Aronstein: How To Dissect Economic Cycles & Avoid "Terminal Stage" Vulnerabilities

Industry veteran and portfolio manager Michael Aronstein, CIO of Marketfield Asset Management, sat down with private investor Buddy Carter and Hedgeye CEO Keith McCullough in this edition of “Real Conversations.” The trio discussed critical developments facing investors right now and why the markets and economy look increasingly vulnerable.

Below is a transcribed excerpt from that discussion. (Click here to watch the video in its entirety.)

Aronstein: How To Dissect Economic Cycles & Avoid "Terminal Stage" Vulnerabilities - Aronstein Carter 9.22.16

Aronstein: When I look out my window in Manhattan and see what’s being built and the prices people are asking. It’s an anomaly and the type of thing that signals the terminal stage of a cycle. 

McCullough: Good point. It’s unique but you actually define the topping process as a surge in supply.

Aronstein: It is and it’s relentless. In 2003 to 2007, in the U.S., we were building 1 million extra homes a year because people thought it was like printing currency. But by the time mortgage conditions changed and the yield curve finally flattened there was no escape for anybody because you realized you had a lot more houses than there were people who wanted houses.

Carter: I see similarities today. Keith, you talk to private bankers. They are having the damnedest time appealing to people in any way shape or form because benign neglect has been so profitable. But the problem is that you don’t transition from rewarding benign neglect to being adroit in a single moment.

McCullough: Yes, it just doesn’t happen like that.

Carter: Michael said this to me many years ago. ‘People don't realize the difference in liquidity on the right-hand side,’ meaning past the peak, during the evidence of the new phase condition. The problem is if you are a little late in realizing you're past the peak it can be very expensive. But it's tough to spot. Like what we’re seeing in high-end real estate now. We haven’t seen it before. Not only is there more supply but it’s heavier supply.

McCullough: Heavier and at epic prices. Everything that you guys are talking about is captured in this chart that we show in the Macro deck. It shows household net worth as a percentage of disposable income. As you can see, this is the third of three epic peaks. Buddy, you keep citing Cisco Systems and, Michael, you’re talking about real estate into 2006-2007, I’m looking at this cycle and we have both.

Aronstein: How To Dissect Economic Cycles & Avoid "Terminal Stage" Vulnerabilities - slide

Now, I’m 17 years into this business so compared to you guys I’m a rookie. But I’m sitting here watching this one and saying ‘Oh my god.’ This has every component of every bubble I’ve ever seen but it has less liquidity. What do you think about that chart and the cyclicality?

Aronstein: As Buddy was saying, one of the things that tells you’re past the peak is when there are no transactions. The bid offer has gone to a point where it’s not even worth picking up the phone. There’s just too big a difference of opinion so the liquidity vanishes.

And so you first get a seizure in the market. Once the volume and transactional liquidity shows itself, that’s when you get the declines like 1987. You get these discontinuities and what has actually happened is that a few trades have pushed something down 10-15-20-25-30%.

McCullough: We like to explain risk this way. It’s like a riverbed that you don’t know what’s around the corner but you can start to measure and map the speed of the water and the rocks that may be around. Because by the time you do get to the waterfall everyone’s dead. 

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To watch the discussion in its entirety click on the video below.