physical precious metals for asset preservation purposes, not speculation. Utilization of these opinions for speculative purposes is neither suggested nor advised. Commentary is strictly for educational purposes, and as such USAGOLD does not warrant or guarantee the the accuracy, timeliness or completeness of the information found here.
Michael J. Kosares has over 40 years’ experience in the gold business. He is the founder and executive director of USAGOLD (both the website and gold brokerage service), the author of three books on the gold market, and the editor of "News, Commentary & Analysis," the firm's client letter. He has written numerous magazine and internet essays and is well-known for his ongoing commentary on the gold market and its economic, political and financial underpinnings. Visit his website at www.usagold.com.