“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”

Miller_HeadshotBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” was the slogan used by Chiffon margarine, manufactured and trademarked by Anderson, Clayton and Company in the 1970s. It’s a catchphrase that is somewhat still indicative of the current market weakness in that China is meddling too much with its markets and currency.

Global risk assets are wrestling with the issue of “price discovery.” China is in the headlines for fooling both with its stock market and its currency. To speak as the Federal Reserve, this is probably not a “transient” problem.

The bar chart below titled, “China’s Stocks Still World’s Most Expensive after Rout,” indicates that the median Chinese stock is two to three times more expensive than other stocks globally. Such a large gap begs the question—are Chinese stocks worth it? Doubtful. China has a slowing economy, overvalued currency, overcapacity in many industries, and a lot of debt.

Last August, when we saw headlines such as “China meddling in stock market seen discouraging return of foreign funds” (Reuters – Aug 6, 2015), “China’s market meddling could do more harm than good” (CNN Money – July 28, 2015), and “China’s stocks keep falling because of government’s inept meddling” (INVESTORS.com – August 26, 2015), some of us wondered if we had just seen a preview of the future.

This week’s action seems to indicate, “yes.” China closed its stock exchanges twice and injected money at least once this week did little. On January 7, China also lifted its restriction imposed last summer on sales of shares held by large institutions. Now, investors have no idea what Chinese equities are worth. Price discovery will likely take time there.

Miller_China_Chart1

Source: Bloomberg

All of this, of course, leads us to sovereign bond markets around the world, most notably in the U.S., Europe and Japan. Central banks in these three developed economies have kept interest rates near zero for years now.

The European Central Bank appears increasingly willing to double down on this bet.

Miller_China_Chart2

Source: European Central Bank, Bloomberg

No doubt “fooling with Mother Nature” lurks in the minds of many investors. It is hard to fathom paying the government to save your money; but, that is exactly what German investors do when they purchase two-year German Treasury bonds at a -0.375% yield! Just think of all the retirees around that world that have been forced out of safe government bonds and bank certificate of deposits into higher-yielding riskier investments because they need income. There is a popular acronym for this forced behavior, TINA–There Is No Alternative.

To help quell this thought inside investor’s minds, check out Five Answers for the Voices in Your Head.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Technology Watch: Investing Into The Future

Dan WilliamsDan Williams, CFP, Investment Analyst

I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference that centered on the big ideas in technology happening right now. Hearing from such people as Andrew McAfee (author of the 2012 book Race Against the Machine and his most recent The Second Machine Age), Steven Kotler (author of Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think), and Charles Songhurst (former Head of Corporate Strategy at Microsoft), I can make a few blanket statements.

First, these guys are humbled, awestruck, and blown away by the advances being made in technology; specifically in robotics, 3D printers, and in general computing power. Second, the individual and the consumer will be empowered by this technology. Lastly, don’t try to pick the winning company, rather win by picking the area as a whole.

3D PrintingThis last point may seem to some as a “coward’s way out”, but consider the CNN Money article from December 31, 1998, Year of the Internet Stock. In this article Amazon, eBay, AOL, TheGlobe.com, Cyberian Outpost, and a few other names that have since been lost to history, are listed as stocks that had a great year and are part of the revolution. In the 15 years (1/1/1999 to 12/31/2013) following this article, Amazon and eBay clearly have proven to be the winners among the group, returning a cumulative return of 644.81% and 445.81% respectively as the others essentially went to zero. However, if you broaden the technology space, Apple would have been the big winner with an astonishing 5,569.77% cumulative return for this 15-year period. In other words, the idea that the internet was going to be a game changer in the way we communicate and the technologies we use was right, but our clever execution by picking the few likely winners likely would have missed the boat.

Now, let’s fast forward to today as we stare upon a robotic and biotech revolution. While there are a few select names that seem to be the smart bets to land among the big winners—given the magnitude of impact these two areas will have on the way we live and the uncertainty in the specifics of the path this change will actually take—picking an individual winner involves a level of hubris, while diversification within this idea can add value.

Future of TechnologyI left the conference fully convinced that these concepts, both current and future, are going to change the world; however, I remain very cautious regarding the execution and process. Without giving any type of recommendation, there exists at least half a dozen Biotech-focused ETFs. Late last year, the first robotics-focused ETF (ROBO) was launched—and it won’t be the last. All of these are less exciting answers to investing in new technologies versus trying to pick the winner, but as the American poet Ogden Nash once wrote, “Too clever is dumb.”