Some of the best articles we’re read in a long time came up this weekend. Grab a coffee and go through these:
We’re big fans of Jeremy Grantham (even though not actionable in any sense for traders of our time-frame we find his writing brilliant) and this interview did not disappoint: Can Jeremy Grantham Profit from Ecological Mayhem? A few of our favorite excerpts:
“Phosphorus makes up 1 percent of your body weight,” he said, looking up from the page to catch my eye. “It’s a basic element, the residue of exploded stars. You can’t just make more.” He also pointed out that most economists see global trade as a win-win proposition, but resource limitation turns it into a win-lose, zero-sum contest. “The faster China grows, the higher grain prices go, the more people in China or India who upgrade to meat, the higher the tendency for Africa to starve,” he said.
“Grantham believes that the best approach may be to recast global warming, which depresses crop yields and worsens soil erosion, as a factor contributing to resource depletion. “People are naturally much more responsive to finite resources than they are to climate change,” he said. “Global warming is bad news. Finite resources is investment advice.” He believes this shift in emphasis plays to Americans’ strength. “Americans are just about the worst at dealing with long-term problems, down there with Uzbekistan,” he said, “but they respond to a market signal better than almost anyone. They roll the dice bigger and quicker than most.”
“Grantham, who says that “this time it’s different are the four most dangerous words in the English language,” has become a connoisseur of bubbles. His historical study of more than 300 of them shows the same pattern occurring again and again. A bump in sales or some other impressive development causes people to get excited. When they do, the price of that asset class — South Sea company shares, dot-coms — goes up, and human nature and the financial industry conspire to push it higher. People want to hear good news; they tend to be bad with numbers and uncertainty, and to assume that present conditions will persist. In the financial industry, the imperative to minimize career risk produces herd behavior. As John Maynard Keynes, one of Grantham’s heroes, put it, “A sound banker, alas! is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional and orthodox way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.” All these factors contribute to a surge of what Keynes called “animal spirits,” which encourages people to convince themselves that this time prices will just rise and rise.”
“When prices go up and stay up, it’s not a bubble. Prices may always revert to the mean, but the mean can change; that’s a paradigm shift. As Grantham tells it, oil went first. For a century it steadily returned to about $16 a barrel in today’s currency, then in 1974 the mean shifted to about $35, and Grantham believes it has recently doubled again. Metals and nearly everything else — coal, corn, palm oil, soybeans, sugar, cotton — appear to be following suit. “From now on, price pressure and shortages of resources will be a permanent feature of our lives,” he argues. “The world is using up its natural resources at an alarming rate, and this has caused a permanent shift in their value. We all need to adjust our behavior to this new environment. It would help if we did it quickly.”
Here is the full text of the GMO letter. Not exactly “merry” reading but definitely worth your time: (thanks @radenmasbowo for the links) Part I Part 2
Two articles focused on the stink bombs coming our way from Europe:
Post from Barry Ritholtz at the Big Picture who is our Go-To guy for times of marco crisis:
How the Fed Got Itself Boxed In — fantastic article that gives light to our current situation. Even this week you could hear traders/investors complaining about the lack of Fed intervention into the crash. We expect the Fed now to get us out of trouble everytime the market crashes, and that mentality is problematic. Read the excellent post.