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“Knowing others is intelligence, knowing yourself is true wisdom.”

-Lao Tse

The closing of the year elicits contemplation and self-reflection. No, I’m not going to head down the road of providing a list of 10 surprises.  These lists are generally interesting to read, but – ironically – many of the forecasted “surprises” become consensus and are not particularly useful from an investment idea perspective. 

At Hedgeye, we like to think about what is going to happen in the next three month as opposed to where we are going to be 12 month from now.  As we like to say, “You’ve got to play the game that is in front of you.” Playing the game requires discipline and some self reflection to stay grounded.

Of course, as with anything, it is easiest if you have a process or methodology.  On a personal level, yoga is one thing that helps me to enjoy introspection.  In India, the method of self-reflection is called svadhyaya: Sva means “self” and adhyaya means “investigation, inquiry, or education”.  If you practice, svadhyaya it helps you observe moment-to-moment changes in your mind and pose important introspective questions. How are you feeling in your body? Is your mind present? What subject matter draws your mind away? 

When it comes to Hedgeye, we try to have a method for observing moment-to-moment changes in the market and also in our current stances on different themes and investment ideas we generate for our clients.  As we’ve said time and again, clients are a key part of this process and their feedback aids us immeasurably in our efforts to better serve them.

Heading into the New Year, it’s an appropriate time to reflect upon (1) What has transpired? (2) Where are we headed? and (3) What is left undone?   Svadhyaya is what we aspire to at Hedgeye; the ability to investigate, inquire, and educate ourselves and our processes.  Knowing oneself and obtaining true wisdom is likely a goal to be chased but never quite achieved.  If the pursuit of this goal enriches our perspective on markets and processes then that, in and of itself, makes us better on the margin.  And, as we always say, what matters happens on the margin.

Hedgeye’s take on the intermediate-term global macro outlook is three-pronged:

  1. Growth is slowing
  2. Inflation is accelerating
  3. Interconnected risk is compounding

It has been our view for some time that interest rates are going higher.  In terms of timing this call, it is extremely difficult given the scale of government interference in capital markets in recent times.  This call is, quite simply, anchored on our view that global risk is compounding.  Last week the US 10-year Treasury yield reached 3.33%, 28% higher than a month ago, compared with Germany’s borrowing costs rising +27% to 3.03%.  The trend continues today with the US Treasuries getting smoked again this morning as the world continues to see the inflation that Ben Bernanke is not allowed to see.

Yes, inflation is accelerating globally.  People are paying higher prices for what they use to feed themselves, clothe their children, and drive their cars than one year ago.  CPI in China accelerated to a 28-week high of 5.1% year-over-year in November.  Food inflation accelerated to 11.7% year-over-year.

The price of oil recently hit $90 for the first time in two years, gas prices at the pump are at $3.00 and according to Bloomberg, consumers of food made from wheat and corn should brace for higher prices, if history is any guide, after bad weather and a shortage of farmland threaten to create supply “shock waves”.

In keeping with the idea that we must play the game that is in front of us, the “growth is slowing” theme is being challenged by the “fiscal lunacy” of the politicians in Washington who will be adding another $900 billion to the deficit over the next five years.  Now the latest projections are that the USA 2011 budget deficit will hit $1.5 trillion after it was just $1.1 trillion a few months back. 

On the heels of the tax plan, consensus expects that the tax reductions will add 1% to GDP growth in 2011 (one time boost).  Side-effects of Bernanke’s monetary policy will, in my view, go some way towards offsetting this boost.  As the Federal Reserve stokes inflation through Quantitative Guessing, a run up in rates, coupled with a 15-20% decline in home prices in 2011, will mitigate the benefit of lower taxes.

The combination of inflation and ever-increasing debt levels does not encourage growth, it inhibits it!  Jobless Stagflation is a theme we’ve been highlighting for months and it will become clearer to many as 2011 proceeds.

I believe it would be beneficial for the administration to consider svadhyaya as a New Year Resolution.  The government today is an active participant in the markets.  To what end this participation?  Is there an end to this participation?  If government’s role is to protect employment levels and maintain price stability, I think the scoreboard speaks for itself on both counts. 

Projections offered by the administration in 2009 as to where unemployment would peak during this crisis have been far surpassed.  If government’s role is to somehow protect and enhance the life that its citizens lead, the almost 43 million people surviving on food stamps may have something to say about the administration’s success on that score.  It’s not that the administration it not trying; it is relentless in its pursuit of what it thinks is needed to bolster the obviously fragile economy. 

I do not believe it would take an otherworldly bout of introspection for the administration to realize that these efforts are not working and, more pointedly, they are expensive.  The public sector furor defined by massive government balance sheets has taken hold in Europe and you can bank on it coming into the fold in the U.S. in the not-too-distant future. 

David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital was interviewed by Charlie Rose on December 6th and highlighted some “unfinished business” that was left unresolved from the last crisis.  Einhorn is a thoughtful person and offered a metaphor for the economy at present of being “between two storms”.  The private sector storm was first but the public sector crisis is coming.  I don’t know David Einhorn and he may not be a yoga aficionado, but I would hazard a guess that svadhyaya would not be a completely foreign concept to him. 

Function is disaster; finish in style

Howard Penney