New Normal is the Old Normal
By Bruce Wimberly (Contributing Writer to Investing Caffeine)
Pimco bond gurus love to talk about the “new normal” as if there is such a thing in financial markets. The problem with promoting such a view is that it assumes markets are static. Ask John Meriwether and his pack of Nobel Prize winning colleagues at LTCM how static the markets are? The point is nothing is normal about the markets or the economy for that matter. No one has a magic crystal ball that can predict the future and if you did you would certainly not promote it on CNBC. Mohamed El-Erian and his bond fund mavens (see also article on Bill Gross) are the poster children for the “new normal.” I will give them credit it is a great marketing gimmick. Not only does it sound cool but it covers just about everything while packaging it into a nice neat sound bite. Talk about media hounds –does El-Erian actually have time to run Pimco after spending hours getting his make-up ready for the countless interviews he gives each day? And what is up with the 1970ʼs mustache?
In the world according to Pimco the new normal, “reflects a growing realization that some of the recent abrupt changes to markets, households, institutions, and government policies are unlikely to be reversed in the next few years. Global growth will be subdued for a while and unemployment high; a heavy hand of government will be evident in several sectors…. But, hold on, I am getting ahead of myself here. I still have a few more preambles”! Iʼll bet he does.
El-Erian is never short on opinions. As an investor all I really care about is what does this mean for asset prices? Ok, so global GDP is going to slow as consumers and institutions repair balance sheets, government policies are becoming more burdensome, and unemployment stays high. Check. Got it. While I am not El-Erain I think what he really meant to say is, “We have already established our bond positions and if you want to help our shareholders you should follow our example and invest on the short end of the curve and be wary of inflation. The Fed is printing money and history suggests this will end badly.”
As a formal multi-billion dollar fund manager, I happen to agree with the guy. While I think he could have been more direct with his message, there is no way the fed can inflate us out of this mess without their being some pain down the road. The United States cannot print its way to a recovery. Todayʼs long bond auction is just the first shot against the bow. The 4 3/8% coupon went off at a price of $97.6276 for a 4.52% yield versus a 4.49% prior. In other words, the so-called “new normal” really is the old normal and rates are heading higher my friends.
In this so- called “new normal” of higher rates what should an investor do? First, avoid the treasury bubble like the plague. This is where irrational exuberance is occurring the most. Wake-up people. What Pimco bond managers should be telling you is, “Donʼt buy our funds” (except Reits, Tips and Commodities). Bonds are going to get killed. That is the “new normal”. The “new normal” is inflation is your worst nightmare for bonds and bond buyers. Yes, bonds had a great run the last decade and that is the point! History will not repeat itself. The “new normal” is stocks will outperform bonds over the next ten years handily. Yes, stocks might get hit in the short run as rates rise but in the long run they are a far better asset class to weather inflation. The simple truth is businesses can raise prices. That is all you need to know. Donʼt anchor to the last ten years, as Pimco would like you to do. Donʼt worry about slick slogans – like the “new normal”. Just think about all the assets that have poured into Pimcoʼs funds over the last 10-15 and ask yourself “is this likely to continue?”
To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky great investors “skate to where the puck will be”. In my opinion, that leads you away from the mutual fund behemoth that is Pimco and the safe haven of bonds and back into equities. Yes, the S&P 500 has gone nowhere the last 11 years and that is my point…. the “new normal” is the old normal and equities regain their long term return advantage over other asset classes.
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
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