Instead of the obligatory "Outlook 2022," this is the backdrop for any number of possible annual outlooks. And, it ain't pretty...
"You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by avoiding it today."Abraham Lincoln With protestors storming the U.S. Capital - some of which breaching the outer doors and freely strolling the U.S. Senate floor - as surreal and unprecedented backdrop, I sit down to organize a sketch of Alphacution's outlook for the year ahead, starting with a very wide lens: The U.S. economy - much like the rest of the other "developed world" economies - is naturally weaker than the meticulously curated employment and productivity numbers suggest. Technology adoption (from workflow automation to social media distraction), growing debt burdens, ossified resource allocation practices, cross-region labor arbitrage, deteriorating infrastructure, and other factors all converge to deteriorate "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for a growing portion of the population. The COVID pandemic of 2020 - and however long it remains disruptive throughout 2021 as vaccines are being rolled out - acts as an accelerant of many of these factors. Ours is a deteriorating version of capitalism. Symptoms emblematic of the stage [...]
"For every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction." - Sir Isaac Newton The performance - or, health - of complex systems is difficult to measure. Typically, you need deviations from norms across numerous sensors - the analytics - converging to signal whether a complex system is functioning properly or not. Add the inevitability of change, and the task becomes exponentially more challenging as continuity of measurement over time decays... And then, there's the stuff that's difficult to measure, if it's measured at all. The intangibles. The slippage factors that don't come into play until they do. Like, a global pandemic - or when a frustrated segment of the population spills out into the streets in cities - big and small - across the landscape... The indicators most commonly used to signal the health of our complex markets may no longer serve their stated purposes. For instance, does the VIX still measure fear? Aside from today's notable spike, the equity markets appeared to have returned to normal volatility [...]
"The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." - Albert Camus "Captain Jack will get you high tonight And take you to your special island Captain Jack will get you by tonight Just a little push, and you'll be smilin'." - Billy Joel This one has a long fuse, but you might enjoy the customary overallocation of pictures as we get into it: In a March 22nd note entitled "The Great Leverage Unwind" published by Guggenheim Investments, Global CIO Scott Minerd estimates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic like this: "...we would need to see about $4.5 trillion of quantitative easing (QE) before everything was resolved. This is in addition to emergency lending through the discount window, dealer repo operations, central bank liquidity swaps, and the Commercial Paper Funding Facility, Primary Dealer Credit Facility, and Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility. That would take the Fed’s balance sheet to at least $9 trillion, or about 40 percent of last [...]
"Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance." - Daniel Kahneman Chances are, "global pandemic" wasn't in your bag of quantamental factors; at least not by any name other than slippage. But now that that cat is out of that bag - and, rightly or wrongly, the wheels of a response strategy have largely been set in motion - the least we should do against a backdrop of historically significant uncertainty (aka - risk) is widen our lens as to the new spectrum of future market contagions that have suddenly become more probable... Of particular note, keep your eye on a little thing that isn't widely discussed in polite society: the Fed's balance sheet. As of April 1, the chart below illustrates over a century of total assets for the US Federal Reserve system - ironically, since around the time of the last global pandemic (in 1918). What you are seeing there at the recent end of [...]