Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The (Fed) King's Speech

Lionel Logue: [as George "Berty" is lighting up a cigarette] Please don't do that.
King George VI: I'm sorry?
Lionel Logue: I believe sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.
King George VI: My physicians say it relaxes the throat.
Lionel Logue: They're idiots.
King George VI: They've all been knighted.
Lionel Logue: Makes it official then.

“We have seen increasing evidence that a self sustaining recovery in consumer and business spending may be taking hold.”
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke
Congressional testimony, March 2011

There are two major issues equity investors are currently struggling with. The first is the obvious one: the price of oil. The second is one that I raised months ago at each and every Market Forecast event (10 of them) that I conducted throughout the US: will the US economy reach what economists call “escape velocity” and achieve a sustainable, private sector-led economic expansion WITHOUT the aid of government stimuli? Apparently, our esteemed Fed chairman has answered that question. Let’s hope he’s right.

Let’s hope that:

• The US consumer is capable of spending beyond his/her means, a fact that becomes that has been made all the more difficult as middle income wages have stagnated for decades, that the ability to borrow is now limited to non revolving (as in autos) credit versus other sources, such as revolving (credit card) and home equity withdrawals (see Monday’s Consumer Credit report for the latest installment of this reality), and that the need to continue to repair their balance sheet (deleverage, a/k/a save more, spend less) is combined with the need to prepare for a world of reduced government support (cuts to Social Security and Medicare, for example) looms on the horizon.
US based corporations decide it’s time to unleash their nearly $2 trillion cash horde on capex projects in the low growth/high cost US and not in the high growth/low cost emerging markets.
• High growth/low cost emerging market governments allow US based companies in to the detriment of their domestic companies, not to mention their emergent, large, multinational competitors.
• Cut backs at the state and local level don't more than offset a prospective hiring and wage increase binge by US companies.
• The US dollar doesn’t crater to new all-time lows thereby driving up longer-term interest rates.
• The unrest and turmoil in North Africa doesn’t leap frog over the Suez Canal into the oil rich, Western friendly despotic kingdoms of the Middle East thereby driving oil prices to record levels.
• The structure of the markets doesn’t produce a financial crisis courtesy some financially engineered Frankenstein ("It's alive!") product, service, or process that few truly understand.

This partial list of concerns is the tip of the iceberg. The full list is a long one. But that’s what bull markets driven by tons of liquidity and constructive earnings results* are supposed to look past. Or, so it's said.

Investment Strategy Implications

Stock market dogma states that a bull market climbs a wall of worry. However, when that wall has lots of grease on it and given the interconnected, interdependent, rapid transmission nature of our globalized world, any slip can turn into a self-reinforcing downward tumble in a very short period of time.

Hope is not a strategy but in the end it may be what this bull market largely rests on.

* The one truly bright spot, that may have run its course with its cutting, management and technology efficiency benefits. Is there more blood that can be wrung from the cost cutting efficiency stone?

Note: Many of the above points were expressed yesterday when I appeared on To view the interview on my media blog click here.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

Great summary. So how can you justify having that little allocation area on the left say "Total Long Equities: 95%".

Why not be shorting? If even a little?