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“A plague o’ both your houses!”

-Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet

 

Mercutio’s immortal phrase was aimed at the houses of Montague and Capulet whose feuding led to the tragic sequence of events that make up one of Shakespeare’s most famous and timeless pieces.  The phrase has been resurrected ever since to express frustration, typically with two opposing sides of an argument. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, following a bloody clash between striking steel workers and the Chicago Police Department that came to be known as the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937, said that “The majority of people are saying just one thing, ‘A plague on both your houses’”.   Today, among the dearth of political leadership in Washington at such a time of crisis, many in the country are saying the same to the respective political parties.

Frustration is usually a transient feeling, sooner or later dissipated by resolution, compromise, apathy, or distraction.  As being poor became a way of life for many during the Great Depression, it seems frustration is now becoming a core component for not only the American existence, but for many people around the world. 

Conspiracy theories abound regarding the Federal Reserve and the degree of corruption that exists in America’s economic and political institutions but, Ben Bernanke’s assertion that the slow pace of economic growth is “frustrating” seems genuine to me.  I think frustration is something the country can relate to.  However, it was nearly unconscionable to me that he would used the phrase of a “bit of bad luck” when referring to the spike in oil prices and the dampening effect it had on economic growth this past year.  It was clear to us at Hedgeye that the Federal Reserve’s own policies were significant drivers of higher oil prices.       

Another political plague exists today in Europe as the never-ending saga of the sovereign debt crisis rambles on.  It has long been said by European officials that the union must be preserved and that the respective futures of the member states are inextricably linked, by both circumstance and by law.  I would view the former as being somewhat subjective and the latter as being, as was shown when Brussels consented to bailouts that may or may not be forbidden by the Maastricht Treaty, completely open to interpretation if the situation demands it.  A dramatic series of events is needed and the one certainty is that there will be pain.  Listening to politicians bending logic and essentially wasting further time with tired old solutions is becoming frustrating for Europe’s people.     

When President Obama was elected in 2008, he had successfully campaigned on a message of change.  I, like many other Americans, was taken by the message and the delivery, but it’s not possible for one person to change a compromised political system and this country is realizing now that there will be no quick fix.

This realization is all the more daunting when one considers that many of the same actors are in the same roles that they’ve been in for years.  Geithner and Bernanke are some of the most obvious examples but recent news of John Corzine possibly being culpable in the collapse of MF Global following his claim that thirteen years ago he “understood the flaws” at Long Term Capital Management better than anyone is equally disheartening.   

If repeating the same action again and again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, to use Einstein’s quote, then surely entrusting the same players with the same or similar responsibilities and expecting different results is also a folly.   In this respect, Wall Street and Washington D.C., are frustrating their shareholders and voters to no end.

The cast iron dogmas of the sphere of investing, as those of the policy world, are being exposed as useless.  We believe that a flexible, nimble, and data-driven investment process is essential to surviving the turbulence that is visiting the financial markets with greater and greater frequency as the unpredictable actions of governments continue to cause uncertainty.  Clearly some of the old guard in Wall Street, and Mr. Corzine is one example, have not learned to invest prudently. 

Over recent weeks, predicting whether macro factors or earnings were to be the driving force behind stock performance on any given day has been a fool’s errand.  With the wisdom of hindsight, however, I can say that macro factors have been more of a focus than earnings over the past month.  The “Greece Doesn’t Matter” television pundits have been quiet of late.  Soon the earnings season will be over and a new macro season starts.  Our “King Dollar” thesis is going to be one that we monitor closely with a minefield of catalysts heading into the holiday season.  Hedgeye has been highly accurate in calling the US Dollar over the last three years and, as Keith likes to say, “if you get the dollar right you get a lot of other things right.” 

Just as Wall Street needs a change in leadership, our policy makers need to step aside and allow new leaders to win back the confidence of the country.  The Federal Reserve’s forecast for GDP growth in 2011 is now 1.6%-1.7% versus 2.7%-2.9% prior and 2.5%-2.9% versus 3.3%-3.7% prior for 2012.  In a year, according to the Federal Reserve’s updated economic projections, the unemployment rate is scheduled to be 8.6%.  The Federal Reserve’s track record is less-than-satisfactory, so those projections certainly should not be relied upon and are likely overly-optimistic.  A mere 40 basis points of improvement in the unemployment rate is certainly frustrating.   40 basis points is of little use to the 46 million Americans now depending on food stamps for sustenance.

I can respect the experience that many of the policy makers in Washington possess and would love to someday hear or read any of their perspectives on what went wrong in the last few years.  However, given that this country is currently embroiled in a sort of economic Vietnam, I believe that the coach – President Obama – will ultimately be judged harshly for not having brought in new players in key economic policy roles.  Experience can be good but it isn’t necessarily always helpful.  As Robert Benchley said, “A boy can learn a lot from a dog: obedience, loyalty, and the importance of turning around three times before lying down”. 

Function in disaster; finish in style,

Howard Penney

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