Commentary

Whatever They’re Doing, It’s Not “Investment”

Understand this. The more glorious this bubble becomes in hindsight, the more dismal future investment returns become in foresight. The higher the price investors pay for a set of future cash flows, the lower the return they will enjoy over time. Whatever they’re doing, it’s not “investment.”

Commentary

One Tier and Rubble Down Below

One of the striking things about bull markets is that they often end in confident exuberance, while simultaneously deteriorating from the inside. We’ve certainly observed this sort of selectivity during the past year. The market advance in 2019 fully recovered the market losses of late-2018, fueled by a wholesale reversal of Fed policy, hopes for a “phase one” trade deal, and as noted below, a bit of confusion about what actually constitutes “quantitative easing.”

Commentary

The Meaning of Valuation

The recent half-cycle has been admittedly difficult. My bearish response to historically-reliable “overvalued, overbought, overbullish” syndromes proved detrimental in the face of zero-interest rate policies that amplified speculation, and we’ve adapted our discipline to give priority to our measures of market internals – which we use to gauge that speculation.

Commentary

Marks of a Phase Transition

By the time a bull market reaches its peak, investors have experienced numerous instances where the market has declined by several percent, followed by an advance to fresh highs.

Commentary

A Striking Collection of Duck-Like Features

One of the pitfalls of identifying market conditions using labels like “bull market” and “bear market” is that the accuracy of those labels can only be verified in hindsight.

Commentary

Propositions for a Recessionary Bear Market

As the financial markets enter what I expect to be a rather disruptive completion to the recent speculative half-cycle, it will be helpful for investors to consider certain propositions that are readily available from history, rather than insisting on re-learning them the hard way.

Commentary

Going Nowhere in an Interesting Way

Not surprisingly, the higher the valuation at the bull market peak, the longer the subsequent period of disappointing returns, in several instances extending more than a decade, though not without intermittent failure-prone bull market rallies to add excitement. This is what I often call ‘going nowhere in an interesting way.’

Commentary

How to Needlessly Produce Inflation

What distinguishes an overvalued market that continues to advance from an overvalued market that often drops like a rock? In my view, it’s the psychological disposition of investors toward speculation or risk-aversion.

Commentary

They’re Running Toward the Fire

While investors appear exuberant about the prospect for Fed easing, they seem largely unaware that initial Fed easings have almost invariably been associated with U.S. recessions. They’re running toward the fire.

Commentary

Warning: Federal Reserve Easing Ahead

Of all the distinctions that investors might make in the coming few years, one that I expect will serve investors particularly well is the distinction between how the market responds to monetary policy when investors are inclined toward speculation, versus how the market responds when investors are inclined toward risk-aversion.

Commentary

Vulnerable Windows and Swinging Trap Doors

Why do economies collapse into recession in ways that seem so difficult to predict? Why do financial markets collapse into free-fall with timing that’s so loosely related to market valuations? Much of the reason is that complex systems usually aren’t linear.

Commentary

Why a 60-65% Market Loss Would Be Run-Of-The-Mill

One might view the very comparison of present stock market conditions to 1929 market peak as exaggerated and preposterous, but then, one would be wrong. The fact is that on the valuation measures we find most strongly correlated with actual subsequent long-term and full-cycle market returns across history (and even in recent decades), current market valuations match or exceed those observed at the 1929 peak.

Commentary

You Are Here

Probably the most useful exercise we can do at present is to examine where the markets and the U.S. economy are in their respective cycles - with 19 charts and detailed analysis. There’s little question that the market is long into what Rhea described as the final phase of a bull market; “the period when speculation is rampant – a period when stocks are advanced on hopes and expectations.”

Commentary

Ground Rules of Existence

Over the years, I’ve often quoted Galbraith’s remark about the “extreme brevity of the financial memory.” During every speculative episode, investors come to believe that past experience is “the primitive refuge of those who do not have the insight to appreciate the incredible wonders of the present,”...

Commentary

Turtles All the Way Down

Last week, the Federal Reserve issued policy statements intended to telegraph a shift toward easier, or at least more patient monetary policy. Though Wall Street interpreted this shift as a major about-face in the Fed’s policy stance, the most significant shift in Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s statements actually occurred on November 28.