Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I'm guessing they skipped Econ 101

I don't know much about Christine Lagarde, the current managing director of the International Monetary Fund. I presume----to have ascended to the top position within the organization charged with promoting "international monetary cooperation and exchange rate stability", facilitating "the balanced growth of international trade", and providing "resources to help members in balance of payments difficulties or to assist with poverty reduction"---that she boasts quite the array of academic accolades.

Yesterday morning, from her position on high, she gave the IMF's updated estimate of global economic growth. The U.S., the IMF predicts, will contribute somewhat less than what it had originally forecast for 2014. While I suspect (I only caught the highlights) she offered up some detail of their in-depth analysis, truly---after recording a negative GDP number for Q1---one doesn't have to be an economic rocket scientist to downgrade one's entire year forecast. She did announce that they're keeping their 2015 forecast for the U.S. economy at 3%---a nice, safe number.

While the IMF, their collective brainpower notwithstanding, doesn't (to say the least) sport the best forecasting record (which means they've been very unlucky guessers), my guess is that directionally-speaking they're making a rational guess---given the latest trends of the economic indicators I pay attention to.

I say "directionally-speaking" because I'm simply guessing that the economy grows through next year, as opposed to falling into recession between now and then. I'm not assigning a growth rate, and, quite frankly, current trends notwithstanding, I'm not betting big on being right. I'm simply recommending that our clients tilt their equity allocations to sectors that, historically-speaking, tend to perform relatively well as an economic expansion accelerates into its mid to later phases. It doesn't take an investment adviser rocket scientist to recommend a shift (at the margin) to mid/later-phase sectors when we're five years into the slowest expansion on record.

Lagarde also suggested that the Fed will be able to maintain its zero interest rate policy longer than the market presently anticipates. I'm guessing she's wrong---I'm guessing the economy will gain enough traction/threaten enough inflation to force the Fed's hand sooner than they're guessing . Operative word---for all of the above---being "guessing".

That said, she did make a strong recommendation to the U.S. that, if implemented, could in fact cause me to give pause with regard to the economy's wherewithal to accelerate into your typical later expansion phase. A recommendation that, if implemented, could keep the Fed very much engaged ("accommodative") longer than the market may be presently discounting: The IMF believes that U.S. politicians, who, like her (I'm assuming), have little or no experience in managing a payroll, should mandate to those who do how much to pay their least-productive workers. This, at a time when no small percentage of American CEO's and small business owners have stated emphatically that the reasons they've been so hesitant to invest in capital---and, thus, create jobs---is burdensome regulations and tax uncertainty. Those IMF elites, by some miracle utter nonsense, suggest that such a move would actually help the U.S. economy. Were they such bright youngsters that they got to skip Econ 101? Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by their abysmal forecasting record...

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