Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook – Fourth Quarter 2014 by John Mauldin, Mauldin Economics
Forecasting is a singularly difficult task and is more often than not fraught with failure. The Federal Reserve has some of the smartest economists in the world, and yet their forecasts are so wrong so often (as in, they almost never get it right) that some have pointed out that it’s almost statistically impossible to be as bad as the Fed. Yet they continue to issue such forecasts and to base economic and monetary policy on them. Go figure.
Their forecasts, like most economic predictions, are based on past performance. Intricate economic models look at history to try to determine the future relationships among economic determinants. I really shouldn’t pick on the Fed so much as point out that almost all of us in the forecasting business have dismal track records. The world has grown so complex that it is singularly difficult to understand the interrelationships of the million-odd factors that determine the outcome of an economy.
This is especially true during those periods when we see economic regime change. Not only is using past performance and relationships difficult, it can actually be misleading, as what is going to happen in a uniquely turbulent future has not been modeled in the past. I have been suggesting for some time that we are coming to the end of a long cycle and entering a period where past relationships will no longer hold. I have likened this to what happens when one approaches the boundary of a black hole in space. All known physical relationships are turned on their heads, and the math that works in the rest of the universe no longer applies.
For me, the massive amount of debt we have accumulated in our own planetary confines is the economic equivalent of a black hole, and we are approaching the point at which that debt will implode if it is not resolved. As with Greece, the ability of players large and small to pay debt off in a global deflationary environment has been greatly compromised. I’m not certain how this will end. Maybe everyone will sit down and hammer out something like a Plaza Accord to resolve the debt, by which I mean dilute it, destroy it, make it go away, restructure it – whatever it takes. Of course, history suggests that we will do such a thing only in the middle of or immediately following a crisis.
Today’s Outside the Box is from our old friend Dr. Lacy Hunt of Hoisington Asset Management. He muses on the effects of debt and takes us back to the ’20s and ’30s, when there were similar problems with debt in countries that had engaged in currency wars for over a decade.
Clearly the policies of yesteryear and the present are forms of “beggar-my-neighbor” policies, which the MIT Dictionary of Modern Economics explains as follows: “Economic measures taken by one country to improve its domestic economic conditions … have adverse effects on other economies. A country may increase domestic employment by increasing exports or reducing imports by … devaluing its currency or applying tariffs, quotas, or export subsidies. The benefit which it attains is at the expense of some other country which experiences lower exports or increased imports.… Such a country may then be forced to retaliate by a similar type of measure.”
The existence of over-indebtedness, and its resulting restraint on growth and inflation, has forced governments today, as in the past, to attempt to escape these poor economic conditions by spurring their exports or taking market share from other economies. As shown above, it is a fruitless exercise with harmful side effects.
This is an important OTB, and it behooves us to pay attention, because Lacy has been one of the most accurate forecasters of interest rates for the last 20 to 30 years. He will also be at our conference in San Diego, where he is always one of the most highly rated speakers. And I want to express my appreciation to Lacy for once again letting us reproduce his work.
I send this Outside the Box to you from Little Cayman Island, where I am visiting my friend Raoul Pal at his beach house, which he just finished building. It is at the “far end” of a ten-mile-long by one-mile-wide island that is a libertarian paradise in that there is no government. Just some hundred-odd neighbors taking care of what needs to be done. With 10 MB broadband. Little Cayman is a bit of an island oddity, in that it is the tippy-top ridge of a very tall undersea mountain; just off the beaches, the Cayman Trench plunges to a depth of 25,000 feet, the deepest water in the Caribbean and one of the deeper trenches in the world. It is a scuba diver’s paradise, which pretty much drives the economy of the island.
While I was working, my companion went snorkeling some 20 feet off the beach from Raoul’s home. After she raved about the beauty and all the fish, I donned a little gear and for the first time in my life went snorkeling. I need to work on my snorkeling technique, but if Raoul invites us back, I will be better prepared. It was indeed a beautiful experience.
Raoul will also be presenting, along with his partner Grant Williams (of Things That Make You Go Hmmm… fame) at my conference, and he outlined what he thinks their presentation will cover. As is typical with Raoul and Grant, their approach to this talk is very fresh and different, focused on where global growth will go in the next few decades. Not exactly were you might expect it to go. I will be in the front row.
Raoul and Grant are the founders of RealVision TV, where they present in-depth interviews with famous investors. One of their concepts is to create a chain letter of sorts, by having a person who is interviewed find another fascinating person to interview. The interviewee then becomes the interviewer in the next round, and one great mind leads to another. Raoul led off by engaging Kyle Bass in a long-form interview that is fascinating. You can see it for free right here. There is also a special introductory price for Mauldin Economics readers to subscribe to RealVision.
Finally, I know there are many people who wonder about the lives of those of us who write about macroeconomics and investments for a living. Here is a picture of two of us (Raoul would be the handsome one) in typical working attire. It’s a hard-knock life.
As it turns out, I am actually hitting the send button from Grand Cayman Island, as we were summoned and rushed to the “airport” on Little Cayman to take a helicopter flight over to a nearby island where larger planes could land, because the small plane that usually services Little Cayman had broken down. Not a big deal, and as a bonus we had a helicopter tour of Little Cayman. I speak at the iCIO gathering this afternoon