Ray Dalio analyses decades of macro investment trends in his latest work. Dalio suggests there is a new paradigm (or rather history rhymin) coming. He concludes that gold may be an investment he is interested in.
One may discount his conclusions but his long cycle of macro analysis is worth weighting highly as he has a believable track record and has a super smart team and resources behind him.
Dalio (as he has previously written on) observes there is a capitalist / worker (socialist) split and that several measures of inequality are growing. This tension is a factor in the paradigm shift.
Intersectional with this, I reflect that the sustainability movement (and to an extent identity clashes) might also be heralding part of this shift - if it’s happening. As while environmental capital should rise above the left/right political spectrum, it is snared within.
In any case, Dalio’s view in sum are:
“...There are always big unsustainable forces that drive the paradigm. They go on long enough for people to believe that they will never end even though they obviously must end. A classic one of those is an unsustainable rate of debt growth that supports the buying of investment assets; it drives asset prices up, which leads people to believe that borrowing and buying those investment assets is a good thing to do. But it can’t go on forever because the entities borrowing and buying those assets will run out of borrowing capacity while the debt service costs rise relative to their incomes by amounts that squeeze their cash flows. When these things happen, there is a paradigm shift. Debtors get squeezed and credit problems emerge, so there is a retrenchment of lending and spending on goods, services, and investment assets so they go down in a self-reinforcing dynamic that looks more opposite than similar to the prior paradigm. This continues until it’s also overdone…
..Another classic example that comes to mind is that extended periods of low volatility tend to lead to high volatility because people adapt to that low volatility, which leads them to do things (like borrow more money than they would borrow if volatility was greater) that expose them to more volatility, which prompts a self-reinforcing pickup in volatility…
...1920s = “Roaring”: From Boom to Bursting Bubble. It started with a recession and the markets discounting negative growth as stock yields were significantly above bond yields, yet there was fast positive growth funded by an acceleration in debt during the decade, so stocks did extremely well. By the end of the decade, the markets discounted fast growth and ended with a classic bubble (i.e., with debt-financed purchases of stocks and other assets at high prices) that burst in 1929, the last year of the decade.
1930s = Depression. This decade was for the most part the opposite of the 1920s. It started with the bursting reactions to high levels of indebtedness and the markets discounting relatively high growth rates. [ ]
1940s = War and Post-War. The economy and markets were classically war-driven. Governments around the world both borrowed heavily and printed significant amounts of money, stimulating both private-sector employment in support of the war effort and military employment. While production was strong, much of what was produced was used and destroyed in the war, so classic measures of growth and unemployment are misleading. Still, this war-effort production pulled the US out of the post-Great Depression slump.
Monetary policy was kept very easy to accommodate the borrowing and the paying back of debts in the post-war period. Specifically, monetary policy remained stimulative, with interest rates held down and fiscal policy liberally producing large budget deficits during the war and then after the war to promote reconstruction abroad (the Marshall Plan). As a result, stocks, bonds, and commodities all rallied over the period, with commodities rallying the most early in the war, and stocks rallying the most later in the war (when an Allied victory looked to be more likely) and then at the conclusion of the war. The pictures of what happened in other countries, especially those that lost the war, were radically different and are worthy of description at another time. After the war, the United States was the preeminent power and the dollar was the world’s reserve currency linked to gold, with other currencies linked to the dollar. This period is an excellent period for exemplifying 1) the power and mechanics of central banks to hold interest rates down with large fiscal deficits and 2) market action during war periods.
1950s = Post-War Recovery. In the 1950s, after two decades of depression and war, most individuals were financially conservative, favoring security over risk-taking. The markets reflected this by de facto pricing in negative levels of earnings growth with very high risk premia (e.g., S&P 500 dividend yields in 1950 were 6.8%, more than 3 times the 10-year bond yield of 1.9%, and earning yields were nearly 14%). What happened in the ‘50s was exactly the opposite of what was discounted. The post-war recovery was strong (averaging 4% real growth over the decade), in part through continued stimulative policy/low rates. As a result, stocks did great. Since the government wasn’t running large deficits, government debt burdens (government debt as a percent of incomes) fell, while private debt levels were in line with income growth, so debt growth was in line with income growth. The decade ended in a financially healthy position, with prices discounting relatively modest growth and low inflation. The 1950s and the 1960s were also a period in which middle-class workers were in high demand and prospered.
1960s = From Boom to Monetary Bust. The first half of the decade was an increasingly debt-financed boom that led to balance of payments problems in the second half, which led to the big paradigm shift of ending the Bretton Woods monetary system. In the first half, the markets started off discounting slow growth, but there was fast growth so stocks did well until 1966. Then most everyone looked back on the past 15 years of great stock market returns and was very bullish. However, because debt and economic growth were too fast and inflation was rising, the Fed’s monetary policy was tightened (e.g., the yield curve inverted for the first time since 1929). That produced the real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) peak in the stock market that wasn’t broken for 20 years. In the second half of the 1960s, debt grew faster than incomes and inflation started to rise with a “growth recession,” and then a real recession came at the end of the decade. Near the end of the ‘60s, the US balance of payments problem became more clearly manifest in gold reserves being drawn down, so it became clear that the Fed would have to choose between two bad alternatives—i.e., a) too tight a monetary policy that would lead to too weak an economy or b) too much domestic stimulation to keep the dollar up and inflation down. That led to the big paradigm shift of abandoning the monetary system and ushering in the 1970s decade of stagflation, which was more opposite than similar to the 1960s decade.
1970s = Low Growth and High Inflation (i.e., Stagflation). At the beginning of the decade, there was a high level of indebtedness, a balance of payments problem, and a strained gold standard that was abandoned in 1971. As a result, the promise to convert money for gold was broken, money was “printed” to ease debt burdens, the dollar was devalued to reduce the external deficits, growth was slow and inflation accelerated, and inflation-hedge assets did great while stocks and bonds did badly during the decade. There were two big waves up in inflation, inflation expectations, and interest rates, with the first from 1970 to 1973 and the second and bigger one from 1977 to 1980-81. At the end of the decade, the markets discounted very high inflation and low growth, which was just about the opposite of what was discounted at the end of the prior decade. Paul Volcker was appointed in August 1979. That set the stage for the coming 1980s decade, which was pretty much the opposite of the 1970s decade.
1980s = High Growth and Falling Inflation (i.e., Disinflation). The decade started with the markets discounting high inflation and slow growth, yet the decade was characterized by falling inflation and fast growth, so inflation-hedge assets did terribly and stocks and bonds did great. The paradigm shift occurred at the beginning of the decade when the tight money conditions that Paul Volcker imposed triggered a deflationary pressure, a big economic contraction, and a debt crisis in which emerging markets were unable to service their debt obligations to American banks. This was managed well, so banks were provided with adequate liquidity and debts weren’t written down in a way that unacceptably damaged bank capital. However, it created a shortage of dollars and capital flows that led the dollar to rise, and it created disinflationary pressures that allowed interest rates to decline while growth was strong, which was great for stock and bond prices. As a result, this was a great period for disinflationary growth and high investment returns for stocks and bonds.
1990s = “Roaring”: From Bust to Bursting Bubble. This decade started off with a recession, the first Gulf War, and the easing of monetary policy and relatively fast debt-financed growth and rising stock prices; it ended with a “tech/dot-com” bubble (i.e., debt-financed purchases of “tech” stocks and other financial assets at high prices) that looked quite like the Nifty Fifty bubble of the late 1960s. That dot-com bubble burst just after the end of the decade, at the same time there were the 9/11 attacks, which were followed by very costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
2000-10 = “Roaring”: From Boom to Bursting Bubble. This decade was the most like the 1920s, with a big debt bubble leading up to the 2008-09 debt/economic bust that was analogous to the 1929-32 debt bust. In both cases, these drove interest rates to 0% and led to central banks printing a lot of money and buying financial assets. The paradigm shift happened in 2008-09, when quantitative easing began as interest rates were held at or near 0%. The decade started with very high discounted growth (e.g., expensive stocks) during the dot-com bubble and was followed by the lowest real growth rate of any of these nine decades (1.8%), which was close to that of the 1930s. As a result, stocks had the worst return of any other decade since the 1930s. In this decade, as in the 1930s, interest rates went to 0%, the Fed printed a lot of money as a way of easing with interest rates at 0%, the dollar declined, and gold and T-bonds were the best investments. At the end of the decade, a very high level of indebtedness remained, but the markets were discounting slow growth.
2010-Now = Reflation. The shift to the new paradigm, which was also the bottom in the markets and the economy, came in late 2008/early 2009 when risk premiums were extremely high, interest rates hit 0%, and central banks began aggressive quantitative easings (“printing money” and buying financial assets)....
...with more detail on each decade, you can access the full report here…
He then looks at what the next shift might be and concludes:
“...There’s a saying in the markets that “he who lives by the crystal ball is destined to eat ground glass.” While I’m not sure exactly when or how the paradigm shift will occur, I will share my thoughts about it. I think that it is highly likely that sometime in the next few years, 1) central banks will run out of stimulant to boost the markets and the economy when the economy is weak, and 2) there will be an enormous amount of debt and non-debt liabilities (e.g., pension and healthcare) that will increasingly be coming due and won’t be able to be funded with assets. Said differently, I think that the paradigm that we are in will most likely end when a) real interest rate returns are pushed so low that investors holding the debt won’t want to hold it and will start to move to something they think is better and b) simultaneously, the large need for money to fund liabilities will contribute to the “big squeeze.” At that point, there won’t be enough money to meet the needs for it, so there will have to be some combination of large deficits that are monetized, currency depreciations, and large tax increases, and these circumstances will likely increase the conflicts between the capitalist haves and the socialist have-nots. Most likely, during this time, holders of debt will receive very low or negative nominal and real returns in currencies that are weakening, which will de facto be a wealth tax.”
...Most people now believe the best “risky investments” will continue to be equity and equity-like investments, such as leveraged private equity, leveraged real estate, and venture capital, and this is especially true when central banks are reflating. As a result, the world is leveraged long, holding assets that have low real and nominal expected returns that are also providing historically low returns relative to cash returns (because of the enormous amount of money that has been pumped into the hands of investors by central banks and because of other economic forces that are making companies flush with cash). I think these are unlikely to be good real returning investments and that those that will most likely do best will be those that do well when the value of money is being depreciated and domestic and international conflicts are significant, such as gold. Additionally, for reasons I will explain in the near future, most investors are underweighted in such assets, meaning that if they just wanted to have a better balanced portfolio to reduce risk, they would have more of this sort of asset. For this reason, I believe that it would be both risk-reducing and return-enhancing to consider adding gold to one’s portfolio…”
The full blog of Dalio is here on LinkedIn and his very long detailed analysis of the last 100 years of macro factors you can find here (45 pages a long read).