Why? “Because investors are paying a high price for the chances they’re taking”, in his latest monthly investment outlook, the Janus Henderson bond manager says that investors should be wary as low interest rates, aging populations and global warming which inhibit real economic growth and intensify headwinds facing financial markets:
Excessive debt/aging populations/trade-restrictive government policies and the increasing use of machines (robots) instead of people, create a counterforce to creative capitalism in the real economy, which worked quite well until the beginning of the 21st century. Investors in the real economy (not only large corporations but small businesses and startups) sense future headwinds that will thwart historic consumer demand and they therefore slow down investment.
Lamenting the onset of the new normal era, Gross says that “because of the secular headwinds facing global economies, currently labeled as the “New Normal” or “Secular Stagnation”, investors have resorted to “making money with money” as opposed to old-fashioned capitalism when money and profits were made with capital investment in the real economy”
… instead of making money by investing in the real economy, savers/investors increasingly are steered toward making money in the financial economy – making money with money. And that, thanks to nearly $8 trillion of QE asset purchases from major central banks and the holding of short-term borrowing rates near zero or even negative, has made this secular shift in monetary policy extremely profitable.
The biggest hurdle is, of course, record low interest rates: “since cash yields nothing, and in fact depreciates in value day to day given even low 1%-2% inflation, savers/investors exchange cash for alternative choices involving less liquid, longer maturity, and in some cases more risky assets. A bank deposit that earns interest but offers ATM accessibility in measured amounts would be a first step. The available yield – more than 0% but hardly attractive given bank fees and the like – would be a first example of making money with available cash.”
Gross’ broader point is that – as he has said repeatedly before – capitalism, as we know it, now longer works:
Zombie corporations are being kept alive as opposed to destroyed as with the Schumpeterian/Darwinian “survival of the fittest” capitalism of the 20th century. Standard business models forming capitalism’s foundation, such as insurance companies, pension funds, and banking, are threatened by the low yields that have in turn, produced high asset prices. These sectors in fact, have long-term maturities and durations of their liabilities, and their assets have not risen enough to cover prior guarantees, so we see Puerto Rico, Detroit, and perhaps Illinois in future years defaulting in one way or the other on their promises to constituents. Faulty finance-based capitalism supported by the increasingly destructive monetary policy begins to erode, not support the real economy.
Gross explains that his point is “that making money with money is an inherently acceptable ingredient in historical capitalistic models, but ultimately it must then be channeled into the real economy to keep the cycle going.” However, in a world in which central banks have pumpted $8 trillion in liquidity that is no longer possible, worse as he notes it is only a matter of time before the paradigm of “making money with money” no longer works:
Capitalism’s arteries are now clogged or even blocked by secular forces which when combined with low/negative yielding “safe” assets promise to stunt U.S. and global growth far below historical norms. Ultimately investors must recognize this risk along with increasingly poorly hedged liabilities and low growth resulting from “New Normal” secular headwinds in developed economies. Add global warming to this list, and you have the potential for low asset returns in which the now successful strategy of “making money with money” is seriously threatened. How soon this takes place is of course the investor’s dilemma, and the policymakers’ conundrum.
His advice on how money will be made, “or at least conservatively preserved” in the current environment, is “by acknowledging the exhaustion of “making money with money”. Strategies involving risk reduction should ultimately outperform “faux” surefire winners generated by central bank printing of money. It’s the real economy that counts and global real economic growth is and should continue to be below par.”
His conclusion is a familiar one: “don’t be mesmerized by the blue skies created by central bank QE and near perpetually low interest rates. All markets are increasingly at risk.”
The SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (NYSE:SPY) was trading at $244.01 per share on Tuesday morning, up $0.65 (+0.27%). Year-to-date, SPY has gained 9.16%, versus a % rise in the benchmark S&P 500 index during the same period.
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