HOW CORONAVIRUS EXPOSED THE “SHAKY FOUNDATION”

What happens when an upheaval so massive forces financial markets, governments, and society to rethink how our systems work? Michael Krieger, author of the Liberty Blitzkrieg, joins Real Vision to explain what coronavirus and the response to the outbreak has revealed about the condition of American systems – from financial markets to the health care system. Tracing the story of financial markets and societal trends over the past two decades, Krieger outlines how our systems have been pushed to the brink – focusing on emergency policy responses and the everything bubble. He also provides viewers with potential solutions to the systemic decay that has been brought to the forefront by the coronavirus outbreak.

“The Dry Tinder’s Been Lit”

The Interview · Featuring Michael Gayed and Michael Venuto

With coronavirus wreaking havoc worldwide, it’s a perilous time to be in the market. Businesses around the world are shutting down. Equities are plummeting as investors flee to safety, and central banks, desperate to contain the financial contagion, are reaching into their arsenal to do whatever it takes. Today, Michael Gayed, portfolio manager at the ATAC Rotation Fund, sits down with Michael Venuto, chief investment officer of Toroso Investments, and explores the question that’s on everyone’s mind: Is this a fleeting moment of panic, or are we seeing the conditions for a true doomsday scenario? The pair place the massive sell-off in context, explore whether ETFs are making the violent price swings worse, and take a deep dive into the plumbing of the markets. Filmed on March 10, 2020, in New York.

The Revival of Value Investing in a Financial Crisis (w/ Chris Cole & Tobias Carlisle)

00:02
CHRIS COLE: Hello, everyone.
00:03
My name is Christopher Cole.
00:04
I’m here with Real Vision today in our offices of Artemis Capital, and it is my pleasure
00:08
and honor to be interviewing an old friend of mine, Toby Carlisle, who is the founder
00:14
and principal of the Acquirer’s Funds.
00:18
Toby is an expert on value investing, and has written four books on the topic, which
00:24
are really new classics in the field, and should be read by any serious value investor.
00:30
I’d like to introduce Real Vision to Toby Carlisle.
00:32
TOBIAS CARLISLE: Thanks for the very kind introduction, Chris.
00:34
I’m very happy to be here.
00:36
I’m so happy to be doing it with you.
00:37
CHRIS COLE: Well, Toby, tell us about how did you get into value investing.
00:41
TOBIAS CARLISLE: I was a mergers and acquisitions lawyer in Australia initially and then in
00:46
San Francisco, went back to Australia to be a general counsel of a public company that
00:53
was a telecommunications company.
00:57
I started working 2000 right at the very top of the dot-com boom, saw the collapse, and
01:03
then saw the emergence of this new breed of investors that new to me.
01:09
Nobody had really heard from these guys since the ’80s, but they were the guys who’ve been
01:15
doing the takeovers in the ’80s had returned.
01:18
They weren’t known as activists at that stage.
01:21
We didn’t really have a name for them.
01:22
They’re looking to get control of these busted dot-com businesses that had raised a whole
01:27
lot of cash, had an enormous amount of cash burn.
01:30
It was hard to figure out what they saw in these businesses, because I had read security
01:35
analysis, the Graham and Dodd book, and I’d read Warren Buffett’s letters, and he talks
01:41
about looking for a wonderful company at a fair price.
01:44
These weren’t wonderful companies at all.
01:45
They’re terrible companies, terrible businesses, but because they had raised so much cash,
01:49
they traded down the discount to their cash, these guys were looking to get control, looking
01:53
to get control of the cash then to either liquidate the company or use it to buy other
02:00
companies.
02:02
That period from early 2003 to about 2007 was a golden age for value.
02:09
Deep value guys coming through activists, private equity firms taking company.
02:14
I just thought if that ever happens again that the market gets cheap enough that that
02:19
strategy of buying sub-liquidation value companies, if that opportunity presents itself again,
02:24
I’ll take advantage of that and try and buy those companies.
02:28
When the 2007-2009 collapse occurred, I stopped working as a lawyer, set up a little fund,
02:36
set up a blog talking about buying the subliquidation value companies.
02:40
I just fell in love with the strategy and the process.
02:44
I continue to research, write some books and that’s how I get to here.
02:48
CHRIS COLE: I think one of the most interesting things about your research is that you have,
02:54
there’s so many individuals that follow the value investing framework, and I think everyone’s
02:59
knowledgeable with a canon of material out there, securities analysis, Benjamin Graham,
03:04
but you’ve added some new twist to that through quantitative research, and I wanted you to
03:09
talk about that and how that plays into the concept of the Acquirer’s Fund?
03:14
TOBIAS CARLISLE: Well, I think rather than adding too much of a new twist, what we’ve
03:18
done is just revived some of the old ideas.
03:22
Because Warren Buffett has been so successful, and he’s the avatar of value, and he preaches
03:28
this wonderful company at a fair price philosophy.
03:32
Many of today’s value investors have similarly embraced that philosophy and so they look
03:37
for particular things, high returns on invested capital, moats, compounding type businesses
03:42
that grow very rapidly.
03:44
Then they’re trying to buy at a fair price which might be saying a market multiple for
03:49
a company that is better than that.
03:51
That’s one very small part of value investing.
03:54
There’s a much broader universe out there.
03:56
The idea is simply that you’re buying something for less than it’s worth.
04:02
Typically that’s hard to do, because most companies don’t really trade at a big discount
04:06
to what they’re worth.
04:07
The places where you find those big discounts is in financial distress where an industry
04:15
might be going through a down cycle.
04:18
That is what I described as deep value, where what we’re trying to do is we might be trying
04:22
to buy at a discount to balance sheet value, we might be trying to buy a cyclical company
04:26
at the bottom of its cycle, and then trying to buy at a further discount to that.
04:30
Then we’re hoping that there’s an uplift in the way that the business performs and then
04:35
you will still get the discount between the intrinsic value and the price at closing.
04:39
You have two ways to make money.
04:42
We did some research, I did some research with [indiscernible] PhD at but haven’t found
04:47
every bit of industry and academic research that we could find that had been published
04:51
from Graham onwards, from the 30s onwards, and we tested that in a system to see what
04:57
works, what continues to work, what stopped working, what never worked.
05:02
There are many things that were perhaps a product of data mining.
05:06
We looked at how do you identify a good credit?
05:10
How do you find something that’s financially strong?
05:13
How do you Identify earnings manipulation?
05:15
How do you find statistical fraud?
05:17
How do you find businesses that are very cheap and can grow and buy back stock and the product
05:24
of that research was a book called Quantitative Value.
05:27
I noticed this unusual phenomenon while we were doing it, that very undervalued companies
05:31
behave in an unusual way that sometimes the things that the less attractive the business,
05:39
the better the performance of the stock, because they just get too cheap and so nobody in their
05:45
right mind would go and buy these things unless you can find some of these other indicia of
05:49
value or quality in there.
05:52
That was a book called Deep Value that came out 2014 discussing the mechanics of mean
05:57
reversion.
05:59
Those mechanics are simply they’re private equity funds, there are activists who will
06:03
come in and turn these companies around.
06:05
There’s also management in there, not liking the performance of the company.
06:09
They might be beholden to the industry cycle and as other participants in the industry
06:17
leave, the ones that remain can ask for higher prices for their services or for their goods
06:23
and so they then get a period of very good performance.
06:25
I just found that a fascinating approach and it’s not one that is discussed much outside
06:32
of Buffett.
06:34
Buffett’s wonderful companies at fair price.
06:37
My research is focused more on those type of businesses and that’s what the fund does.
06:42
The fund to buy– we like balance sheet strength is great, and we can find it so we will have
06:49
a strong healthy balance sheet, lots of cashflow coming into the business as well, lots of
06:53
free cash flow.
06:55
This is on the long side because we did run long/short.
06:57
We like the company to be buying back stock.
07:00
I think that’s a very powerful signal which shows that there is that free cashflow there,
07:04
it’s genuine free cash flow, management’s thinking like you would want management to
07:10
think taking advantage of that undervalued stock price.
07:13
I think when you see a material buyback, that also indicates that the stock is undervalued
07:17
because you see lots of buybacks through the cycle, buybacks tend to peak at the top of
07:21
the cycle.
07:22
There might be mopping up option issuance or just trying to goose the stock price at
07:26
the very top of the cycle.
07:28
That’s not the buyback that you want.
07:29
You want material buybacks.
07:31
Those things together on the long side, that’s a pretty traditional– we’re going to find,
07:37
we will own cyclical companies, we’ll buy companies that it might be difficult to understand
07:43
the reasons why we’re buying them because it might look like the business is in a particularly
07:47
good one, that we think that the combination of balance sheet strength at the bottom of
07:51
the cycle, it’ll look like a healthier business going forward.
07:54
On the short side, we’re looking for somewhat of the reverse of that, something that’s extremely
08:00
overvalued to the extent that you can identify a value to some of these companies.
08:03
It’s very hard, there may not be any value there at all, but more importantly, they’re
08:10
in financial distress.
08:11
There’s some statistical earnings manipulations, statistical fraud, they have negative free
08:16
cashflows so the way they’re financing the businesses by raising equity or selling debt.
08:24
That’s a game that can go on until it stops, until the market no longer lets you do that.
08:31
We also look for broken momentum because many of these companies will finance themselves
08:35
by telling a great story, even though the financial statements don’t reflect the narrative.
08:42
The narrative is wildly diverged from the financial reality of the company.
08:47
That’s what we like to find on the short side, really compelling narrative but none of that
08:52
is being reflected in the financial statements.
08:55
When the market starts seeing that too, and that momentum has gone from– or the momentum
09:00
is broken, we’ll take a short position.
09:03
In the ordinary course, we hope to make a little bit of money on the short side, but
09:07
the real function of the short so when the market collapses, they should provide more
09:11
protection than their weight in the portfolio.
09:15
You hope through a 2000 or 2007 and 2009 type scenario that it would perhaps prevent you
09:21
from drawing down as much as the market.
09:23
CHRIS COLE: You found that there are certain quantitative metrics that are highly indicative
09:29
of a quality value play.
09:32
Maybe to talk a little bit about that, and how that differs from some of the other viewpoints
09:39
out there on that.
09:40
TOBIAS CARLISLE: It’s become much more popular, it’s voguish now to largely to ignore balance
09:48
sheet quality.
09:50
For a company to grow very rapidly, it helps it for it to be asset wide and they might
09:56
run with very substantial amount of debt on the balance sheet which when they’re running
10:01
up, that means they run very fast, and they’ll go year after year, performing very well.
10:08
The problem is that it doesn’t allay so much in the way of– there’s very little balance
10:13
when you go the other way.
10:14
What I like is balance sheet strength.
10:17
To the extent that we’re using these statistical measures, it’s not necessarily a new invention.
10:22
I don’t regard it necessarily as, it’s not like a NASA level analysis of the companies.
10:26
It’s just we’re trying to find a– it’s a sensible approach of doing it.
10:30
The reason we do it that way rather than trying to be more discretionary and more ad hoc in
10:35
our approaches that we think that there are good behavior reasons, and there’s lots of
10:41
research that indicates that a more systematic, disciplined, quantitative, replicable approach
10:48
to doing it means that through the bad times, you’re able to keep on functioning and doing
10:55
what you should be doing, buying the right stuff, you don’t swing for the fences, keep
10:58
sizes of positions fairly small, consistently apply the approach, because every strategy
11:04
has good times and bad times and value has gone through a very rough time.
11:09
Since the start of the year, if you track the factors that have done well, it’s the
11:15
factors that have done well for the last few years, momentum is done very well, growth
11:18
has done very well.
11:20
Value has done very badly.
11:22
Quality has done very badly, which is historical.
11:25
Typically, what happens is there’s a value premium, you get a little bit more performance
11:30
for buying these companies that are trading at a discount to intrinsic value, and that’s
11:35
not been the case.
11:36
CHRIS COLE: Let’s talk about that a little bit.
11:37
It’s really, really interesting, because, I’m a volatility guy.
11:41
You’re a value guy.
11:44
Years ago, we bonded back in Santa Monica, two completely different disciplines but we
11:51
share some things in common in the sense that value can perform during periods of market
11:56
crisis.
11:57
I’m curious for you to talk a little bit about the history of value over the last 20, 30
12:05
years, how it performs in different market cycles, its defensive properties, and to answer
12:10
this question, value has underperformed for 10 years, is value investing dead?
12:16
Is it dead?
12:19
To get your take on that, not that I believe that, but.
12:22
TOBIAS CARLISLE: That’s a question I get a lot.
12:24
Is value dead?
12:25
Can value come again?
12:27
I don’t know but I can go back to that– we have pretty good data on value back to 1951,
12:36
point in time data to 1973.
12:39
There are very distinct cycles through that entire period.
12:45
Over the full period, the outperformance for just a simple price to a fundamental whether
12:51
it be price to book or price to cashflow, enterprise value of cashflow, enterprise value
12:55
to EBITDA, even price to earnings, very simple metrics.
12:59
The outperformance to the low price to a fundamental which is a reasonable proxy for a value stock
13:06
has been massive.
13:09
The growth side of that equation where you’re paying a higher price for that fundamental
13:14
has been pretty weak.
13:15
Behaviorally, you might say, well, why would you pay that higher price?
13:19
Because the very best performers have always been expensive.
13:23
Walmart, for most of the time it was listed was always very expensive.
13:28
Microsoft’s mostly always been pretty expensive.
13:31
The companies that you buy that have these low prices to a fundamental tend to be junkier
13:36
companies, cyclical companies, but you get paid to hold those companies.
13:43
You don’t get paid all the time.
13:44
You get paid over the full data series and the full cycle as well because value performs
13:50
various different ways through the cycle.
13:53
From the bottom of a crash, value does spectacularly well, value should provide some protection
13:58
through a crash.
At the tail end of a bull market, value looks terrible because the bid from value guys goes  away.
14:05
The people who are feelers and who are prepared to pay increasingly higher prices will do
14:10
very well through that tail end, but then there is some justice for those guys.
14:13
There’s a typically very significant crash to the momentum growth side through the cycle.
14:19
There have been about six periods where value has underperformed materially.
They’re all were very well known bull peaks.
The last one was 2000, in the run up to the dot-com, value performed very badly.
They’re all the covers has Warren Buffett lost his magic.
14:37
CHRIS COLE: The barons won.
14:39
TOBIAS CARLISLE: Then value did then go on to perform pretty well for that for the early
14:45
2000s.
14:46
Then it’s been week again, so it depends on how you measure value.
14:50
Price to book value, that’s the value factor.
That’s the academic definition of value.
No practitioner uses price to book value, but that’s the one that everybody points to,
because that’s the one that the academics prefer, because it’s very simple to calculate
15:02
and there are some good reasons, it’s less volatile, the fundamental is less volatile
15:06
where earnings is moving around, book value is reasonably static from quarter to quarter.
15:11
It’s a reasonable proxy.
15:13
It really hasn’t outperformed for 14 or 15 years.
15:18
There are many reasons for that.
15:20
Partially, it’s the composition of balance sheets has changed over time.
15:25
There are companies out there that have bought back so much stock that actually got a negative
book value.
15:32
It’s very difficult for book value to categorize them as a value stock, even though if we wouldlook at them on another measure, like a price to earnings, we would regard them as value
stocks.
15:43
Book value hasn’t worked, but there’s no practitioner who actually uses it.
15:46
If you use an ensemble of measures that might be cash flow and earnings, and sales, even,
15:53
that would have helped you keep up for the market for longer but it’s still failed sometime
15:57
over the last five years.
15:59
If you have some craftsmanship, which is what the more quantitative value guys describe
16:04
as their own mix that they use, where you might look at other things besides simple
16:12
values, you might look at the quality of the balance sheet, the quality of the earnings,
do the cashflows match the reported earnings, because that’s important.
You can have wild deviations where companies are reporting good earnings, but it’s not
reflected in cash flow generation.
16:28
If you use all of those measures, which is what most practitioners are doing, that kept
up with the market, and that outperformed pretty well until about the start of 2018.
Since 2018, that hasn’t worked very well.
16:42
That’s a shorter period of time.
16:43
That’s probably what most practitioners have seen.
16:46
It’s been a period of weakness for value.
16:50
There are pockets like that through the data series where that happens and then immediately
16:55
afterwards, there is some very good performance for value.
16:57
The thing that would make me nervous is if value was underperforming but the portfolios
17:05
as they reformed at each rebalance that aren’t reflecting the discount that we’re seeing,
17:10
but what has been happening is the value portfolios have been getting cheaper so that the price
17:16
ratios are wider.
17:18
What has happened now is that the most overvalued stocks are extremely overvalued, more overvalued
than perhaps may have been ever.
The undervalued stocks, maybe at their long run mean, maybe a little bit rich to the long
17:32
run mean.
17:33
I think at some stage, we don’t necessarily have to have a crash, the cycle can just go
17:40
back to value, but most likely what happens is that there’s some crash that resets the
17:45
market.
17:46
In the crash, what has happened when momentum and growth have run like this is that the
downdraft has been massive for them.
It’s been to the tune of 80% or 90%.
17:58
I think value could pull back a little bit.
18:00
I think that you want to be long short as a value guy going into the next crash to really
18:06
see the performance and maybe capture some outperformance on the way down and then to
18:12
be fully invested when the market finally does not turn and I think it will be a very
good period for value from the bottom.
18:17
CHRIS COLE: This is a powerful idea that in a late cycle, if we’re entering into some
18:22
late cycle secular change or some recession, value will drop like momentum stocks, but
18:31
will drop less in a market correction and that a long/short, something that is short
18:38
the momentum stocks, the hot stocks, the highflyers that are making money and long the inexpensive
18:45
value stocks, that long/short positioning will outperform and deliver alpha.
18:52
It’s interesting too, because even if you’re just a macro guy and you don’t pick stocks,
18:58
I’m a volatility trigger so I don’t pick any individual stocks, but I paid very close attention
19:04
to the value momentum relationship.
19:07
Any good macro investor should because it is an interesting forward indicator to volatility.
19:13
I think it’s very interesting that this last October, we saw one of the most violent reversals,
19:22
at least when I was looking at the data, it was multiple days, there’s one day I think
19:26
was a six standard deviation move and other day, there was a three standard deviation
19:29
move.
19:31
Truly wild moves where value dramatically rebounded against momentum stocks.
Can you talk about how good that is as a signal to the macro investor community?
19:43
Is that something that we should pay attention to?
19:46
What’s your take on that recent reversal that has occurred over the last couple months?
19:52
TOBIAS CARLISLE: The thing that you’re describing, the spread got very, very wide, as wide as
19:58
it has ever been through August 27th was the bottom of that spread and then it did start
20:04
closing fractionally from August 27th through to September 9 th, which was then the biggest
20:10
one-day move in value’s favor since the early 2000s, sometime in the early 2000s, that’s
20:16
the five or six sigma move that you’re referring to which any quant note will tell you that
20:23
it’s not a normal distribution.
20:27
The point remains that it’s still was a very big move in value’s favor and it was a very
20:32
bad day for momentum.
20:33
Then it was followed up the next day by that three sigma move in value’s favor, and away
20:38
from momentum.
20:39
Then it was a very good September, October, November, December for value.
20:44
Value outperformed the market through all of those months.
20:46
It’s softened up through January, it wasn’t a great January, it wasn’t a great January
20:51
for value, was a very good January for momentum, one of the best months for momentum in 20
20:58
years or something like that.
21:00
It’s good to see those guys win once in a while.
21:03
I think that that’s what you would expect to see when there’s a regime change, very
21:07
high volatility in the turn, because I think that that’s the way regimes change.
21:12
You get that move and that frightens folks who are in the momentum strategy.
21:16
They realize there is some downside to that strategy, because they haven’t seen a lot
21:19
of it.
21:21
I see that particularly in low volatility strategies.
21:24
Low volatility wasn’t something that I think folks had heard much about until a few years
21:29
ago, two or three years ago.
21:31
I think it became very voguish a few years ago, and the reason why is pretty clear, when
21:36
you look at the data, low volatility strategies typically do what they say they do.
21:41
They don’t go up as much as the market does when it goes up, but they don’t get down as
21:44
much as the market does when it goes down.
21:47
Over the last five years, that’s not been the case.
21:49
It’s materially outperformed.
21:50
CHRIS COLE: The low volatility, just for the viewers, low volatility described strategies
21:55
that effectively are hurting into stocks that are low vol stocks, low beta stocks, in essence
22:02
trying to use stocks as a replacement for maybe bonds.
22:05
TOBIAS CARLISLE: I think that’s right.
22:06
Well, there’s the joke doing the rounds now that you buy bonds for the growth and you
22:15
buy equities for the yield, whereas that’s not traditionally been the case.
22:19
Low volatility is beneficiary of that, particularly because for that reason that you identified,
22:24
I think that it regarded potentially as a bond replacement to the extent that equities
22:29
further down the capital structure can do that.
22:31
I’ve looked at low volatility in relation to value, I just ran this progression over
22:36
the weekend because I was interested to see what does it look like?
22:40
The notable times when low volatility has outperformed value, much 2009 was the peak
22:46
for low volatility relative to value in the last say, decade or so.
22:52
Reasons for that are very easy to understand.
22:54
That was the bottom of the crash and we performed very well at the other side of that.
23:01
Then June 2, 2012, there was a little echo crash around that period of time.
23:08
I don’t know if folks remember that but it looked like we might be going back into another
23:13
crash, and I think that that’s when some of the QEs started again.
23:17
CHRIS COLE: In 2012?
23:18
TOBIAS CARLISLE: 2012.
23:19
CHRIS COLE: It looked like we began to see outperformance of value during that period
23:24
of time and then they put on QE, they did QE3 at that point.
23:31
TOBIAS CARLISLE: In 2013, the market had a very, very good year.
23:34
I remember discussing it with you at the time because it was a very good return for the
23:37
market but also a very low volatility year.
23:40
It was one of the best risk adjusted returns on record, 2013.
23:44
Now, been replaced by some of the more recent years, but at the time, that was a significant
23:48
move.
23:49
CHRIS COLE: I’ll even say one of the best risk adjusted years and one of the best risk
23:53
adjusted three-year period starting that year in 200 years’ worth of equity data for passive
23:58
investing over that period of time, truly amazing.
24:00
TOBIAS CARLISLE: That was a good year, 2013 was a good year for the market.
24:03
It was about a 50% year for the market, but it was a 60% year for value, so very good
24:08
year for value, too.
24:10
It was really the last time that value did anything material.
24:14
Value’s had– 2016 was a good year for value, but 2015 was a very weak year for value and
24:19
then ’17, ’18, and ’19 have been disasters for value guys.
24:26
When I look at the data now, there’s a very significant peak in the outperformance of
24:31
low volatility strategies over value strategies.
24:34
What that has typically indicated in the past is that we’re about to have a very good period
24:39
for value in the near term, and a weaker period for some of those strategies.
24:44
Volatility will almost certainly be a beneficiary of that, too.
24:47
CHRIS COLE: That’s interesting.
24:48
Also maybe that a lot of these institutions that are crowding into low vol stocks, maybe
24:55
that low vol stock might underperform value based– and might underperform people’s expectations
25:00
based on some of your analysis in that department.
25:02
TOBIAS CARLISLE: Well, that would be my expectation that value will materially outperform and
25:05
low volatility will have a more difficult period.
25:08
I would say that if you look at low volatility, they tend to be extremely expensive stocks
25:12
at the moment, and the rebuttal to that is always that low volatility is not a strategy
25:17
that depends on those stocks being cheap.
25:21
We’ve been through this very unusual period for this performance of volatility, low volatility,
25:26
and so I think that there’s been quite a lot of crowding into low volatility strategies,
25:30
either consciously or unconsciously.
25:33
I think it’s some of these stocks that have those very smooth returns do attract folks
25:37
who perhaps are looking more at the price trajectory than the fundamentals of the business.
25:42
You can see that, you can pull up any chart, pull up the Microsoft chart has that fit like
25:48
the ski jump path to it, Apple’s chart has the same ski jump up to it.
25:54
Tesla’s chart, after doing nothing for years and years has had that fivefold increase in
26:00
the last six months.
26:02
Who knows what the cause of that is?
26:03
There are lots of theories about it at the moment, maybe there are more shorts out there
26:09
than we know about.
26:10
It’s one possibility.
26:12
This delta hedging in the– now that there’s a lot of action in the options, maybe the
26:17
delta hedging into the equity that keeps on pushing it up.
26:19
The Tesla, I think is a very good example.
26:21
It’s a weaker balance sheet, financial statements aren’t great for Tesla.
26:28
There’s no growth but its 2% year on year revenue growth, they’re selling more cars,
26:33
but they’re not selling them.
26:34
They’re not making as much money as they have in the past.
26:36
It’s a metal bender, it still has to create a factory to make these cars.
26:41
It’s not like software as a service where each marginal sales virtually costs and yet
26:46
it moves like a software as a service stock.
26:48
CHRIS COLE: To this point, this is interesting.
26:49
It goes back to something you and I were talking about maybe a couple weeks ago, where I think
26:54
I was telling you the story of how I was in Switzerland.
26:57
We were going to a meeting, leaving Zurich to go to [indiscernible].
27:03
My marketing guy is like, well, let’s take an Uber.
27:08
I’m like, no, it’s going to be really expensive.
27:10
Let’s take the train.
27:11
Switzerland has one of the best train systems in the world.
27:14
He said, no, the Uber is cheaper.
27:16
I’m like, that’s impossible.
27:18
How is Uber cheaper than taking a train in Switzerland?
27:21
It was.
27:22
This is to go an hour and a half outside of Zurich.
27:25
The only rationale I have on that is that you have– I actually wanted to thank SoftBank
27:31
for subsidizing my business trip but, effectively, what’s your take on this where you have–
27:37
they always say, never go into business with a non-economic actor.
27:41
That’s probably why you and I don’t own nightclubs.
27:44
In this mindset, if you have cheap money from central banks, they’ve lowered interest rates
27:49
down to zero and the big institutions of the world are throwing money at VC funds that
27:56
are throwing money into these companies and they don’t care if they ever make a profit.
28:01
They’re just looking for growth, in a frenzy for growth.
28:07
There’s no assessment of value, then other brick and mortar companies that are seeking
28:13
return of profit and have to pay people and are actually looking to a long term survival
28:20
have to compete against these new disruptive technologies, that are actually being subsidized
28:25
by inexpensive money.
28:27
To what point are central banks crowding out value investors?
28:30
TOBIAS CARLISLE: That’s a great question.
28:32
I think it’s been a great time for consumers.
28:35
There’s been enormous consumer surplus subsidized by the VCs on Sand Hill Road.
28:40
That’s been great for everybody to get cheaper taxi rides, among other things.
28:47
What drives that?
28:50
Potentially that’s too low interest rates making marginal business ventures look better
28:55
than they would otherwise look.
28:56
If your cost of money is virtually zero, then you can get a return anywhere that will be
29:01
better than virtually zero cost of money, then that’s a project that you should probably
29:05
be investing in.
29:06
That’s one of the problems that interest rates being set to flooding the market with money
29:12
creates that better businesses aren’t rewarded for being better businesses.
29:18
Being a careful husband of the cash on your balance sheet, that’s not rewarded at all.
29:25
Spending it to grow is rewarded.
29:28
The way that that is reflected is in that duration trade where the 30-year, when interest
29:36
rates move, the 30-year moves a lot more than the 10-year.
29:39
The 10-year is more like a value stock or value stocks are shorter duration, because
29:44
their cash flow as a front end load.
29:47
You buy cheap cash flows now, perhaps expecting that there’s not going to be as much growth
29:51
or there might be a little decline in the cashflows of the value stocks.
29:55
Whereas the growth stocks, they’re not earning any cashflows now, all of the cashflow was
29:59
back end loaded to the extent that they can’t make any cash for it at all, but that’s the
30:03
expectation.
30:04
When you move interest rates a little bit, you get wild moves from the growth stocks,
30:08
you drop interest rates, you get wild moves up from the growth stocks, value stocks don’t
30:12
tend to be sensitive.
30:14
Maybe interest rates need to go up for value to start working.
30:16
I’ve heard that argument.
30:17
I think that’s a very good argument.
30:19
The problem is that I think there are lots of really good arguments for why value hasn’t
30:22
worked and some of them are going to be right in retrospect, and some are going to be wrong.
30:27
I think, ultimately, as a value investor, you can overcomplicate things by trying to
30:32
figure out the macro driving those side effects or those phenomena.
30:40
I think that you can simplify, as a value investor, you can simplify it for yourself
30:45
by just working out if the individual company that you’re looking at is in fact, undervalued.
30:50
Then looking at, to your point, are there non-economic, are there irrational actors
30:55
who they’re competing with.
30:58
Sometimes that’s a good thing.
30:59
That’s what creates the undervaluation.
31:01
Then can that non-rational, non-economic actor survive, or will they be washed away eventually?
31:08
I think that that’s some of what we’ve seen over the last five years that there’s been
31:12
an expectation that at some stage, that flood of money in will– that spigot will get turned
31:18
off at some stage and so you’ll be rewarded for doing the analysis, looking at the balance
31:24
sheet, looking at the strength of the business, the quality of the cashflows that it’s generating,
31:29
but not yet.
31:30
CHRIS COLE: It has a similar dynamic to I would say volatility where you can suppress
31:36
volatility, but the more you suppress it– you can suppress it for a long time, but the
31:41
more you suppress it, the more it will realize itself in other ways and eventually come out
31:46
even greater than before.
31:47
TOBIAS CARLISLE: Well, you have the great analogy of burning back that the tinder in
31:52
the tall trees in the forest.
31:56
If you don’t burn it back, that creates these explosive wildfires.
32:00
I think that’s true also, that little bit of interest rate volatility or a little bit
32:05
of higher rates strengthens these companies.
32:09
It makes them better companies, better businesses, better managements.
32:14
When they get fat and happy because the tinder’s not being burnt back on a regular basis, that’s
32:20
when they set themselves up for a big crash at some stage.
32:23
CHRIS COLE: Same concept that the longer the period of value underperformance in essence,
32:27
the greater the value proposition becomes on the other end of it for those who are patient.
32:32
TOBIAS CARLISLE: Or those who can survive, too.
32:34
CHRIS COLE: The business risk.
32:35
TOBIAS CARLISLE: Because this is the problem with it.
32:37
Value has become a little bit of a laughingstock, there aren’t very many traditional value guys
32:41
around because it’s so hard to maintain, it’s hard to keep investors when you can get, for
32:48
basis points, you can get access to the index, and the index is the best performing asset
32:53
in the world, but that makes any other active look pretty ugly, and particularly when any
32:58
other active wants to charge a slightly higher fee.
33:01
Again, that’s historical, it’s not something that these trees don’t grow to the sky at
33:08
some stage, there is that reckoning.
33:10
I fully expect it to happen at some stage, I’m not predicting one in the short term or
33:15
in the medium term, I’m not predicting one at all at the market.
33:18
I think if I’ve learned anything over the last decade or so, it’s that the market is
33:25
unpredictable and humbling at every stage.
33:27
You never want to make a prediction about the future.
33:30
I would prefer to be, at this stage, in something like a value strategy than in the index or
33:35
in low volatility or momentum, because I think that value was really the only thing that
33:39
can provide returns over the next decade that are absolute or relatively better than anything
33:48
else out there.
33:49
I think everything else is going to have a very tough run over the next decade.
33:52
CHRIS COLE: It was almost a decade ago, I remember, when someone asked this.
33:55
There was a young kid who wanted to go on Wall Street and somebody asked us to give
33:59
him advice or something.
34:00
We took about breaks.
34:01
I remember we sat down and this poor kid, we were like, you need to go find the sector
34:07
that is the most depressed sector imaginable.
34:11
Get into that sector.
34:12
Everyone will hate it, and by the time you’re vice president, you’ll be the only person
34:16
who knows anything about it and the sector will be doing really well.
34:19
TOBIAS CARLISLE: That’s great advice.
34:20
CHRIS COLE: It’s great.
34:21
Now, you can’t find any more too depressed sectors than value investing or disciplines
34:30
than value investing and volatility, long volatility trading.
34:33
TOBIAS CARLISLE: Well, I think one of the things about value is that value is that moveable
34:36
phase, value’s always going to where the disaster is, or where nothing’s happened for a long
34:41
time.
34:42
Value, at the moment, looks like it’s pretty heavily into financials and energy, and miners
34:48
and heavy industry, which haven’t done much for a long period of time.
34:52
We have a lot of financials, and we’ve got some energy exposure, too.
34:56
Part of the underperformance of value has been that sector mismatch or the industry
35:00
mismatch.
35:02
If you’ve been a value investor in technology, you would have outperformed any naive market
35:09
capitalization, weighted implementation of that.
35:12
The problem if you’re investing across every sector, every industry is that you’re more
35:18
heavily weighted towards financials and other things that haven’t done as well.
35:22
The financials that– the reason for the underperformance probably, interest rates are probably hurting
35:29
financials, and the memories of 2007 to 2009 is still very vivid in anybody who lived through
35:36
that period, and so they’re wary, and rightly so of banks and insurers that could be hiding
35:43
some liability on their balance sheet that nobody knows about.
35:46
CHRIS COLE: Now, what’s your take on it’s interesting because now, everyone wants to
35:51
go into passive investing.
35:53
Big, large cap stocks, liquidity, large cap tech stocks, that’s the rage, the Fangs.
36:00
It is very similar or reminiscent to the Nifty 50s bubble in the 1960s, where essentially,
36:08
everyone crowded into these blue chip stocks, and those stocks.
36:13
What’s your opinion on that?
36:15
What’s your view on that?
36:18
Really, in terms of where do you see opportunity in the different market cap segments of value
36:25
as well?
36:26
TOBIAS CARLISLE: Every boom has this echo of other booms in the past.
36:30
I think tech is always very sexy whether it was electronics in the ’60s, dot-coms in the
36:38
’90s, and now it’s software as a services, railroads, that was a ticket once.
36:43
CHRIS COLE: South Sea bubble, that colonies were a tech stock at the time.
36:49
TOBIAS CARLISLE: People were worried about traveling on railroads because they thought
36:53
if you went faster than the speed of a horse, you’d be atomized, which is terrifying.
36:57
That’s the stuff, that’s how tech of the day and that’s why it was so exciting for them
37:04
at the time.
37:06
The potential to be atomized, which probably there’s a lot of investors that hate it like
37:10
that.
37:12
I think that every boom has some sort– you can draw analogies, they do look like other
37:18
booms in the past.
37:21
I think that probably because they’re driven by the same thing, there’s some potential
37:25
there to invest in some life changing or world changing technology that seems to earn very
37:32
high, maybe not very high profits, but seem to generate a lot of revenue and a lot of
37:36
growth at least over a period of time.
37:38
It looks like it’s going to wash everything away that exists.
37:40
That was the argument of the dot-com boom.
37:44
These dot-coms are going to come in and they’re going to wash away everything that’s gone
37:46
before them.
37:47
Instead what happens is all the incumbents just adopt.
37:50
If I need to do is make a webpage or they had just adopt those business practices, then
37:56
the market goes back to the way that was before where everybody’s competing pretty much on
37:59
a level playing field and that’s a better period for value.
38:03
The market seems to– all the performance in the market has been those very large cap
38:09
tech stocks, but they have been the ones that have performed very well have been ones that
38:13
generate a lot of– they have actually generated some profits and some very good revenue through.
38:18
Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, but Netflix is still growing at a very high rate.
38:25
Google, if I didn’t mention Google.
38:30
They are very profitable.
38:31
They are very good businesses for the most part.
38:33
They’re expensive, but they’re not extremely expensive.
38:36
I think that some of the real overvaluation, the really egregious overvaluation is in some
38:42
of those out there.
38:43
I think Netflix has more of that egregious overvaluation.
38:46
Tesla, certainly very egregious overvaluation.
38:48
CHRIS COLE: You talked about this tech effect, this idea that people– I hear this all the
38:53
time among a lot of millennials where it’s different this time, the valuation’s different
38:59
this time.
39:01
We’ve had a transformative change in technology, the iPhones have changed, the smartphones
39:07
have changed everything.
39:08
This is a new era for technology, and yet value investing has survived through the ages.
39:14
Can you talk a little bit about is this a new era?
39:19
Is this different?
39:20
Has it changed, or will we seek a reversion of the mean in the same framework?
39:24
TOBIAS CARLISLE: There are some compelling arguments for why things may have changed.
39:30
I don’t know that this is the first time this has happened, but there may be changes in
39:33
the market.
39:34
There is some parallels between in the 1920s when cars was introduced and everybody got
39:43
access to a car.
39:44
There was a period of time where roads were built up, the infrastructure for cars had
39:48
to be built up.
39:49
It was a very bad period to be a value investor and a very good period to be a more tech growth
39:55
type investor with cars being the tech of the day.
40:00
That lasted for about 16 years.
40:03
Then value investing returned and did very well and has done pretty well through the
40:09
whole period.
40:10
We may be looking at something like that where it’s just a maybe there’s a little change
40:14
in the structure of the economy or there’s a change in the structure of the market.
40:21
I don’t think that it means that value will stop working.
40:24
I don’t think that necessarily means that that change is a permanent change to the structure
40:30
of the market.
40:31
I just think that because the logic I think of value investing is so compelling, if you’re
40:35
buying something for less than it’s worth, that should be recognized by the market over
40:40
a period of time.
40:42
Perhaps our definition of value has to change a little bit to keep up so profitable book
40:46
value, or the traditional metric for academics, particularly, some practitioners, maybe Walter
40:51
Schloss was more of a book value investor, but I think that he did some other things
40:56
on top of that, as well, but he was more maybe like an early quant where he have quite a
41:01
diversified portfolio of low price to book value stocks.
41:06
He did very well employing that strategy.
41:09
I still think you can do very well employing that strategy to the extent that there’s underperformance
41:14
now.
41:15
It’s pretty easily explained by the way that tech stocks are looking very sexy and they’ve
41:21
run very well.
41:22
A lot of investors look at the trajectory of the price only.
41:27
Something’s gone up a lot, that’s a reason to buy it, because that means that it will
41:31
continue to go up in the future.
41:33
Whereas value investors take the view that you have to look at the opportunity and buy
41:36
it at a discount to the opportunity.
41:39
All of those companies that have those ski jump price returns, they almost invariably
41:46
come back to Earth.
41:47
Not all of them have come back to Earth yet so I can’t say that they always do, but excluding
41:51
the ones in the current crop, that’s always been the case in the past that it get to that
41:55
point where they’re vertically ramped, there’s nowhere else to go, then that brings them
41:59
back to Earth.
42:00
I think that that’s likely to happen to certain stocks, and I think that often that’s the
42:06
precipitating event that leads to value, then having a very good period where we will come
42:12
back to our senses a little bit and try and buy fundamentals and cashflows and remember
42:16
that the function of business is to provide a service, to provide a product, to provide
42:22
some consumer surplus but also to reward the shareholders in those businesses for putting
42:29
capital at risk.
42:30
CHRIS COLE: We know, or we get a sense that the outperformance of value, the rebound value
42:36
that we’re seeing traditionally, has been a precursor to regime shift in markets.
42:43
That value has performed better at the end of a cycle, obviously, than growth and momentum
42:49
and that’s in the deflationary sense.
42:52
Let’s just imagine that we end up having a very progressive government, and even more
42:59
radical Fed than we have now.
43:02
There’s widespread money printing, fiat devaluation and we go into a stagflation airy crisis,
43:09
reminiscent of maybe the 1970s, how does value perform in that type of environment?
43:13
TOBIAS CARLISLE: How would the Fed be more radical than this interest?
43:18
I think that that scenario– CHRIS COLE: Well, you might be surprised.
43:22
Be careful what you want to tempt.
43:23
Don’t tempt the gods, please.
43:24
TOBIAS CARLISLE: I think we’re probably going to see it.
43:27
Whatever you think is, every year is going to be weirder than the last I think for the
43:31
foreseeable future.
43:33
I think that that scenario is probably a very good one for value.
43:36
Any volatility is good for value, anything that makes better balance sheets, more careful
43:45
managements, better businesses, perform better relatively two other companies that are out
43:53
there will be good for value investors.
43:55
I think that higher interest rates, a tougher business environment would certainly be a
44:01
very good environment for value guys.
44:04
I think that when we’re in very low interest rates, lots of liquidity, it’s hard to measure
44:10
what impact that has on the business because you see for a venture capital firm invests
44:16
in a tech company that then spends a lot of money on advertising, that money flows through
44:20
to Facebook and to Google, where advertising driven businesses used to be pretty cyclical,
44:26
pretty boom and bust, they’ve looked more secular recently, because there’s been that
44:29
move away from traditional television advertising to Google and Facebook.
44:35
The cycle hasn’t been as pronounced, it’s certainly been pronounced for the traditional
44:39
media, hasn’t look so good for them.
44:42
I think that potentially, very good for value and I would love to see it.
44:47
CHRIS COLE: It’s interesting as rates go up, volatility comes back in the markets, and
44:52
then the cost of capital is obviously much higher, and then I’m not getting a ride to
44:58
half [indiscernible] at half the cost of what it takes to take a train.
45:03
I think that that really segues in.
45:06
To that point, though, it’s interesting, this idea we think about this is Google, Facebook,
45:11
are these tech companies or are they advertising companies or in what the component that used
45:17
to be advertising agencies and more cyclical than we would think?
45:22
The one question I want to leave you on, the Fang stocks.
45:25
At what point will Tesla, what scenario, what point in history when do you think will Tesla,
45:34
Netflix, all these Fang stocks, Facebook, when will they become value stocks?
45:40
When would you see that happening?
45:41
TOBIAS CARLISLE: Well, I wouldn’t say that– almost every stock has its turn, has its regime
45:47
come to an end.
45:49
Buffett has been criticized in the past for not buying whatever is the fad of the day,
45:54
but if you look at his history, he has tended to buy a lot of these companies that are better
45:59
companies just after the crash or after they stub their toe and they look a little bit
46:05
less undefeatable.
46:07
At the moment, it looks like Netflix can’t be headed, Facebook can’t be headed, but I
46:14
think that the thing that created Facebook, for example, I think the kids don’t like to
46:21
be on the same platform as their parents or as the old and so Instagram arises, Facebook
46:28
sensibly buys Instagram, and so did the beneficiary of being the owner of Instagram where a lot
46:34
of attention moved.
46:36
I think attention moves away from Instagram now towards Tick Tock or something like that.
46:40
Those companies, the growth slows, but they’re probably still very good businesses.
46:46
They’re pretty low asset intensity, generate lots of free cashflow, reasonably stable,
46:53
growing businesses.
46:54
That’s exactly the thing that you would like to buy but at a price.
46:57
I don’t want to pay for all of that speculative growth and then I want own.
47:03
If anything, I don’t want to pay for the growth at all, I’m going to pay for them on their
47:05
current earnings power, with maybe a little growth in it because if you do a statistical
47:11
analysis on companies that the numbers that can sustain these very high rates of growth
47:17
are very low.
47:19
It’s one in 100, one in 200, which means that there’s probably there are 10 or 20 in the
47:26
Russell 2000 so there are a few of them around.
47:28
The problem is that everybody knows what they are.
47:30
They are bid to the moon.
47:32
You’re basically betting on the fact now that they are in fact better than everybody thinks
47:37
that they are.
47:38
I think that’s a very long vol at this point in the cycle, I think more likely, people
47:44
have overestimated what these things are worth, how far they can grow.
47:48
The they talk about the total addressable market for many of these businesses being
47:53
enormous, but what they forget is that the total eventual supply is going to be pretty
47:56
big too.
47:57
There’s going to be competition for those dollars.
48:01
When the market moves, value investors have to move along with it.
48:04
I think value follows along behind the wave where we’re picking up the detritus as it
48:11
comes back.
48:12
There just hasn’t been a lot around.
48:13
It’s been hard to find undervalued stocks.
48:15
I look forward to it, say it again.
48:17
CHRIS COLE: It’ll be like 2000, 40 Google’s regulated as– its regulated and broken up
48:24
AT&T as a Tesla utility, and all of a sudden, it’s trading a sub-depressed PE multiple to
48:30
whatever the next thing is.
48:31
TOBIAS CARLISLE: That’s so good to take that [indiscernible].
48:33
CHRIS COLE: Exactly.
48:34
Toby, it’s been a pleasure.
48:37
I know we’ve done this many times together outside, but this is a fun to do this on a
48:41
camera.
48:44
Toby Carlisle, Acquirer’s Fund.
48:47
Toby, where can people find you on Twitter and your website as well?
48:50
TOBIAS CARLISLE: I’m on Twitter @greenbackd, which is a funny spelling, it’s G-R-E-E-N-B-A-C-K-D.
48:56
My fund is the Acquirer’s Fund and the tick is ZIG, it’s listed on the NYC.
49:02
It’s a long/short net long to the tune of 80% or 100%, depending on where we are in
49:09
the cycle.
49:10
We’re about 80% exposed at the moment.
49:12
We have some shorts in that too, and we tend short as I said before, the junkier companies.
49:17
You can also find, I have a podcast and various other things on acquirersmultiple.com with
49:22
free screen, and I’m active on Twitter all day long, so I’m happy to engage, talk with
49:27
anybody on Twitter.
49:29
CHRIS COLE: I guess we got to show the viewers your daughter’s bracelet.
49:32
TOBIAS CARLISLE: Yeah, that’s from my six-year-old, made that while I’m away, I can remember.
49:39
CHRIS COLE: I think we can’t end on anything better than that.
49:44
I can’t top that.
49:45
Thank you.

How to Build a Recession-Proof Investment Portfolio (w/ Danielle DiMartino-Booth & Chris Cole)

Imagine being furnished with generational wealth under one condition – you must choose only one asset allocation for your portfolio and stick with it for 100 years. Where would you even start? Chris Cole, CIO and founder of Artemis Capital Management, returns to Real Vision to answer that very question. He sits down with Danielle DiMartino Booth of Quill Intelligence to discuss the optimal portfolio construction for the long run, regardless of market condition. With uncertainty everywhere despite all-highs in the market, Cole discusses how to navigate Charlie Munger’s “death of the efficient frontier.” He explains the allegory of the Hawk and Serpent and breaks down the construction of his 100-year portfolio. Cole and Booth provide viewers with the tools to traverse the “incremental death of alpha,” and markets that are increasingly subject to the amplified volatility of increasingly passive investments. This piece is a much-watch for the pension fund or endowment that has no long-volatility exposure in their portfolio. Filmed on February 7, 2020 in Austin, Texas.

9:27

00:02
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Well, hello.
00:03
This is Danielle DiMartino Booth with Real Vision, and today we’ve got a real treat.
00:07
We are bringing your Christopher Cole with Artemis Capital.
00:10
We’ve been waiting for over two years for a follow-up to his seminal paper.
00:14
It’s out there.
00:15
You have to read it.
00:16
Share it with people– maybe not people under 18.
00:18
They wouldn’t understand it.
00:20
But everybody needs to get a copy of this and read it.
00:23
We’re going to discuss what it’s all about today.
00:26
Welcome.
00:27
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Thank you.
00:28
It’s a pleasure to be here and back on Real Vision again.
00:30
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: So I’m going to start with an anecdote.
00:34
Years ago, I was in Omaha, and I visited with Charlie Munger.
00:38
And he made the comment to me that the entire pension fund advisory business one day would
00:45
go out of business.
00:46
It would go the way of the dodo bird because of the group think that surrounded the industry
00:51
because of the way that the portfolios were being designed in a world where central banks
00:57
were effectively running the show.
01:00
And he made the comment to me that he saw in the future, he said, I might not live to
01:05
see, but you will, the death of the efficient frontier.
01:09
So I’m curious about your thoughts on portfolio construction, how it’s done, and how it that
01:18
evolution has changed basically the way this entire generation approaches investing.
01:24
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Well, beginning with that and looking at what Munger has said, as a
01:28
follow-up to my last letter, the Ouroboros letter that talked about the cycle of risk
01:33
and how volatility has been used as both a proxy for risk and also as a source of return.
01:40
I thought, how can I– what will disrupt that– what will disrupt that cycle?
01:46
I posed a question to myself saying, well, if we’re going to see what happens in the
01:50
future, we have to look to the past, and the distant past, not just the recent past, not
01:54
the last 10 years, not the last 40 years.
01:57
We need to look back 100, 200 years to understand the cycle of capital creation and destruction.
02:03
And I posed this question to myself.
02:06
I said, imagine that someone gives you generational wealth, enough money that you can live and
02:15
your children’s children can live at a high level.
02:19
But it’s subject to one question, one dynamic.
02:26
You have to choose an asset allocation and stick with that allocation over 100 years.
02:32
What allocation do you choose so that your children’s children will have prosperity?
02:41
And taking that cue, I went back and looked at 90 years of historical data, backtested
02:48
a wide range of popular financial engineering strategies, everything from risk parity, the
02:55
traditional pension portfolio, short volatility, long volatility strategies, commodity trending
03:01
strategies, and looked and how do these perform?
03:03
And what asset allocation is the allocation that’s going to provide wealth, not only consistently
03:11
over 90 years, but through every generational cycle, through both periods of secular growth
03:17
and secular decline?
03:19
And what I found surprised me, that echoing Munger’s statement, the allocation that the
03:28
majority of US pension systems and retirees are following, which approximately today is
03:33
about 70% equity-linked products- – that could be everything from stocks to private equity,
03:39
things that are the profit from secular growth– and about 20% bonds.
03:44
That portfolio has done incredibly well over the last 40 years.
03:49
But when you look at that portfolio over 90 years, you see a very, very different reality.
03:58
And that has a wide range of social, economic, and social ramifications that become quite
04:06
startling.
04:08
But looking at that, I say, what asset allocation can I find that will actually provide protection
04:17
over that 90 years consistently?
04:19
And that answer came not from a macro view.
04:24
It doesn’t come from me having an opinion about whether or not we’re going to go into
04:29
a recession or whether or not there’s going to be some continued economic prosperity.
04:33
It comes simply by looking at data, using mathematics, looking at data, and looking
04:39
at empirical data over a lifetime to come to that determination.
04:44
And I think the results are quite shocking.
04:46
And I think they run somewhat counter to the consensus knowledge as to what optimal portfolio
04:52
allocation should be.
04:53
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: So Charlie Munger was right.
04:55
CHRISTOPHER COLE: I think he’s right.
04:57
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Take a step back to the October 2017 paper, if you will.
05:04
Back then, you drew the scope of the financialization of the markets of the economy.
05:13
You talked about risk parity, and share buybacks, and the massive effect that they had had on
05:20
the crowding in to certain asset classes.
05:25
So talk about what effect this herding instinct has had on the way this generation views investing.
05:37
CHRISTOPHER COLE: You and I have a very similar writing style.
05:40
I love metaphors.
05:42
I think visually.
05:43
I think I think you do too.
05:44
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Yours are better.
05:45
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Yours are– they’re very good.
05:48
But in that 2017 paper, I think I wanted to use the idea of an Ouroboros, this concept
05:55
of a snake devouring its own tail.
05:58
And what this was a metaphor for– what is now about $3 trillion in equity markets alone.
06:04
This is just equity markets, US equity markets.
06:08
The number is much larger if you expand that across asset classes.
06:13
But of strategies that use volatility as an input for taking risk, but also seek to generate
06:21
excess yield, either through selling volatility or through the assumption of stability.
06:29
So in this number, you have implicit and explicit short volatility strategies.
06:34
And I think there’s a lot of confusion as to what this means.
06:38
Explicit short volatility strategies are strategies that they will sell derivatives, so they’ll
06:44
sell options.
06:45
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: So the easiest would be selling the VIX.
06:47
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Selling the VIX, that’s right.
06:48
So this paper came out prior to the XIV blow up, and it talked about how the VIX ETPs were
06:55
likely to have significant problems.
06:57
But that’s a very small component of that short volatility trade.
07:00
A much larger component of the short vol trade are strategies that replicate the risk parameters
07:10
of short volatility trades but may not actually be shorting volatility.
07:14
So strategies like this might be things like volatility targeting funds or some elements
07:20
of risk parity, for example.
07:21
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Risk parity is still something we don’t hear a lot about, even
07:25
though it’s massive.
07:26
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Yes, yeah.
07:28
And indeed, the framework there is– this could be anything between literally shorting
07:34
vol– literally shorting volatility, what I’ll call short gamma or being short trend–
07:38
and we could talk a little bit more about that– short correlations, short interest
07:44
rates.
07:45
These are risk factors of a portfolio of short options that various financial engineering
07:49
strategies will replicate, maybe not all of them, but certain aspects of them.
07:53
That doesn’t mean all these strategies are bad.
07:55
It just means that they are formulated to a world where interest rates are dropping,
08:00
assets are mean reverting, and that volatility is quite low.
08:05
And guess what has happened the last 40 years?
08:09
We are at generational lows in volatility across asset classes.
08:15
Asset trending– I think this is something most people don’t realize that, actually,
08:20
assets, equity for example, used to trend higher and lower.
08:25
You can measure that through something called autocorrelation.
08:28
All that means is that if today was down, it is likely that tomorrow will be up and
08:36
vice versa.
08:37
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Buy the dip.
08:39
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Buy the dip, that’s right.
08:40
So the assets for the greater part of a lifetime were autocorrelated in the sense that higher
08:49
prices resulted in higher prices, and lower prices resulted in lower prices.
08:54
That autocorrelation peaked right when Nixon delinked the dollar versus gold, or the US
09:01
dollar versus gold.
09:03
And we have underwent a multi-decade decrease in autocorrelations.
09:09
And now, we’re at really peak mean reversion markets.
09:13
So a lot of strategies make the assumption that mean reversion is implicit to asset price
09:20
behavior.
09:21
That’s definitely not always the case.
09:23
So to that point, one of the strategies we actually tested was buy the dip.
How would buy the dip perform going back 90 years?

09:33
This is very interesting.
09:34
Buying the dip, you don’t think of it as a short volatility, strategy but it is short
09:38
gamma, what’s short that autocorrelation effect.
09:42
Well, buy the dip has performed incredibly well over the last 10 years, and really over
09:50
the last 20 years, as central banks have been very reactive to market stress.

09:54
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: That’s an understatement.
09:56
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Right?
09:57
Well, it’s very interesting.
09:58
If you go back and you test buy the dip over 90 years, that strategy goes bankrupt three
times.

10:06
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Bankrupt’s a big word.
10:08
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Flat out loses all of its money three times over a 90 year history.
10:14
It is only really in the last 10 years where it’s compounded at about 10% a year where
10:19
we’ve seen that outperformance.
10:20
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: I think that might– let’s see.
10:22
Is that the quantitative easing era?
10:23
CHRISTOPHER COLE: I think so.
10:25
It’s not a coincidence.
10:26
Yes, not a coincidence at all.
10:27
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: So you tweeted out something a few days ago about long-term deflationary
10:35
trends.
10:36
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Yeah.
10:37
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: It feels like we keep going there.
10:41
What in your mind could possibly ignite inflation?
10:46
Because it’s the one thing that nobody is expecting.
10:49
We’re all expecting wash, rinse, repeat.
10:52
More deflation next time there’s a disruption of any kind, and again, every central bank
10:57
comes riding into the rescue with more stimulus.
10:59
CHRISTOPHER COLE: More stimulus– so look at looking back at– there have been other
11:03
cycles across history that are like an Ouroboros eating its own tail.
11:08
If we take this beyond just short volatility, we can think of it as part of the entire debt
11:13
deflation cycle.
11:14
So this idea that you start out with something good, you start out with real economic growth,
11:19
technology, and demographics, and that leads to growth.
11:23
And fantastic– you’re growing.
11:25
The economy is growing.
11:26
It’s fundamental growth.
11:28
At a certain point in time, the fundamentals get stretched and we become reliant on fiat
11:36
devaluation and debt expansion.
11:38
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: So think of the baby boomer generation generating genuine
11:42
economic growth, and then they’re starting to move to spending less.
11:48
And how do you fill that gap?
11:49
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Exactly.
11:50
So to this point, we start out in this framework.
11:53
It’s in the period of 1984 to 2007– one of the most incredible periods of asset price
12:02
growth and asset appreciation growth in not just American history, in history period.
12:08
90% of the returns of a 60-40 stock-bond portfolio came from the 22 years between ’84 and 2007.
12:17
Just 22 years drove 90% of the gains of that portfolio over 90 years.
12:21
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: I probably couldn’t count on one hand the number of investors
12:24
who have been around since before 1984.
12:26
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Exactly.
12:27
The average investment advisor is 52 years old.
12:30
They were a kindergartener during the stagflationary period of the 1970s.
12:34
So you have all these baby boomers, 76 million baby boomers– largest generation in American
12:39
history.
12:40
They’re teenagers right into the devaluation of gold in the 1971.
12:45
That is driving a tremendous amount of inflation at that point in time.
12:49
Interest rates go up to 19%, and then these baby boomers, 76 million of them, enter the
12:54
workforce in the early ’80s.
12:56
And they start making money.
12:59
They start making money, and they start spending.
13:01
They start investing.
13:02
So you have baby boomers coming on in.
13:05
Then you have a trend towards globalization, so we’re able to export our inflation overseas.
13:10
You have a technology boom as well.
13:15
And then, interest rates begin dropping.
13:17
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Oh, yes.
13:19
CHRISTOPHER COLE: So and– DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: May he rest in peace, Paul Volcker.
13:22
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Exactly.
13:23
And as if that’s not enough, taxes start coming down.
13:28
So you have this once-in-a-generation, once-in-several-hundred-years economic boom, asset price boom that occurs,
13:37
driven as baby boomers come into the workforce, begin savings, enter into their prime earning
13:42
years.
13:43
But now, those boomers are going to be retiring.
13:46
They are going to be drawing $20 trillion dollars out of markets instead of putting
13:50
that into markets.
13:52
This, obviously presents a tremendous deflationary force.
13:56
So I’d like to think about this as a snake.
13:59
If we take the snake metaphor and we pull it out, it’s not just short volatility.
14:04
It is almost like a snake devouring its own tail as part of a business cycle.
14:08
The snake is eating prey and naturally compressing inwards through secular growth.
14:15
And that’s healthy.
14:16
But towards the end of the secular growth cycle, that snake relies on financial engineering,
14:23
excess leverage, and begins eating its own tail.
14:28
And that is where we’re at, I would say, in the cycle right now.
14:31
And you’ve written beautifully on this about some of the debt problems out there.
14:34
Currently, we’re at 48% debt to GDP, highest corporate debt to GDP, highest level in American
14:41
history.
14:42
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: You tack on– you aggregate non-financial, we’re at 74%.
14:45
CHRISTOPHER COLE: 74%.
14:47
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Unheard of numbers.
14:49
CHRISTOPHER COLE: And what are we doing with this?
14:51
What are corporations doing with this debt?
14:52
They’re issuing debt to buy back their own shares at a trillion dollars a year.
14:56
And then institutions are funneling that in in order to– they need to find ways to generate
15:03
yield absent any fundamental growth.
15:05
So we had a year like last year, where there’s no actual earnings growth, but it’s all multiple
15:12
expansion driven by share buybacks and speculation.
15:15
So this is– we’re at this end of the cycle, where the snake is devouring its own tail.
15:19
Now, this can go on for a long time.
15:21
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Clearly.
15:22
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Well, what breaks that cycle?
15:26
And this comes to the image in the paper of the allegory of the hawk and serpent.
15:31
And I was thinking about this.
15:33
Outside our offices here, we have a peregrine falcon that flies around.
15:36
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: I saw that on Twitter.
15:38
You need to tweet more often, by the way.
15:40
Can We.
15:41
Got on “Real Vision” thumbs up on that?
15:43
Thank you.
15:44
CHRISTOPHER COLE: I do a lot of research and work, but I’ll try.
15:49
I’ll try a little bit more.
15:50
I’m still getting used to it, by the way.
15:53
The whole retweet thing– DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: It gets tricky.
15:55
CHRISTOPHER COLE: It gets tricky a little bit.
15:59
But that hawk– I noticed the idea of hawk.
16:02
And there is an old symbol of a hawk fighting a serpent.
16:06
And this symbol has deep roots.
16:10
It’s actually on the great seal of the US.
16:13
It’s on the coat of arms of Mexico.
16:15
It has important ramifications across different traditions ranging from Aztec to Egyptian
16:23
to Indian.
16:24
But this idea to me, what it represented is the serpent represents the secular growth
16:29
cycle that becomes corrupted at a certain point in time, where the serpent begins devouring
16:35
its own tail.
16:36
It is unable to generate growth naturally and has to self-cannibalize.
16:41
And the hawk comes down and represents the disruption of that cycle.
16:46
But the hawk has two wings, which also work with the probability distribution.
16:50
On the left wing– DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Wow, that’s deep.
16:52
OK.
16:53
CHRISTOPHER COLE: So the metaphor goes deeper.
16:56
On the left wing, we have debt deflation.
16:59
This is what Japan has experienced.
17:02
That’s one way you get out of this decaying growth cycle.
17:05
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Slowly.
17:06
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Slowly.
17:07
Painfully.
17:08
That’s what the US experienced in the ’30s.
17:10
But on the other end of it, you have fiat devaluation and reflation.
17:15
That is where you simply devalue your currency.
17:18
And that could be helicopter money, devaluation currency, money printing.
17:23
That is another way that you get out of that crisis.
17:27
This is as old as money itself.
17:29
And one wing can occur before the other.
17:33
You can have a deflationary crisis before you have a reflationary crisis.
17:38
So to get back to your original question, what will cause– what I see causing inflation.
17:43
You have a scenario today where the two largest blocks of the US population are baby boomers,
17:51
at about 22% of the population right now.
17:54
They’re rich.
17:55
They have a lot of money.
17:56
They’ve lived through one of the most incredible periods of asset price growth in history.
And they want to protect that money.
18:03
So they are going to– they’re going to support policies or are incentivized to, I should
18:09
say.
18:10
They don’t need to, but they’re incentivized to support policies that protect their retirement
18:14
and their entitlement benefits.
18:18
Now you have millennials, which are now the largest generation at 26% of the population,
18:23
and Gen Z following, are likely to be the first generation in American history to be
18:28
poorer than their parents.
18:29
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Remarkable.
18:30
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Remarkable, yeah.
18:32
Lower household creation rates– they have– the average millennial has substantial student
18:37
debt.
18:38
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Low savings.
18:39
CHRISTOPHER COLE: No savings, that’s right.
18:41
So the incentive of the average millennial, they’re incentivized in essence to pursue
18:45
policies that represent redistribution of wealth and seek to tax, redistribute, and
18:53
cause inflation.
18:55
So I think the time to look, and maybe what could cause inflation is the political sea
19:00
change towards– DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: At some point– we’re at $23 trillion now.
19:06
But to your point, at some point, you’re going to hit a level of debt if truly all of these
19:13
social spending initiatives are financed by printing money.
19:17
Theoretically, at some point, you will hit a limit.
19:20
I agree with you.
19:24
You talk about passive investing.
19:25
It’s a hot button.
19:27
90% of flows go into passive strategies.
19:32
Even pensions are in passive strategies.
19:35
Talk about the perfect– perfect liquidity of passive investing.
19:40
CHRISTOPHER COLE: The concept of passive– and now, we are at a point where passive investments
19:46
have eclipsed active for the first time in history.
19:50
And my friend Mike Green who’s a friend of “Real Vision” has a lot of fantastic research
19:53
on this.
19:54
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Yes, he has.
19:55
CHRISTOPHER COLE: And I’ve done some work, in essence, trying to replicate his assumptions
20:00
using some toy models and was able to do that.
20:07
His theory, at the end of the day, is that at a certain point, if the market is dominated
20:14
by passive actors, it not only amplifies volatility, which I completely agree with– if there is
20:21
no other incremental seller against a buyer or buyer against a seller, each incremental
20:32
buy or sell will result in massive movement in the underlying.
20:37
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: It’s an amplifier.
20:38
CHRISTOPHER COLE: It’s an amplifier.
20:39
Because if you look at active investors, active investors are a volatility dampener.
20:44
Value investors will come into the market, and they will buy when there is a big collapse
20:49
in asset prices.
20:50
So they will in essence put a floor underneath asset prices.
20:53
And they’ll sell when asset prices go to high.
20:55
Well, you remove all the active investors, and that will amplify volatility.
21:00
The other factor that comes into play a lot of the time is this idea that it actually
21:04
reduces the alpha available to active participants.
21:07
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Clearly.
21:08
We’re watching one asset manager after another, one hedge fund after another go away.
21:12
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Because, in essence, passive is in its own right a systematic strategy.
21:18
It has elements of– it is a basic systematic strategy.
21:22
So it goes back to the soul of investing.
21:24
There are two different competing thought processes, I think, that are at war with one
21:30
another.
21:31
The one thought process is that assets should have a value, that there should be a value,
21:38
and that market participants are fighting to determine what that value is.
21:43
But there is, in theory, some intrinsic value to it.
21:46
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Price discovery.
21:47
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Price discovery.
21:48
There is a second school, which I think is gaining strength right now, which is forget
21:56
intrinsic value.
21:58
All that matters according to this school of thinking is the price momentum of the asset.
22:06
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: You can burn your MBA.
22:08
You don’t need it anymore.
22:10
CHRISTOPHER COLE: That’s right.
22:11
So aspects of factor investing follow this principle, whether it’s momentum, quality,
22:18
whether it’s FANG, or whether it’s ownership of company management.
22:25
Whatever the factor is, as long as people believe in the factor, and keep buying, and
22:30
keep providing– as long there continues to be liquidity, that creates value.
22:37
I’m clearly in camp number one.
22:39
I clearly believe that there’s intrinsic value.
22:40
I believe– DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Well, if you go back 100 years, there is.
22:44
CHRISTOPHER COLE: There is.
22:46
And I would like to quote Harley Bassman, who once had a fantastic quote.
22:51
He always says this, that pigs can fly if shot out of a large enough cannon.
22:55
They always return to earth as bacon.
22:59
He’s so right on the money with his usual wit.
23:04
With a large enough amount of central bank stimulus and enough ability to create debt,
23:10
you can create this illusion as to momentum in these factors that– so I actually think
23:16
passive investing is actually just a liquidity momentum trading.
23:19
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: I would agree with you.
23:21
Look– well, October 2018, it was not pretty.
23:24
It acted as an amplifier, but on the downside.
23:27
But we haven’t seen a lot of that.
23:30
You put venture capital and private equity into your 70% slice of the pie.
23:40
Explain that.
23:41
Because I don’t think that if you went down to Texas teachers, for example, I don’t think
23:47
that they would say that– they would say it would be at the opposite end of the spectrum,
23:51
and it would be a diversification strategy against publicly traded equities.
23:56
CHRISTOPHER COLE: So one are the concepts on doing this paper is I wanted to find a
24:00
asset allocation that is a solution.
24:04
What asset allocation can work over 90 years that can protect you against the deflationary
24:11
elements of the left wing of the hawk and the reflation three elements of the right
24:15
wing of the hawk?
24:17
That led me to a very big conclusion, and it ties into the question about private equity.
24:23
Most people think that excess return– that you want to take to asset classes that both
24:30
have solid returns, and bring them together, and that you’ll get a better result from.
24:36
That they prioritize the search for yield and prioritize excess return.
24:41
And what I found is that, actually, what people should prioritize is secular diversification.
24:50
And what that means is that you should look to large asset– look to asset classes that
24:57
can perform on the left or the right tail, and boldly size them in your portfolio.
25:02
That means boldly sizing countertrend asset classes that perform when stocks and bonds
don’t.
25:10
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: So gold’s not like the little 10% just in case?
25:13
CHRISTOPHER COLE: That’s right.
25:14
Gold shouldn’t be 1% or 2%.
25:16
It should be 20%.
25:20
Volatility should be 20%.
25:23
Commodity trend should be 20%.
25:25
And then stocks and bonds can make up the other remaining 20 and 20.
25:30
Well, so private equity– DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: That stands the conventional wisdom
25:33
on its head.
25:34
CHRISTOPHER COLE: It does, where many individuals have big problems trying to even allocate
25:38
3% of their portfolio to gold.
25:41
Well, this gets back to the private equity VC question.
25:45
Now, these are relatively new asset classes.
25:47
It’s tough to see their performance going back 100 years.
25:51
But Cambridge has fantastic data going back a good 20 years, 20, 30 years.
25:58
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: When I was at DLJ, we had a merchant bank.
26:01
Private equity was this cottage industry.
26:04
Leon Black used to walk the halls.
26:06
This was way before– what, they’ve got $4 trillion?
26:09
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Yeah, it’s massive.
26:10
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Massive.
26:11
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Massive.
26:12
Well, it becomes very clear from looking.
26:15
You can just look at the return data from private equity NVCs to see that these asset
26:20
classes are secular growth asset classes.
26:23
They are correlated to the business cycle.
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: So they move in concert with publicly-traded equities.
26:28
CHRISTOPHER COLE: They move.
26:30
Sure, you might get some excess return, but they are correlated to equities.
26:35
They will lose money in the event that there’s a widescale recession.
26:38
Well, I should say, they have historically lost money when that has occurred.
26:43
I cringe when I hear leaders of very large– and I’ve heard this.
26:51
Leaders of very large pension systems, huge, huge systems that have a lot of money, and
26:56
they say that private equity and venture capital are diversifies because they’re lagged.
27:05
This doesn’t work with the data in view.
27:10
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: I’ve been harping on this issue for years and years.
27:15
When we went into the crisis, the baby boomers were still an actuarial accounting assumption
27:21
you could fudge with.
27:23
Heading into the next downturn, they’re going to be a cash flow issue for pensions.
27:29
And when you factor in the illiquidity aspect of the alternatives, it just makes no sense.
27:36
CHRISTOPHER COLE: No, it does not.
27:37
And this is what we’ve seen.
27:39
So I put about a post on Twitter.
27:41
And I had three asset classes.
27:43
And they were just sine wave graphs.
27:45
The two asset A and asset B were highly correlated with one another, and they were slightly offset
27:53
from one another.
27:54
And asset C, the last asset, was a countertrend asset.
27:58
It was an asset that didn’t make any money, but made money when all the other assets lost
28:04
money.
28:05
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Did it lose?
28:07
Lose money?
28:08
CHRISTOPHER COLE: It lost money, actually– lost a little bit of money.
28:10
It was flat.
28:11
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: A little– OK, critical words.
28:12
OK, continue.
28:13
CHRISTOPHER COLE: And I posted to Twitter.
28:14
I said, which of these would you combine.
28:16
You can choose two assets to have the optimal portfolio.
28:18
And of course, everyone says, well, we’re going to choose the high returning asset and
28:22
the countertrend asset because that’s going to result in a dramatically better risk adjusted
28:29
return as opposed to combining the two assets that have similar return profiles, which results
28:35
in bigger gains, but bigger losses.
28:38
So Twitter got that answer correct.
28:40
80% of people chose the trend and the countertrend asset.
28:45
But what’s interesting is that the big institutions around the world are doing the exact opposite.
28:51
They’re taking equity exposure, and then they’re layering on more and more private equity exposure,
28:55
and more VC exposure, and more high yield credit exposure, and short volatility exposure,
29:01
and you name it, all because they have to reach the 7.25% return target.
29:07
And at the end of the day, what you have is a portfolio that is tilted to secular growth.
29:16
Will perform in secular growth, but in the event that we have any regime change, any
29:22
period of secular change, either on the left wing of the hawk with deflation or the right
29:28
wing of the hawk with reflation fiat devaluation, that portfolio will struggle and struggle
29:36
terribly.
29:37
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: I wasn’t surprised about most of what you wrote.
29:40
But I was intrigued about how you view real estate as an asset class.
29:47
It’s got the highest return, but– CHRISTOPHER COLE: Yeah, so real estate is– real estate’s
29:53
quite interesting as an asset class, because I think most people don’t really think of
29:56
it as– it is a levered secular growth asset.
30:00
And your average person, I think, the average retiree– maybe not the institutions, but
30:05
the average retiree, they would never go lever their stock portfolio five times.
30:11
But you own a home, and that is a levered investment.
30:14
That’s not saying it’s a bad investment.
30:17
I’m not saying that.
30:19
But most people don’t look at it in that light.
30:23
So in the same way that you structure– that one should structure trend and countertrend
30:28
assets to balance the hawk and the serpent, the idea of including real estate in one’s
30:33
thinking about one’s personal portfolio, I think, is really important because, oftentimes,
30:39
your job is driven by the economic growth cycle.
30:43
Your home is driven by the economic growth cycle.
30:46
And then you’re Levering that exposure to the economic growth cycle.
30:49
And then you’re also adding stock exposure onto that.
30:52
So the average retiree with some– or the average working individual with a mortgage
31:00
has tremendous exposure to the secular growth cycle levered– DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH:
31:04
And there’s an extraordinary percentage of baby boomers with mortgages.
31:08
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Yes, yeah.
31:09
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: And the rest of their portfolio’s in an index fund.
31:12
CHRISTOPHER COLE: And very few people think about this.
31:15
And the concept at the end of the day that somehow that will be insulated– stocks dropped
31:23
86% in the Great Depression, and real estate dropped to the same degree.
31:29
Now, in prior cycles, when interest rates were at 19% and were able to be lowered, that
31:39
created a dynamic where real estate performed somewhat like a bond.
31:43
Every single time that rates went down, it increased the affordability for people to
31:48
buy bigger homes.
31:50
So that provided a cushion for real estate.
31:52
Well, when rates are at the zero bound, several bad things begin to happen.
31:58
First of all, your 60-40 portfolio can struggle in the sense that your bonds are not getting
32:03
as much benefit.
32:05
But on top of that, your hold price is not going to get as much benefit if rates can’t
32:10
be lowered.
32:11
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: At the margin.
32:12
CHRISTOPHER COLE: At the margin, yeah.
32:13
So I don’t see people realize this.
32:15
Rates where they are today, for us to get the same benefit on a bond portfolio, on a
32:21
long-duration bond portfolio, or the same pickup in mortgages that we got after ’08,
32:28
the Fed would have to lower interest rates to negative 1.5%– DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH:
32:32
Ooh, don’t say negative.
32:33
CHRISTOPHER COLE: –to get the same benefit as people got right based on where they lowered
32:38
in 2008.
32:39
I’ve never going to say that’s not feasible anymore, because God knows what is feasible
32:43
now.
32:44
But I will say there are major social ramifications if they pursue a course like that.
32:48
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Talk about one way that you would play volatility long.
32:57
Or if there is no way, one way, how do you– you said 20% long volatility.
33:05
How do you do that?
33:06
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Now, I take a very broad definition of what long volatility is.
33:09
So let’s start out with specifics.
33:12
I actually went back and I tested using very defensible assumptions.
33:17
What different traditional explicit volatility strategies, how they would have performed
33:23
over periods like the Great Depression, over the 1970s.
33:26
So for example, it’s very popular to do covered calls.
33:30
People will own stock and they’ll sell calls against that.
33:32
Large pensions do that as well.
33:34
Some people will do tail risk catching.
33:36
They’ll buy put options– various strategies.
33:38
So I tested all of these strategies using very realistic assumptions going back to the
33:44
1920s.
33:46
And those assumptions are laid held in very high detail in my paper.
33:52
So one of things I found, just to start out with– short volatility strategies, which
33:59
in equity markets, currently there’s upwards of about $200 billion of these strategies,
34:03
are very popular, have performed extremely well since the ’80s.
34:08
These mean reversion short vol strategies, pretty much every single one of them showed
34:14
complete annihilation of capital over 90 years.
34:19
And I would say that based on very defensible assumptions that people should not only avoid
34:24
these strategies, but also institutions that robotically and systematically apply them.
34:31
And I believe there is a place for these strategies if they’re used tactically.
34:36
Using human discretion, say, this asset has overpriced volatility.
34:39
We’re going to sell it as part of a trade.
34:42
That’s very different than what a lot of institutions are doing, which is they are constantly systematically
34:48
selling volatility for excess yield.
34:51
And this includes even collateralized short vol strategies.
34:55
So most people have come back and said, well what about something like a covered call strategy?
34:59
Why would that show impairment of capital.
35:02
And well, let’s take a look at that.
35:06
In the 1930s, the stock market dropped 80%.
35:10
Now, if you were selling calls on the way down, you would have done a little bit better
35:16
than someone who was just holding the stock.
35:20
But then, we had the deflationary left tail.
35:24
Then you have the right tail, where they do the 1932 Banking Act, and they devalue.
35:32
Lower rates– devalue, and also, devaluation versus gold.
35:39
At that point, you had a 70% rally that occurred over a month and a half.
35:44
So imagine that you’re selling calls, earning a little bit of money.
35:49
But you’re holding that against stock.
35:50
And you’re losing all the way down.
35:52
You lose 70% of your capital that way.
35:55
And then, you’re selling calls into a 70% rally that occurs over a month and a half.
36:01
And that wasn’t the only rally.
36:03
There was another rally that occurred in the ’30s, that over 80% over four months.
36:08
And that was the Roosevelt devaluation versus gold.
36:11
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Hard to pivot in that short period of time.
36:13
CHRISTOPHER COLE: That’s right.
36:14
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: That’s your point.
36:15
CHRISTOPHER COLE: So these are political risks.
36:16
You have deflation.
36:17
And then, you all of a sudden have a political shift that causes reflation, either through
36:21
monetary or fiscal policy.
36:23
And if one thinks they can predict that, they’re wrong.
36:29
There’s just no way unless you’re psychic.
36:33
So with that same understanding how shortfall performed, we can look at how longfall has
36:39
performed.
36:40
Long volatility, truly buying a straddle, buying puts and calls, would have been positive
36:46
carry for decades.
36:48
It would have made money in giving you diversification over the 1930s all the way through the ’40s,
36:55
and also would have given you income in the 1970s.
36:59
So to this point, one of the things we’ve advised is something we call active long vol,
37:04
which is this idea that you forego the first movement in volatility.
37:10
You’re not looking to protect against exogenous risks.
37:13
But when the market moves a little bit, you catch the momentum of volatility.
37:17
And this is how we modeled it.
37:18
It is an attempt to model systematically what active long volatility managers seek to do,
37:24
which is provide portfolio insurance type of protection for lower cost security.
37:29
But there’s other long volatility strategies or countertrend strategies that are also really
37:35
effective.
37:36
Commodity trending is an example of a strategy that can be very effective.
37:40
Commodity trend has not been very popular in recent years, but was particularly effective
37:47
in the 1970s during that inflationary period and was effective in the 1930s.
37:52
And then finally, gold, is a long– I would say a long volatility asset because it plays
37:57
off of that fiat devaluation that occurs.
38:00
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Of course.
38:01
CHRISTOPHER COLE: So in this sense, by having parts of the portfolio, all of these asset
38:05
classes, all of these asset classes are countertrend to equities and are uncorrelated to bonds.
38:15
They show no correlation to equity and bonds.
38:18
So to the same point, instead of chasing excess yield, what people need to be doing, particularly
38:24
the large institutions need to be positioning portfolios boldly in asset classes that are
38:33
non-correlated to stocks and bonds, preparing for a period of secular change.
38:40
Danielle, the numbers are amazing.
38:42
The numbers are amazing.
38:43
In my portfolio, the replication portfolio going back 90 years that we show in the paper,
38:49
you’re able to achieve consistent performance above the 7.25% pension return target that
38:55
is consistent through every generational cycle.
38:58
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: And that’s how pensions should be invested for the long haul.
39:01
CHRISTOPHER COLE: That’s right.
39:02
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Absolutely.
39:03
We’re going to go in the weeds, and then we’re going to pull back out.
39:07
Describe the evolution of cross-asset volatility.
39:11
There used to be an order of things– FX, rates, equity.
39:16
Has that been destroyed in this era of all– you name it– VIX, move, every gauge of volatility
39:25
is at a record low.
39:26
CHRISTOPHER COLE: That’s right.
39:28
Actually, equity vol, US equity vol is actually relatively expensive comparative to other–
39:32
comparative to like currency vol, for example, which is truly at all-time lows right now.
39:37
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: And that’s a massive market that nobody ever talks about.
39:39
CHRISTOPHER COLE: I think one of the things that’s really– we talk about the short volatility
39:43
trade.
39:44
And I say, OK, it’s close to $3 trillion in equity markets right now.
39:49
The portfolio insurance was only 2% of US equity markets, but in 1987.
39:56
And that, now, these short volatility strategies of all of their styles are now closer to 10%
40:02
of the market.
40:03
That same trade is being replicated across multiple different asset classes.
40:07
so we’re seeing it replicated across multiple different asset classes.
40:10
And of course, you have the, which is something you’ve written quite brilliantly about, the
40:14
reaction function of central banks.
40:17
And that’s something I also talk about in a 2015 paper, where they are preemptively
40:23
getting in front of– DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Yes, this is– I’ve tried to communicate this.
40:30
And I don’t think that the market quite understands Jay Powell and how different he is because
40:36
he does understand credit volatility, and he does understand what’s at stake.
40:41
So he’s unlike his three predecessors.
40:43
He’s actually trying to get out in front of what’s happening.
40:47
And that– it truly changes– it’s not reaction function right now.
40:52
He’s trying to proactively get out in front of this.
40:54
CHRISTOPHER COLE: That’s right.
40:55
Preemptive– very similar to the way that the Bush administration sought to do preemptive
41:00
strikes against terror.
41:02
They are doing preemptive strikes on financial stress.
41:06
And I think we saw this– we have different models that look at thousands of different
41:14
economic indicators.
41:16
But this last– economic and technical indicators.
41:20
And a lot of the drivers of volatility were there in the fourth quarter of last year.
41:25
We saw CCC yields begin exploding higher.
41:28
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: They still haven’t come back in, a lot of them, though.
41:31
CHRISTOPHER COLE: They still haven’t come back in, yeah.
41:33
We saw value begin to outperform momentum stocks– very interesting.
41:38
We saw, obviously, a re-steepening of the yield curve after an inversion.
41:41
That’s a bear signal.
41:42
And then, finally, the granddaddy of them all, we began to see blow outs in the repo
41:47
market.
41:48
Of course, what that will do is, inevitably, if that continues, you have a deleveraging
41:54
of various hedge fund strategies that will impact asset markets.
41:57
All of these things were big risk-off flex.
42:00
However, I think the Fed obviously saw the same thing.
42:06
I don’t think people fathom this.
42:09
They created $400 billion worth of liquidity to inject into the repo system, the largest
42:17
expansion of the balance sheet since 2009.
42:20
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Well, it was only $85 billion when it was QE3.
42:25
So this is bigger.
42:26
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Bigger.
42:27
It’s remarkable.
42:28
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: It is bigger.
42:29
And I understand what J Powell is trying to do.
42:34
I get it.
42:35
Because he saw the credit volatility genie start to come out of her bottle in the fourth
42:39
quarter of 2018, and it scared the Dickens out of him.
42:42
Public pensions had the worst returns for that quarter.
42:46
It’s anarchy, and we’ll get to that in just a minute.
42:50
So he understands the gravity of the situation.
42:53
But it seems like the market has begun to play him.
42:56
For every 100 decline– 100 point decline in the Dow, you have 1 basis point of rate
43:01
cut immediately priced in.
43:04
You can follow it on your Bloomberg terminal.
43:05
It’s like clockwork.
43:06
CHRISTOPHER COLE: It’s the moral hazard of the problem.
43:09
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: And they’re playing the Fed.
43:11
The market players are playing the Fed.
43:13
And I don’t think people– this is the last thing that Jay Powell wanted.
43:17
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Yeah.
43:18
It absolutely has become this point where it appears that they’re really between a rock
43:24
and a hard place.
43:25
Because on one aspect, you are risking a complete melt up in markets, which is already occurring.
43:31
You look at the behavior of Tesla, for example.
43:34
It’s fun to try to watch the media justify it, but there’s no justification.
43:40
I think Tesla’s vol term structure was dramatically steeper than the vol term structure of the
43:46
VIX the other day.
43:47
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Yeah you tweeted that out.
43:49
I was like, wow.
43:50
CHRISTOPHER COLE: It’s really– DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: There’s so many different ways to look
43:51
at it.
43:53
But the main is there.
43:54
This is like 1999 and 2007.
43:56
You walk into a bar and hook up.
43:59
Sorry, that probably wasn’t very politically correct, but you’ve got the leverage and you’ve
44:02
got the mania.
44:04
You’ve got the two of them together.
44:05
CHRISTOPHER COLE: I could not put it any better myself.
44:08
I think you’re right.
44:09
And these are the two realities.
44:12
And maybe they’re trying to keep it together until the election.
44:16
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: We don’t have to go there.
44:20
But I don’t I think Jay Powell is probably the least political fed chair since Paul Volcker,
44:25
but he also understands credit volatility, and he talked about it in October 2012 specifically.
44:31
CHRISTOPHER COLE: And this ends up– it’s interesting how this ends up impacting so
44:38
many different things, because not only is there market expectations built on this, this
44:43
results in the enhancement of that mean reversion effect that we talked about.
44:49
I think one of the reasons why volatility worked for 70 years in all of its forms is
44:54
because there was not mean reversion in markets.
44:58
It had less to do, sometimes, about the absolute spikes or the big down days or up days in
45:05
markets and more to do with the fact that markets would trend.
45:08
Well, now, because people anticipate this reaction function, the mean reversion is so
45:14
baked into markets, and then that incentivizes people to follow financial engineering strategies
45:20
that profit from that mean reversionary expectation.
45:23
And today, there’s a whole cottage industry in the vol world about gamma hedging.
45:29
That’s something that people talk a lot about now.
45:33
And it’s a complicated issue, but effectively, when big institutions come out in short volatility,
45:40
the hedging of those volatility shorts reinforces mean reversion to markets.
45:46
It’s a little like a rubber band, the gamma hedging.
45:51
And what I mean by that is that the rubber band stretches out, and you have a down day
45:55
or an up day.
45:57
And the hedging of all the short volatility products results in it coming back in.
46:02
So people will buy the dip or do the opposite of what the market’s doing.
46:07
The dealers will do this to hedge.
46:08
But if you get a big enough shock where that rubber band stretches too far, it could snap
46:13
in either direction.
46:14
It can snap on the left tail or the right tail in either direction.
46:19
So in essence, it’s not just the human beings that are now anticipating what the Fed– anticipating
46:27
this behavior pattern from the Fed.
46:28
But now you have machines that are being attenuated– DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: That’s why it feels
46:34
so systemic.
46:35
CHRISTOPHER COLE: That’s right.
46:37
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Speaking of systemic, let’s end this– I could talk to you for hours,
46:43
by the way.
46:44
This is just fascinating.
46:45
But let’s wrap this up today with where you conclude this wonderful paper.
46:53
Richard Fisher and I met years ago when I was still inside the Fed.
46:56
We had lunch there were riots in the streets of Athens at the time.
47:01
And I said, I said, Richard, what do you make of this?
47:07
What can we draw from this?
47:09
I’d been writing about pensions for 20 years.
47:13
And he said, Danielle, I fear that we’ll have those riots in our streets one day, that the
47:23
public pensioners and the people who are paying for the public pensionersif you’re Joe
47:29
Q with an IRA or 401(k), and you lose most of the value of your equity holdings, and
47:36
you’re told that your property taxes or your income tax, state income taxes are going to
47:41
have to go up to top off the pension that’s just lost as much– you talk about these things
47:47
in public forums, and individuals go at each other.
47:53
Talk about the societal implications of where we are today what you see potentially happening,
48:01
because you used the word systemic.
48:03
CHRISTOPHER COLE: So the way that the average institutional entitlement portfolio is structured
48:09
today- – and this is not an opinion.
48:12
I’m looking back across history.
48:14
There is a recency bias.
48:16
This is constructed for the last 40 years of unprecedented asset price growth.
48:22
But if you look beyond that 40 years and look at how that portfolio will perform, at a best
48:28
case, you’re looking at a 5% type of return.
48:32
In a worst case, given where debt levels are and where leverage is, you’re looking at something
48:38
much, much worse.
48:40
So if we just assume the best case, it makes 5% or 4% over the next 20 years, these entitlement
48:50
programs.
48:51
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Which is not enough.
48:52
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Not enough, because they’re targeting 7.25%.
48:58
That will cause an expansion of the unfunded liabilities in just the state systems alone
49:04
to about $3 trillion.
49:07
If we end up getting a lost decade, that could go as high as $10 trillion.
49:10
That $3 trillion number, that is the cost of four bank bailouts.
49:15
It is the entire tax revenue of the US government over the next year.
49:22
That is your base case.
49:24
These entitlement programs, which right now, based on the 7.25% assumption, will go from
49:30
70% funded to under 50% funded, and a third of them will be under 30% funded.
49:36
And this is not including corporate programs and other personal retirement programs.
49:42
This issue of asset allocation is an issue of systemic risk.
49:51
It is an issue of social stability, because we will be at a point where these entitlement
50:00
programs will go belly-up and face insolvency unless we can think differently about the
50:07
portfolio construction.
50:09
I could see a lot of different things happening.
50:12
I could see a day where the Fed prints money to buy pension obligation bonds.
50:17
DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: Chris, if I can tell you something, during the crisis, when
50:19
I was inside the Fed, it was debated.
50:22
CHRISTOPHER COLE: Wow.
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That’s amazing.
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DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: The idea– if you tech logic to the end game, the idea of the
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Fed buying municipal bonds is perfectly feasible.
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CHRISTOPHER COLE: That’s right.
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And that will be a backdoor bailout of Wall Street if that happens.
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You could see a radical progressive dynamic, where we shift to seize capital, and where
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there’s– it causes massive inflation.
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There’s numerous ways.
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But the question at the end of the day is the average portfolio is only attenuated to
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this last 40 year period of growth.
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It’s not about being afraid.
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It’s about being prepared.
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So my parents, during the great financial crisis, they came out ahead because they had
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allocations to volatility in gold, and that saved them and allowed them to retire on time.
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I think the institutions, the large institutions and the average investors, if they can find
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ways to invest large portions in countertrend assets, not only will they get a better overall
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return profile and more safe return profile, but this will be a way for these institutions
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to be able to prosper during a period of secular change, rather than suffer.
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So I think this is a major– it is more than a financial issue.
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It’s a social issue.
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That these defensive assets, they’re not for a rainy day.
They’re for a rainy decade.
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The problem that we face is not a problem of financial management or economics.
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It’s a problem– it’s a social problem.
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It’s an emotional problem.
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It takes a lot of social discipline and to think differently.
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Many of our leaders would rather fail conventionally with the herd than succeed unconventionally.
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DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: They’re not Genghis Khan.
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CHRISTOPHER COLE: That’s right.
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That’s absolutely right.
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DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: It was great talking to you today.
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Thank you so much– CHRISTOPHER COLE: Thank you.
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DANIELLE DIMARTINO BOOTH: –for being with Real Vision.
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CHRISTOPHER COLE: I had a great time.