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David Merkel
David Merkel
Articles (5983) 

Be Prepared! What if Things Go Right?

December 22, 2010

Before I start this evening, the Aleph Blog Lunch scheduled for 12/29 will start at Noon, not 1PM.


Though the US equity market seems short-term overbought, I want to poke at an area of the investment space that is more bearish than me. Though I admit there are many problems in the world today, investment is still a question of buying assets that will deliver the greatest amount of purchasing power over time.

And though I don’t think the equity premium is high on average, I certainly prefer stocks to bonds here. Cash is another matter — I could see both stocks and bonds decline over the next year, though that is not my default scenario. Commodities are tougher, and I don’t have a strong opinion.

But I could be wrong in a wide number of ways. If one looked at my personal asset allocation, it would look something like this:

  • House 15%
  • Private equity/debt 12% (I’m an angel on the side? Well, sort of. I help close friends. The debt was in my opinion junk grade, and now investment grade.)
  • Cash 10%
  • TIPS 3%
  • Public equities 60%
That doesn’t look so bearish. Part of my operating philosophy is that over time, things do tend to go right, but not all of the time. Great Depressions are normal events, not abnormal events. They occur because we have a debt-fueled expansion in some major asset that is a temporarily virtuous cycle, until players begin relying on capital gains to keep their position financed. That doesn’t happen, and the asset bubble begins to unwind leading to debt problems.

At present, we are part way through the debt crisis. The banks aren’t in great shape yet; I still think that their assets may be overstated on their balance sheets. It remains to be seen whether the banking crisis will turn into a sovereign crisis. In the Eurozone, it may be worse. The mechanisms they are trying to set up are trying to defuse the risks of Eur0fringe credits to Eurocore banks. Cheaper for Eurocore governments to discourage lending to the Eurofringe, much as that cuts against the concept of a common market.

The debt crisis is not over; it is morphing into a sovereign crisis, aid by the growing unfunded liabilities from government pensions and healthcare.


At present I see professionals bullish on stocks, and bearish on bonds. They are expecting that GDP growth will pick up, and inflation be moderate.

I think stagflation is a real possibility, with inflation and unemployment rising. That would be bearish for bonds, and less so for stocks.

But back to my original point. I don’t have simply one estimate of where things are going, I have many estimates, and it is quite possible that things go right. Governments and policy makers have an interest in making sure things go right, so it is not airy fairy to presume that the present condition will continue, even if real growth slows.

A great trouble with a dynamic economy is that it is not possible to compare eras, because the underlying structures of each era changes.

And so at present I muddle in the middle, investing on the low side of bullishness.

David Merkel


About the author:

David Merkel
David J. Merkel, FSA, CFA, is the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities. His specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In his spare time, he takes care of his eight children with his wonderful wife Ruth.

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