God is a Capitalist

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2015 Q1 Forecast

The latest forecast from my model of the S&P 500 index for the first quarter of 2015 indicates that the market continues to outrun corporate profits. The pattern is similar to that of the late 1990s. When the market turns, it will fall below the level that profits would indicate as investors become pessimistic and afraid. It's likely that any January effect this next quarter will be small as the market corrects for profits.

When the market gets ahead of the forecast it means that the P/E ratio is expanding because investors are willing to pay more for the same level of profits. Some of that optimism comes from chasing yields as more bond holders grow weary of earning about one percent in real terms on bonds. Other buying comes from speculation about what the Fed will do.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Abe Channels Hoover

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently vowed to press companies to raise wages. His vow should have set off alarms among economists. Instead it elicited applause. The irony is thick but only economic historians and Austrian economists can appreciate it. Even the financial press missed it.

The irony lies in the fact that the first thing US President Herbert Hoover did when he discerned the approaching disaster of the Great Depression was to employ the persuasive power of his office to convince employers to refrain from cutting wages and attempt to raise them. The Wall Street Journal of December 16, page A11, quoted Mr. Abe saying,

As I toured the nation during the election,  I heard the opinions of ordinary citizens who are suffering from price increases and small-business owners in difficulties due to price hikes in raw materials.”

Friday, December 12, 2014

Plucked Chickens, MMT and Investing

Plato once defined man to his followers as a featherless biped. Diogenes heard it, caught a chicken and plucked it then brought it to Plato saying, “Here is your man.”  I got that story from Jack Sparrow at the Mercenary Trader.
Was Plato wrong? No. Most men walk on two legs and most of us don’t have feathers, but that is a very simplistic model of what constitutes mankind and as a result has very limited application. The humor in the story comes from Diogenes stretching the model beyond its ability to describe the real world and drawing wrong conclusions.
Plucked chicken modeling happens in economics on a regular basis. Economics is about modeling complex events. If the model is too complex it becomes unwieldy and few can understand it. The trend in economics over the past century has been to create extremely simple models. The assumption of equilibrium that forms the foundation of mainstream economics is the most egregious example.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tyranny of benchmarks

There has been a lot of press lately about institutional investors abandoning hedge funds. Conventional wisdom in finance tells us to compare fund performance with a benchmark, usually the S&P 500 index. That’s always a good idea, but the measure you use makes a lot of difference. The standard for decades has been rate of return. For example, the total return for the index in a given year might be 30% including price appreciation for the year plus dividends. Using that measure, few funds or investing strategies can beat benchmarks. That’s why conventional wisdom teaches us to buy a broad index and never sell until we retire. The assumption behind the philosophy is that earning a higher percentage means investors will have more money at the end of their investing life cycle.