The Real Bubbles



 

“It is the measure of wealth itself [the Dollar] that is overvalued, not the goods that it represents”

 

 

I’m beginning to understand what is going on. I hope this article will shed some light on a variety of issues, some of which have been fairly complicated for the common investor to digest.

I will begin with a paragraph of adages and mantras being proclaimed on Wall Street, followed by a thorough analysis of why they are either baseless or misconceived. For the sake of simplicity I won’t use references but they are all available.

Mr. Market says

“The Commodities Bubble has begin to blow over, with everything from gold to oil to potash collapsing from their artificially inflated prices to mediate norms. Much of these gains have been driven by speculator demand, from hedge funds and the like, as well as consumer demand, including China, India and Russia.

“Investors have bought in every premium into these contracts and optimism is high. Furthermore, commodities have been a very poor investment relative to stocks and bonds. Even gold has underperformed inflation. As equities recoup its gains and inflows of capital return, pushing inflation down with it, commodities will be a relic of the past.

“Recessions are times of diminishing consumer demand and this will further help in reducing prices. With much of the investing community already discounting shares due to recession we can expect a bottom in the stock market with a rally beginning just as the economy is officially in recession. Financials and Homebuilders are set to gain the most as they have been beaten down severely, looking awefully cheap from a value prospective.

“The Dollar is set to rally as stark pessimism has oversold it. Recession will strengthen the currency. This will bring in investment flow previously allocated to Euro, Yen and Gold.”

The Problems With Mr. Market and the rest of the Wall Street gang (CNBC)

1. Wrong Biases
Wall Street as we know it is not a the Mutual Fund Industry, a group Hedge Funds or even large network of multi-national corporations. It is simply the media’s opinion of the former. There are few companies that end up becoming large corporations and even fewer speculators-wanna-be-billionaire-investors who actually live up to their own aspirations.

This is due to its ill-conceived sentiment, nothing more. It has all the facts (most do at least) yet the small investor constantly fails to make the integral judgments necessary to fulfill his lifelong ambition of success, or even of financial independence. They run after Enrons, Devalued Russian Rubles and dot coms believing beyond any doubt that they have it made for themselves and they have indeed “beat the street“.

However, the only way to real gains is to bet against the crowd, to look where no one else is looking, or even better, to see past the unsound biases that have plagued investors since the Mississippi Scheme in the early 18th century.

2. Confusing Short and Long Term
This is probably the most extreme variable, one which offers the most profits to he who can see past its vile inadequacies. Many (not all) of the arguements presented in favor of the Dow 36,000 were in one way or another grounded fundamentally. The problem with the gushes of cash inflow was they were based on an economic phenomenon that was years into the future, results that we are only beginning to see today – and interestingly enough by quite a different group of influences. While investors were placing bets on Yahoo and Juno, Google wasn’t yet a public company.

3. Forgetting Premium and Discount
In addition, shares were discounted many times over yet speculators failed to realize it. Any price was a great price because in the mind of these irrational gamblers the gains were infinite it seemed. It was hard for investors themselves to understand that they were betting that the company of purchase was one of sound safety that would last, and therewith deliver on its earnings 100-1000 times over, without any interruption whatsoever.

4. Wall Street too has Seasons
There are financial equinoxes, waxing and waning over decades. Warren Buffett himself cautioned Saturday not to expect big gains from the stock market in future years. Indeed, there are periods when year after year people move from the New York Stock Exchange to the commodity pits of the Midwest in search of better returns.

5. In The Dollar We Trust
A currency is present only to act as a constant method of exchange between goods. Yet the U.S. currency is nothing of the sort. It has become a staple of growth and a signal of everlasting creditability. Unfortunately for many this will not last. Contrary to many pundits the present rally in the Dollar, however great it may seem, is a mere decoy and will be short-lived.

Even Treasury Secretary Paulson has advocated that a weak dollar is in America’s best interest. While this may or may not be a positive development, one thing may be guaranteed by any student of financial history dating back to Cicero in ancient Rome: every fiat currency has failed, frequently bringing its empire down with it.

6. Action and Consequence
Finally it pays dearly for the prudent investor, who has the sole initiative to first protect and only then appreciate his capital, to understand the elements of check and balance. Every action that does not act as a stimulus for long term growth but merely for short term gain will inevitably be met by an equal and opposite loss. Failing to understand this will, for the ignorant, deplete capital faster than you can say “Bear Sterns”.

Commodities will not blow over.
Long term investors understand the need for correction and rest. Things that go straight up are indeed called bubbles and we are not there yet. Like fire feeding off oxygen and fuel, so too do bubbles feed off of extreme optimism and public involvement, both of which can’t disappear over a few weeks. The perceptive analyst will look around and tell with utmost certainty there is no sign of a any euphoria. If anything the investor relies on solid fundamentals, all of which are intact, and buys when the crowds are telling him to be cautious. If he didn’t sell he is sorry but it is insignificant because a bottom is close at hand.

Has all the oil inventories been replenished with years of supply? Have investors the fear that would send each preferring a Krugerrand over a wad of hundreds? Are the cheerleaders over at CNBC telling you to buy Krugerrands and load up on more shares of Nemont Mining?

Market Norms
I have read through many books on markets, investment and financial history yet I have never seen evidence of such a thing. Everything has an intrinsic value and it either sells at a premium to that value or a discount. Professional Traders look for market “norms” in the sense that they seek a short term variable and attempt to trade within that range yet they abandon all affiliation when this trend is broken, that which all may be confident that it will.

The Real Bubble
With pundits of financially-based markets they seem to make two awfully wrong assumptions. Firstly, that the a Commodity Bubble exists in Dollar denominated form and secondly that it has been inflated by artificial and speculative demand.

The first misconception is one that one would almost fail to consider to begin with. After all, the U.S. Dollar has been on the center stage of international trade since the Bretton Woods Agreement shortly after the Great Depression in 1941. Yet since 1913 its intrinsic value relative to goods and services has fallen by over 93%. The fact that there is still any goodwill left to the Dollar at all resembles a Bubble of sorts. It is the measure of wealth itself that is overvalued, not the goods that it represents.

Thus, it is not the goods and services that rise but the Dollars that fall; their inability to maintain their value. Nevertheless instead of markets taking their natural course and correcting itself, the Government is artificially inflating the money supply whilst protecting the very economy that its currency stands for. This devaluing of the Dollar to be able to finance its debts is in no way different than if Enron was given the very ability to print its own currency to continue its business operations or pay out to its shareholders.

This explains the underlying developements we have seen in physical goods, not too different from what we experienced in the 1970s, with a dangerous undersupply of commodities, runaway deficits and financial derivatives of enormous proportions.

I ask of the conscious minded economist, “With over $500 trillion in financial promises, which now seems to be Dollar-backed and secured by the Federal Government, what meager value may be given to the price for real goods, that which feeds and sustains mankind? Furthermore, if demand for goods the world over is rising is it not reasonable to assume that prices rise with it, if not to curb demand, then to act as an incentive for the farmer to increase production? Finally, what would have offset the interest for the speculator to profit from these gains if the fundamental demand continues unabated?”

To quote Charlie Munger “We have convulsions now that make Enron look like a tea party.”

Critical Optimism
Does the financial community really believe that there is excess optimism in commodities? That gold bullion are selling off shelves? That people left and right are participating in buying goods that will benefit from real demand? On the contrary, I see that many have found an opportunity to sell the only gold that they may have in their possessions to take advantage of higher market. This denotes good business sense of buying low and selling high, but certainly not in the realm of exuberance that we have seen in previous meltdowns.

Physical vs. Fiscal
Commodities and Equities. Gold and The Dow. It is a subject that many seem to overlook from a generation-term prospective (considering that Buffett’s long term is 10 years). It is the flaw you will see in every commodity-bearish argument: “Commodities just don’t cut it relative to equities”.

But let us look at the origins for monetary protocol: Traders bartered goods in the marketplace. With many various items coming from numerous townships it was necessary to create a measure of value, a pivot whereby difference between supply and demand may mediate; a method by which payment may be expandable without the physical presence of currency.

Thus began the credit cycle. Producer sold to seller, who bartered with traders, who retailed to the marketplace, who took home their foods from their labor and fed their families.

This “Credit”, unlike the commodity-based currencies of old, had but one restriction: the tolerance of the lender. As long as the lender would risk would the industry borrow. It is of no coincidence that this cycle of credit take years to build and then years to crumble.

The “historical trend”, if we may call it, offers fairly simple advice to the novice merchant who wishes to conserve and grow his capital:

When in times of expansion… lend, invest and do business. In times of contraction and uncertainty… Pay debts, take inventory and accumulate capital.

Recessions of Supply and Demand
It is interesting how mainstream economists will focus on something specific in great detail and fanfare and at the same time fail to see its direct opposite exposure. For instance, it is assumed that a recession diminishes demand for goods and therefore lowers prices overall, not only in the U.S. but also in China. Consequently however, a loss of demand will hurt producers who may decrease production. This will have the opposite effect and raise prices.

Furthermore, it is assumed that as we move into recession, investors have already discounted all the possible losses and write downs. At first glance this possibility seems preposterous. How can a market, however “efficient” it may be, properly and throroughly account for the very speculations that everyone from the companies to the Federal Reserve can only guess at? Besides, it’s quite humorous that Wall Street can call the middle of a recession when they can’t even call the beginning, let alone its happenstance altogether.

It goes without saying that the same case may be made for commodities, in the sense that recessionary results have already been discounted and accounted for, or that they even sell at a discount relative to post-recessionary time-tables.

Capitalism that would make Marx smile?
Capitalism works. And for he who says it doesn’t should look no further than every innovation and technological advancement since the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, it is a process and it may not be looked at point blank. There are times when the advantages of Capitalism may overextend its true worth, while there may be times that it will seem to underestimate it (much like your average share price).

For the last 28 years we have lived in a credit expansion. Yes, there have been pitfalls – the Crash of 87, LTCM, the DotCom collapse – yet we have rolled on. The world has undergone quite a change in that time and has made people sentimentally and physically wealthier than ever before. Liquidity was fluid, credit was available for anyone who needed it, lending was commercialized and industrialized allowing the investor in China to buy equity in a startup in Australia. What the lender would risk would the industry borrow.

Yet now the payments are due, and the funds we have borrowed to finance this wonderful world we have built for ourselves must be paid in full. We are not veering off a path of success, not failing at our ambitions, we are merely paying for what we have taken.

Our past actions have now brought about the future results. For years we benefited when investors fled from commodities to purchase equities and financial paper, suppressing prices through shorting, or “selling forward”, neglecting the farmers and producers. Now we must compensate those to increase supply in order to feed a larger, hungrier, wealthier, more innovated world.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: