If you’re like most people, you listen to the experts: Economists and investment managers. If there’s anything these folks are good at it’s making predictions about the future and then eloquently explaining why their predictions didn’t come true.
Economics is a pseudoscience that relies on unrealistic models that tend to be completely detached from reality. In case you don’t believe me, below is a list of projections made by various economists and investment managers over the past decade. All of these predictions proved false.
So next time you read a headline or hear a soundbite about the near-term direction of the economy or markets, treat it as background noise.
So who should you listen to? There are good economists and investment managers. They are the ones who are skeptical about their own conclusions. They tend to have a long view that ignores the day-to-day and week-to-week fluctuations. Instead of making overconfident predictions, they provide a framework for decision making by observing the world around them.
Jeff Gundlach, CEO of DoubleLine Capital predicted the election of Donald Trump and the 2007 housing crash. He is now providing insights into the next economic collapse.
In 2011, he was featured as “The King of Bonds” in Barron’s, and named one of “5 Mutual Fund All-Stars” by Fortune Magazine. In 2012, he was named one of the “50 Most Influential” by Bloomberg Markets magazine. In 2013, he was named “Money Manager of the Year” by Institutional Investor.
When Jeff Gundlach speaks, people listen. Unlike most investment managers, he doesn’t hold back and is willing to tell it like he sees it. Listening to Gundlach is like getting a bucket of cold harsh reality poured on your head.
He was recently interviewed by a Swiss newspaper on what the next recession might look like. Gundlach warns investors to prepare because it will lead to big changes in the market. He argues investors need to reduce risk and own their house free and clear. (in fact, he says anyone with a mortgage should not own stocks.) While there might still be market gains over the near term, when the downturn does come people will be “overwhelmed by problems” with their investments. In particular, he sees big problems with the US corporate bond market.
“This time the liquidity is going to be very challenging in the corporate bond market. The corporate bond market in the United States is rated higher than it deserves to be. Kind of like securitized mortgages were rated way too high before the global financial crisis. Corporate credit is the thing that should be watched for big trouble in the next recession. Morgan Stanley Research put out an analysis about a year ago. By only looking at leverage ratios, over 30% of the investment grade corporate bond market should be rated below investment grade. So with the corporate bond market being vastly bigger than it’s ever been, we’ll see a lot of that overrating exposed, and prices will probably decline a lot once the economy rolls over. Furthermore, central bank policies have forced investors into asset classes that they usually would be a little bit more hesitant to allocate to.”
Gundlach also sees major problems with the US stock market, arguing it will be the worst performing equity market in the world. Why? Partly because it is currently the strongest.
“The late 1980s saw Japan as invincible with the Nikkei tremendously outperforming every other market to the point where there was incredible overvaluation of Japanese real estate when the recession came in the early 1990s. The Japanese Market was the worst performer. It never made it back to that level. In the advent of the Euro, there was a lot of enthusiasm about the economic prospect of the Euro area, and the stock market in Europe was incredibly strong in 1999, outperforming every other market. When the recession began, it was the worst performing market and never made it back again, broadly speaking. This time US stocks are crushing every other area. It’s due to some fundamentals like the better economy, but also due to tax cuts and share buybacks. In the next recession, corporate bonds will collapse, and buybacks will stop. The dollar has already topped. It may begin falling in earnest during the next downturn and US equities will lose the most. They will probably not make it back to the peak for quite a while. When the US market drops, it will drop a lot.”
The next recession will see deficit spending balloon. The US is already running $trillion+ deficits and this is supposed to be the best economy ever. The next recession could put upward pressure on interest rates, as demand for funding rises. Of course, the Fed will do everything in its power to combat this, but possibly not until after a crisis emerges. The firefighters don’t show up until the house is ablaze.
“Powell said he’s going to use large scale asset purchases to fight the next recession. That’s what he said at his last press conference. He could introduce negative interest rates, but I think Powell understands that the US cannot introduce negative interest rates without the entire global financial system collapsing. Because where’s all that capital going to go? Which markets are big enough? Negative rates are the worst thing that could happen in the US. You can see what negative rates have done to the banking system of Japan and Europe. All you’ve got to do is look at the relative performance of bank stocks. The underperformance of European banks is correlated to the yield of the 10-year German Bund. I don’t know if the politicians understand that negative rates are fatal. It’s fatal to Deutsche Bank and insurance companies in Switzerland.”
So what happens post recession when US public debt levels skyrocket due to massive deficit spending? Suddenly, the problem everyone has ignored could smack the US right in the face, and the US government will look for solutions.
“You could create inflation through universal basic income. That would debase everything. Or you could default on Social Security benefits and welfare benefits. These are the options. We’ll do some combination, maybe raise the eligibility age from 65 to 75. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but what we have now is unsustainable. The debt is unsustainable. Interest rates are unsustainable. The wealth inequality gets worse every minute. It’s already beyond the point of sustainability, and when the next downturn comes, there will be a lot of anger and unrest. …the misery is going to be apparent for a considerable fraction of the population. It’s going to be pretty intense, and the response will be money printing. When Ben Bernanke said, we’ll never have deflation because we have the printing press and when he used the word helicopter money, people thought it was some euphemism, some joke. People thought that that could never happen. Now we have candidates running on it. Kamala Harris has a version of it, Cory Booker has a version of it. And for Andrew Yang it’s the centerpiece of his campaign.”
Gundlach is not talking about a garden variety recession. This situation – massive debts, slowing growth, rising wealth inequality – has been building for decades and the world is approaching a point at which seismic shifts will occur.
“This situation has taken since 1945 to develop. And it really got going with US-President Ronald Reagan. So I started in this business when the scheme was starting. And we used to think that 8% interest rates were set to last forever, and it was unthinkable that the Fed would buy bonds, inconceivable! And now it’s normal. And free money used to be unthinkable. What people got themselves fooled by was feeling somehow that there’s real stability to societal institutions because they’ve experienced it most of their life. Some still think they’re experiencing it. But they’re not.”
So what does normal look like?
“In 1970, there were no credit cards. In 1970, there were no car loans. People saved money and bought things. That was normal. The debt-to-GDP ratio was stable. Economic growth was real. It really happened. In 2018, the dollar growth of nominal GDP was less than the dollar growth of the national debt. That means that there is no growth. We’re having an illusion of growth. It means that we’re issuing IOUs and spending it, and it shows up in the calculations as growth. But spending is not growth.“
Earlier today I was listening to an episode of the James Altucher podcast, during which James interviewed Blackstone Group CEO Stephen A. Schwarzman.
The Blackstone Group is a global private equity firm with almost half a trillion dollars in assets. Along with Peter Peterson, Schwarzman founded the company in 1985. Since then, Schwarzman has amassed a personal fortune of over $12 billion!
While I believe it is a fallacy to automatically equate wealth with wisdom, in this case I think it is warranted. I think it is wise to pay attention to the lessons about ambition, risk and success Schwarzman shares in his latest book, What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence.
Here are Schwarzman’s 25 lessons:
It’s as easy to do something big as it is to do something small, so reach for a fantasy worthy of your pursuit, with rewards commensurate to your effort.
The best executives are made, not born. They never stop learning. Study the people and organizations in your life that have had enormous success. They offer a free course from the real world to help you improve.
Write or call the people you admire, and ask for advice or a meeting. You never know who will be willing to meet with you. You may end up learning something important or form a connection you can leverage for the rest of your life. Meeting people early in life creates an unusual bond.
There is nothing more interesting to people than their own problems. Think about what others are dealing with, and try to come up with ideas to help them. Almost anyone, however senior or important, is receptive to good ideas provided you are thoughtful.
Every business is a closed, integrated system with a set of distinct but interrelated parts. Great managers understand how each part works on its own and in relation to all the others.
Information is the most important asset in business. The more you know, the more perspectives you have, and the more likely you are to spot patterns and anomalies before your competition. So always be open to new inputs, whether they are people, experiences, or knowledge.
When you’re young, only take a job that provides you with a steep learning curve and strong training. First jobs are foundational. Don’t take a job just because it seems prestigious.
When presenting yourself, remember that impressions matter. The whole picture has to be right. Others will be watching for all sorts of clues and cues that tell who you are. Be on time. Be authentic. Be prepared.
No one person, however smart, can solve every problem. But an army of smart people talking openly with one another will.
People in a tough spot often focus on their own problems, when the answer usually lies in fixing someone else’s.
Believe in something greater than yourself and your personal needs. It can be your company, your country, or a duty for service. Any challenge you tackle that is inspired by your beliefs and core values will be worth it, regardless of whether you succeed or fail.
Never deviate from your sense of right and wrong. Your integrity must be unquestionable. It is easy to do what’s right when you don’t have to write a check or suffer any consequences. It’s harder when you have to give something up. Always do what you say you will, and never mislead anyone for your own advantage.
Be bold. Successful entrepreneurs, managers, and individuals have the confidence and courage to act when the moment seems right. They accept risk when others are cautious and take action when everyone else is frozen, but they do so smartly. This trait is the mark of a leader.
Never get complacent. Nothing is forever. Whether it is an individual or a business, your competition will defeat you if you are not constantly seeking ways to reinvent and improve yourself. Organizations, especially, are more fragile than you think.
Sales rarely get made on the first pitch. Just because you believe in something doesn’t mean everyone else will. You need to be able to sell your vision with conviction over and over again. Most people don’t like change, so you need to be able to convince them why they should accept it. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.
If you see a huge, transformative opportunity, don’t worry that no one else is pursuing it. You might be seeing something others don’t. The harder the problem is, the more limited the competition, and the greater the reward for whomever can solve it.
Success comes down to rare moments of opportunity. Be open, alert, and ready to seize them. Gather the right people and resources; then commit. If you’re not prepared to apply that kind of effort, either the opportunity isn’t as compelling as you think or you are not the right person to pursue it.
Time wounds all deals, sometimes even fatally. Often the longer you wait, the more surprises await you. In tough negotiations especially, keep everyone at the table long enough to reach an agreement.
Don’t lose money!!! Objectively assess the risks of every opportunity.
Make decisions when you are ready, not under pressure. Others will always push you to make a decision for their own purposes, internal politics, or some other external need. But you can almost always say, “I think I need a little more time to think about this. I’ll get back to you.” This tactic is very effective at defusing even the most difficult and uncomfortable situations.
Worrying is an active, liberating activity. If channeled appropriately, it allows you to articulate the downside in any situation and drives you to take action to avoid it.
Failure is the best teacher in an organization. Talk about failures openly and objectively. Analyze what went wrong. You will learn new rules for decision making and organizational behavior. If evaluated well, failures have the potential to change the course of any organization and make it more successful in the future.
Hire 10s whenever you can. They are proactive about sensing problems, designing solutions, and taking a business in new directions. They also attract and hire other 10s. You can always build something around a 10.
Be there for the people you know to be good, even when everyone else is walking away. Anyone can end up in a tough situation. A random act of kindness in someone’s time of need can change the course of a life and create an unexpected friendship or loyalty.
Everyone has dreams. Do what you can to help others achieve theirs.
If you have a chance, pick up a copy of his book and let me know what you think.
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