When Gary Shilling was with us here last fall, he and I were feeling considerably more sanguine about the near-term propects for the US and global economies. In fact, I said about Gary that “that old confirmed bear is waxing positively bullish about the future prospects of the US. In doing so he mirrors my own views.”
In today’s excerpt from Gary’s quarterly INSIGHT letter, he tackles head-on the shift in sentiment and economic performance that has ensued since then. He steps us through the ebullient headlines and forecasts that dominated at year-end, and then remarks,
It’s as if an iron curtain came down between the last trading day of 2013 and January 2014. A headline in the Feb. 5, 2014 Wall Street Journal screamed, “Turnabout on Global Outlook Darkens Mood.”
Don’t get me (and Gary) wrong: many of the positive factors that he and I identified last fall are still in play; but they are longer-term, secular factors such as technological transformation and a tectonic shift in the energy landscape rather than the cyclical factors that will dominate for most of the rest of this decade.
In today’s OTB, Gary does an excellent job of summarizing and analyzing those cyclical factors. In this extended excerpt from INSIGHT, you’ll be treated to sections on investor and consumer behavior, deleveraging, housing, income polarization, unemployment, Obamacare and medical costs, the prospects for inflation, the Fed, emerging markets, and much more.
Be sure to see the close of the letter for Gary’s special offer to OTB readers.
I find myself in the lovely tropical city of Durban, South Africa. The hotel where I’m staying, The Oyster Box, is a lovely old throwback properly set on the Indian Ocean, where you can see the continual shipping traffic queuing up to get into the port, which is the largest in Africa. The hotel reminds me of the Raffles in Singapore, with a better view and somewhat more Old World charm. Or at least what I romanticize as Old World charm from movies I saw as a kid (though some of my younger readers are probably sure I lived in that era!).
I sleep now, then get up in less than five hours to catch a plane to Johannesburg, where I will spend the next three days doing more of the speeches and interviews that I’ve been doing for the last two, for my host Glacier by Sanlam. Anton Raath, the CEO, has that quintessential ability to make everyone feel welcome and keep them on goal. I am continually impressed with the quality of South African management, whether here or among the South African diaspora. If the government here could ever figure out how to get out of their way… I wrote a Thoughts from the Frontline almost exactly seven years ago that I called “Out Of Africa.” It was a very bullish take on a country that I could see had wonderful prospects. And indeed investing in South Africa would have been a good move at the time – a solid double in seven years.
But this trip I’ve seen things and talked to people that don’t give me the same feeling. We’ll talk about it this weekend, after I have more meetings with both stakeholders and analysts of the local economy. South Africa seems to me to face many of the same problems that have beset Brazil, Turkey, and others in the Fragile Six. Why is this? Why should a country with this many resources, both physical and human, be falling behind? I think some of you can guess the answer, but I will wait to tell the rest of you in this week’s letter.
Once again, for the fourth time in my life, my hot air balloon trip was canceled! Sigh. I am not sure what the travel gods are trying to tell me, but I will not give up, and one day I expect to soar above the earth on something other than my own hot air.
Have a great week.
Your wanting to come back to this hotel and pretend to be genteel for a few days analyst,
John Mauldin, Editor
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Risk On, Regardless
(Excerpted from the March 2014 edition of A. Gary Shilling’s INSIGHT)
U.S. stocks leaped 30% last year, continuing the rally that commenced in March 2009 and elevated the S&P 500 index 173% from its recessionary low (Chart 1). By late 2013, many investors were in a state of euphoria, even irrationally exuberant about prospects for more of the same this year and seized on any data that suggested that robust economic growth here and abroad would underpin more of the same equity performance.
Many forecasts from credible sources accommodated them. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in January said the leading indicators for its 34 members rose to 109.9 in November from 100.7 in October, foretelling faster economic growth in the first half of 2014 for the U.S., U.K., Japan and the eurozone.
The International Monetary Fund in mid-January raised its global growth forecast for 2014 real GDP from its October estimate by 0.1 percentage points to 3.7%, with the U.S. (up 0.2 points to 2.2%), Japan (up 0.4 to 1.7%), the U.K. (up 0.6 to 2.4%), the eurozone (up 0.1 to 1.0%) and China (up 0.3 to 7.5%) leading the way.
Outgoing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on January 3 said that the fiscal drag from federal and state fiscal policies that restrained growth in recent years was likely to ease in 2014 and 2015. Other deterrents such as the European debt crisis, tighter bank lending standards and U.S. household debt reductions were easing, he said. “The combination of financial healing, greater balance in the housing market, less fiscal restraint and, of course, continued monetary policy accommodation bodes well for U.S. economic growth in coming quarters.”
A Wall Street Journal poll of economists found an average forecast of 2.7% growth in 2014, up from 1.9% in 2013 and the official forecast of the perennially-optimistic Fed, made before Christmas, called for 2.8% to 3.2% real GDP growth this year. Also, chronically-optimistic Barron’s, in its Feb. 17, 2014 edition, headlined its cover story, “Good News. The U.S. Economy Could Grow This Year At A Surprisingly Robust 4%. Forget The Snow. Consumers And Businesses Are Ready To Spend.” Many investors also believed that the U.S. economy was about to break out of the 2% real GDP rises that have ruled since 2010.
It’s interesting that Barron’s ran this headline after investor sentiment shifted dramatically. It’s as if an iron curtain came down between the last trading day of 2013 and January 2014. A headline in the Feb. 5, 2014 Wall Street Journal screamed, “Turnabout on Global Outlook Darkens Mood.” As stocks flattened and then fell, people started to realize that economic growth last year was weak, rising only 1.9% from 2012 as measured by real GDP.
The fourth quarter annual rate was chopped from the 3.2% “advance estimate” by the Commerce Department to 2.4%, and one percentage point of the 2.4% was due to the jump in net exports as