Metamorphosis of a Bear into Bull
James Grant, a self-admitted, “glass half-full kind of fellow,” recently contributed a Wall Street Journal article predicting the economic recovery will be a “bit of a barn burner.” Traditionally a pessimist, he recently experienced the metamorphosis from a bear to a bull. James Grant is a multi-book author who has written for the Interest Rate Observer for more than 25 years with thoughtful observations on economics and interest rates. With a value-tilted investment philosophy, Mr. Grant prides himself as a contrarian and anti-CNBC advocate.
Markets have transitioned from sheer panic (what Grant calls the “bomb shelter”) to a manageable utter fear – meaning a lot of investors still have cash stuffed under the mattress in low yielding money market and CD (Certificates of Deposit) accounts. This bed cash will ultimately act as dry powder to ignite the market higher, should earnings and macroeconomic variables continue to improve. Despite the approximate 60% index bounce from the March 2009 lows, the S&P 500 still remains more than 30% below the late 2007 highs.
Glass Half Empty Crowd
Skeptics of the market advance generally fall into one of the following buckets:
1) Armageddon is coming, just wait. Our country is choking on too much debt.
2) The stock market advance is merely a bear market rally within a secular bear market.
3) Rally fueled by temporary stimulus, which once it dries up will lead to another recession and bear market.
4) Earnings results that are coming in better than expected are merely coming from unsustainable cost-cutting.
Grant’s Rose-Colored Glasses
James Grant has a different view of the unfolding recovery in light of historical cycle patterns:
“Growth snapped back following the depressions of 1893-94, 1907-08, 1920-21 and 1929-33. If ugly downturns made for torpid recoveries, as today’s economists suggest, the economic history of this country would have to be rewritten.”
Consistent with Mr. Grant’s views, Michael T. Darda, chief economist of MKM Partners stated “The most important determinant of the strength of an economy recovery is the depth of the downturn that preceded it. There are no exceptions to this rule, including the 1929-1939 period.” Grant goes on to compare the current recession with the 1981-82 variety:
“[During] the first three months of 1982, real GDP shrank at an annual rate of 6.4%, matching the steepest drop of the current recession, which was registered in the first quarter of 2009. Yet the Reagan recovery, starting in the first quarter of 1983, rushed along at quarterly growth rates (expressed as annual rates of change) over the next six quarters of 5.1%, 9.3%, 8.1%, 8.5%, 8.0% and 7.1%. Not until the third quarter of 1984 did real quarterly GDP growth drop below 5%.”
Further support for a stronger than anticipated recovery is provided via data supplied by the Economic Cycle Research Institute:
“The institute’s long leading index of the U.S. economy, along with supporting sub-indices, are making 26-year highs and point to the strongest bounce-back since 1983. A second nonconformist, the previously cited Mr. Darda, notes that the last time a recession ravaged the labor market as badly as this one has, the years were 1957-58 —after which, payrolls climbed by a hefty 4.5% in the first year of an ensuing 24-month expansion.”
Mr. Grant does not promise as large a recovery implied by Mr. Darda, but historical standards point in that direction, especially when you factor in vast pools of cash and cautious prognosticators and economists such as Ben Bernanke, Warren Buffett, and Paul Volcker. These financial “giants” have not deterred Mr. Grant’s metamorphosis from a bear to a bull.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, and at the time of publishing had no direct positions in BRKA/B. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.