Monday, August 24, 2015

This Will be Worse Than 2008

I'm usually early with these. I was early in 2000, 2008, and now 2015. But it's better to be early (including early retirement) than too late. The signs were clear that the markets have been artificially propped up by the Fed's monetary interventions for the past six years. The leaks in this bubble were covered in November 2013 and April 2015.

You can't spur demand in an economy by simply issuing more debt. Debt is only productive when it is used to finance an asset that produces more than it costs, including the carrying expense of the debt, and is paid down from the cash flow produced by that asset.

Almost none of the debt issued by corporations and governments over the last eight years has been of that character. It has instead been spent on social programs, sub prime asset purchases, stock buybacks, and other balance sheet games (AKA financial engineering).

Yes, you can levitate markets for a while by doing this, but it's simply leverage expansion and lies that enrich a privileged few, not economic expansion that is behind the alleged "gains" and the "roaring" stock market.

The expansion of debt over the last eight years is unprecedented. It creates a friction in the economy that will be more difficult to overcome than any previous economic downturns. No political party is seriously addressing this. It's not as convenient a wedge issue as immigration, gay marriage, Planned Parenthood, etc.

To view the state of the economy accurately you must remove the new debt issued in a given quarter from the GDP computation. This is first year Algebra (is that still taught in schools?). If you do that, then most of the so-called "growth" since 2009 disappears like the air in Tom Brady's footballs.

How much should you pay for a dollar of corporate earnings when the "growth" is mostly fictional and generated by issuing more and more debt instead of building things because you sent all of your manufacturing to China and Mexico? Those and other governments have been playing the debt-issuance game as well. This is a global trend where governments compete to lie about their economic statistics. We have squandered the last eight years where we could have solved these problems, but instead we drank the koolaid.

We may have some snapback rallies from oversold conditions, but there will be more downside to come. If you are long equities (especially the Nasdaq) and corporate bonds (especially high yield), you should not be sleeping well at night.


  1. Replies
    1. I do. It's called raising cash. I used to make the effort to hedge using options, but determined it was easier, cheaper and more effective to just adjust cash levels. Although the latest stock market dip did allow for a slightly larger allocation to stocks, which I suspect will be temporary. We haven't seen the ultimate lows yet.