Does wealth have a place to hide in these economic times?
*Barron's, by Sandra Ward with Jeremy Grantham, February 11, 2008
This Credit Crisis Has a Long Way to Run
“Barron’s: You, along with George Soros, have called this the worst financial crisis we’ve had in the post-war era.
Grantham: This is much more global than, say, the savings-and-loan crisis was. The world is obviously much more globalized than at any time since the late 19th century and much more interrelated in almost every way, certainly financially. To have the leading economy and the reserve currency having a major-league credit crisis would by itself make it more important than earlier ones.
Secondly, this occurred at a time of what I believe is the first global bubble in pretty well all asset prices, so there is a much greater degree of broad-based vulnerability. Then it is a question of degree, and how carried away the sloppy lending was: It was very carried away. Not just in the design of needlessly complicated instruments, but in the enthusiasm — recklessness one might say — with which they were sold.
Can these bubbles burst if the Fed is easing the way they are?
Well, this is an amazing little tidbit. People think the Federal Reserve can stop a bear market because they can throw money at it and lower interest rates. It is even more certain we can collectively stop a bear market if some fiscal stimulus is thrown in. To which I say, ‘Oh, you mean like 2000 and 2002?’ — when they threw what I call the greatest stimulus in American history, an unparalleled series of interest-rate cuts, cumulating in two, almost three, years of negative real returns, real interest rates coupled with a really substantial tax cut, which would never have happened without 9/11.
The combination would have gotten the dead to walk, and it stopped the bear market eventually. But the Standard & Poor’s 500 was down 50% and the Nasdaq — which was all anyone talked about back then — went down 78%. And a puny five to six years later, people are saying there is not going to be a bear market because the Fed is going to lower rates and because the government is going to have a stimulus package. But we have just been there, done that, and we had a nice bear market.
What about places to hide?
That isn’t something we can laugh off. Last time, there were plenty of opportunities: Bonds were cheap and TIPS (Treasury-inflation protective securities) were brilliant; real estate was cheap and REITs were brilliant. Even within equities, emerging markets were much cheaper than U.S. equities, and within U.S. equities, value stocks were only a little expensive and small-caps were only a little expensive and small-cap value was actually a little bit cheap. So you could really hide and could reasonably expect to make money, which we did in each of the three years of the bear market.”
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