May Volatility

Two weeks ago in my posting, $1 Trillion Dollar Rescue Plan & a Changing of the Guard, I closed with: “This was clearly a historic week on the continent and in the United Kingdom. There is a new determination to deal with the structural issues that have left most of the countries with debt loads that the global bond markets can not support in the long run, and there is a new a resolve by these countries to put themselves on a course that will support sustainable long-term growth. The Obama administration will need to start addressing deficit reduction as well as we approach the November mid-term elections. Those of us in the private equity business will be closely watching the impact of government actions on recovering credit markets.”

Since I wrote that, Treasury Secretary Geithner visited England and Germany on his way back from China and advised them to take action to put the $1 trillion dollar rescue plan into effect. “After two years in which an historic financial crisis seemed to deprive the U.S. of its self-confident global economic leadership, Mr. Geithner signaled a newfound willingness to reassert American authority on the future of the world economy… ‘What Europe should do is implement the program they laid out,’ Mr. Geithner said Wednesday. The basic lesson of financial crises is that you have to come in and act quickly and with force.” (WSJ: May 26, 2010) Then on the 27th China denied it was reviewing its holding of Eurozone debt. “The denialwhich followed a Financial Times report Wednesday about the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, an agency that rarely answers questions from the mediahighlights China’s awareness of how volatile financial markets have become increasingly sensitive to even hints about how Beijing deploys its enormous foreign reserves.” (WSJ: May 27, 2010)

In spite of all of these efforts, the global equity markets were pummeled in May. “Between the ‘Flash Crash’ and angst over the worsening crisis in Europe, stocks suffered a dismal May, posting their worst decline for the month since Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House.” (WSJ: May 29, 2010) To further contribute to the slide, Fitch announced that they were downgrading Spain’s credit rating. (FT: May 28, 2010) What does this new religion about reducing deficits as a percentage of GDP mean going forward? I turned to Bill Gross’ June Investment Outlook letter, “Three Will Get You Two (or) Two Will Get You Three.” (Pimco) “So the developing predicament is becoming more obvious to Shakespeare’s ‘lenders and borrowers be,’ ” Gross writes. “Fiscal tightening and budget conservatism may have come too late for Greece and its global lookalikes. Continued deficit spending may be an exorbitant privilege extended to only a few. Caught in the middle are many developed countries that likely face New Normal growth rates and a continued bumpy journey toward that destination. Investors must respect this rather tortuous journey in the months and years ahead for what it is: A deleveraging process based upon too much debt and too little growth to service it. No longer will ‘two get you three’ in the investment world. Not 1,000%, but 4-6% annualized returns for a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds is the likely outcome. And be careful sometimes ‘three gets you two.’ ”

On a more positive industry note, the conference and exhibition business is showing signs of life after a very difficult ‘09. Informa, which derives almost 50% of its global revenues from events and training business, is a candidate “for promotion in next month’s Footsie index reshuffle.” (FT: May 25, 2010)

We are also enjoying a strong recovery in our events business at Asset International. On May 20th and 21st, ai5000 Editor-in-Chief Kip McDaniel produced our first Chief Investment Officer Summit (CIOS) in New York City. The event received high marks from all the attendees and sponsors. Our featured dinner speaker was Nassim Nicholas Taleb, best-selling author of The Black Swan, which has just been released in a second edition with a new section, “On Robustness and Fragility.” I highly recommend that this book gets added to your summer reading list.

We will hold our second CIOS event of the year in London on October 7th and 8th and once again Nassim Taleb will be the featured speaker and will explain how Black Swan events result in the market volatility we are experiencing.