Volatile stock and bond markets are not going away anytime soon, and investment strategies focused on discipline, market-tested algorithms, and the patience to withstand near-term turbulence will continue to deliver better results. As US stocks have dropped about 25% and US long-term treasuries dropped nearly 30%, specific strategies that combine futures, derivatives, and other securities along with market-neutral equity trading have produced superior returns. This impressive overall performance can be expected to profit from market movements and even market shocks that, while specifically unpredictable, will be inevitable from now on. In the face of dismal predictability and lack of confidence, it is discipline, time-tested algorithms, and a multi-strategy perspective toward broad market sectors that have outperformed and will continue to deliver superior risk-adjusted returns and better overall performance.
The collapse of FTX shows how easily crypto is manipulated and the “crypto ecosystem” is fundamentally driven by centralized players and not any true form of decentralized or digital assets. Cryptocurrency is a sideshow and benefits no one other than speculators hoping for a greater fool. However, the combination of digital asset regulation, central-bank cooperation, and distributed assets via decentralized platforms still represents one of the most intriguing opportunities, and, with the potential disruption of global finance, one of the most exciting investment areas today.
The onslaught of market-making bad news seems almost a daily event. A gloomy picture of slowing economic growth, elevated inflation, and confusing fiscal and monetary policy has added a lethal mixture to the market’s performance. Fiscal stimulus is sidelined, and monetary policy is constricting economic growth and entrepreneurial innovation. It makes for a gloomy outlook and an even more depressing long-term perspective. The next 10 years look more like a lost decade. High-growth company valuations have been significantly discounted, and over time as discount rates drop, their valuations are likely to increase substantially. Higher-yielding fixed income securities will be a standout performer as interest rates are reduced, the higher-yielding BDCs, REITs, leveraged loan securities, and high cash flow instruments, along with high-dividend equities, will prove extremely attractive and are currently available at bargain prices. Providers of value and users of value will be the winners for the next decade. Those generating real cash flow and disruptive innovation will define the next decade.
The market is consensus thinking. Performing above average means being different. Simply being different doesn’t define success. Success means understanding what it takes to not only think differently but understand when consensus thinking is wrong and executing and implementing those choices effectively. Doing better (generating superior returns with less overall risk) is difficult. Understanding “what’s really going on” is not a simple formula. It requires different, deeper, and better thinking. Depart from the investment crowd, focus on the factors that are necessary and, in combination, sufficient to make a difference, sustain performance and manage risk. It’s not easy or obvious, but it is superior.
It has taken over 30 years for the overnight sensation of the Metaverse, but now hype, money, and large technology companies are charging in. Most obvious and conspicuous is Facebook’s maneuver to change its name to Meta Platforms and commit $10 billion. Microsoft is making a $70 billion acquisition of Activision to mostly focus on Metaverse platform development. Following on top of these two elephants is tens of billions of dollars of venture capital. The opportunity is considered comparable to the original iPhone. None of the iPhone’s component services – mobile phone, computer, camera, and operating system, were new or distinct. The iPhone revolution is the convergence into a single device (or platform) and, most importantly, the entrepreneurial spark that lit millions of application developers to create value from the iPhone platform. The Metaverse can best be thought of as the intersection of technologies and users. It combines virtual and augmented worlds, virtual assets, digital assets, and gaming into a single platform. However, there doesn’t seem to be anything too disruptive about the Metaverse or Web 3.0. It’s reasonable to be skeptical, and while there is an economic opportunity within the specific creation of Metaverse assets, the real opportunity remains with the infrastructure, intermediaries, picks, shovels, and “the arms dealers” of global digital war.
Risk is higher. Markets are more unpredictable, and valuations more volatile. So, when anyone says “this time it’s different” it usually makes good sense to stop listening. However, these days the markets have given us more frequent and intense volatility. The NASDAQ is down almost 30% so far this year, and shocks from the pandemic, the Ukrainian war, massive central bank interest-rate maneuvers, and China’s zero-covid policy, are all ongoing inputs for turmoil that will continue for some time. Persistent uncertainty creates higher costs of capital and less affordability, weakening business investment, slowing GDP growth, and reducing investment returns. Hyperbolic “this time it’s different” statements are turning out to be true. This time days look darker, uncertainty greater, economic growth lower, vulnerability to additional shocks higher, and investors fear many more dark days to come. More frequent and intense volatility will not be calmed anytime soon. It really may be different this time.
Recently, I gave a lecture at a graduate program focused on innovation, technological disruption, and the impact on global industries and investment opportunities. My lecture focused on digital assets and attempted to draw distinctions between disruptive and substantial opportunities and hype, nonsense, and unsustainable business models. This is a quiz given to the students that reflects the main points raised in this lecture. For fun, I am including it here because it makes a series of fundamental points that I think are especially important, and the true-false construct conveys those points with clarity.
The show analyzes emerging economic and social developments, identifying the most critical issues impacting investment success. It looks at globally disruptive changes and strategies to profit from these new market forces. Innovation, advanced technologies, geopolitics, and new interrelated factors are essential components of future investment success. Investment success combines predicting the future, the confidence to make bold choices, and the fortitude to stay with those choices. Today’s volatile and uncertain world requires new knowledge and perspective and assembling relevant facts from many diverse sources to make better decisions and achieve superior returns. Some of the world’s most important industries are being profoundly impacted by new technological innovations and platforms, such as artificial intelligence, digital assets, blockchain-based businesses, gene editing, and DNA sequencing, enabling unprecedented disruption to business and economic models. Stable predictability is increasingly anachronistic. Every company or industry will either be a disrupter or disrupted. The leading growth companies of today stand an excellent chance to be memories tomorrow.
Every industry consolidates to a handful of centralized competitors. That will never change regardless of current dreams of decentralization from Web 3.0. Modern computing is a constant struggle between decentralization and centralization. Centralization wins eventually, and it will again. These dynamics, combined with the latest crash that may cool investors’ appetite for all things crypto, suggest that Web 3.0 will not dislodge Web 2.0. Instead, the future may belong to a mix of the two, with Web 3.0 occupying certain niches. Whether or not people keep splurging on NFTs, such tokens make a lot of sense in the metaverse, where they could be used to track ownership of digital objects and move them from one virtual world to another. Web 3.0 may also play a role in the creator economy, assuring intellectual property ownership. NFTs make it easier for creators of online content to make money. In this limited way, at least, even the masters of Web 2.0 see the writing on the wall: on January 20th both Meta and Twitter integrated NFTs into their platforms.
Digital assets are disrupting finance – the world’s largest industry. All assets, intellectual property, and even currency can now be digitized, and anyone can access anything from anywhere. The finance industry is being this intermediated and globalized, economic development and policy will be forever changed.