Analysis: Q4-2017 Macro Update

Global economic expansion, falling unemployment levels, low interest rates, and low volatility have coalesced, creating a Goldilocks environment for asset valuations. This party continued throughout the fourth quarter and perhaps it will continue far into the future, as markets appear to be betting on; trees will grow to the sky, and everyone will get rich. But perhaps not.

As always, I have no idea what the near-term future will bring, which naturally leads me towards skepticism whenever expectations are at or near extremes (things are rarely as bad as they seem, and things are rarely as good as they seem). In the face of uncertainty, the best thing we can do is study up on economic history, trying to get a better sense of how today’s world fits in a larger picture. There isn’t much money to be made in trying to time the market, but there is plenty of money to be made in understanding the world a little better than the crowd.

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Analysis: Q3-2017 Macro Update

The resiliency of the economic expansion continued throughout the third quarter. GDP growth remained steady, unemployment remained low, the US dollar weakened, and the Fed remained on track for its second interest rate hike of the year. On the other hand, geopolitical concerns increased, the chance of tax reform decreased, and market valuations rose to a level that leaves little room for error.

As always, I have no idea what the near-term future will bring. This post is merely an attempt to see if we are closer to the top or the bottom of the economic cycle.

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Analysis: Q2-2017 Macro Update

Say we throw a ball up in the air and want to predict what will happen next. Newton tells us that transferring kinetic energy to the ball will accelerate it upwards, and the force of gravity will accelerate it downwards. We can confidently say the ball will eventually come back down to earth. Now, try predicting what would happen to the ball if instead, a random survey of the human population decided its movements. If more people felt like the ball should go up it would go up and vice versa.

There is no shortage of forecasters who would take a simplified approach to this problem – just assume the physics bound world and ignore the human element. Eventually, the two should match up. We can think of this as the efficient market camp. Contrast that to the behavioral camp, which focuses primarily on the human element. They note that the fear and greed of a crowd can push the ball to further extremes than the constraints of physics would suggest.

Our goal today is to predict where that economic ball is going. We will borrow from both camps, while not forgetting that this is an exercise in art, not science. We can’t predict where the ball is going nor when it will get there with any certainty, but we can get a decent idea of where the ball is. If the ball is closer to earth, odds are it will begin its journey upward. If the ball is closer to space, odds are it will begin its journey downward. Give or take ten years.

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