Kass: Where I Now Stand (2012 Edition)
Here are 10 previously mentioned reasons for my optimism that a potential rotation into U.S. assets and out of non-U.S. assets might be forthcoming:
- U.S. relative and absolute economic growth is superior to global growth. The U.S. economy, though sluggish in recovery relative to past expansions, is superior to most of the world's economies (with the exception of some emerging markets) in terms of diversity of end markets, quality of global franchises, management expertise, operating execution and financial foundations.
- U.S. banks are well-capitalized, liquid and deposit-funded. Our banking industry's health, which is the foundation of credit and growth, is far better off than the rest of the world in terms of liquidity and capital. Our largest financial institutions raised capital in 2008-2009, a full three years ahead of the rest of the world. As an example, eurozone banks continue to delay the inevitability of their necessary capital raises. Importantly, our banking system is deposit-funded, while Europe's banking system is wholesale-funded (and far more dependent on confidence).
- U.S. corporations boast strong balance sheets and healthy margins/profits. Our corporations are better positioned than the rest of the world. Through aggressive cost-cutting, productivity gains, external acquisitions, (internal) capital expenditures and the absence of a reliance on debt markets -- most have opportunistically rolled over their higher-cost debt -- U.S. corporations are rock-solid operationally and financially. Even throughout the 2008-2009 recession, most solidified their global franchises that serve increasingly diverse end markets and geographies.
- The U.S. consumer is more liquid and stable. An aggressive Fed (through its extended time frame of zero interest rate policy) has resulted in an American consumer that has re-liquefied more than individuals that live in most of the other areas in the world. (Debt service and household debt is down dramatically relative to income.)
- The U.S. is politically stable. After watching regime after regime fall in Europe in recent weeks (and given the instability of other rulers throughout the Middle East), it should be clear that the U.S. is more secure politically and from a defense standpoint than most other regions of the world. Our democracy, despite all its inadequacies, has resulted in civil discourse, relatively balanced legislation, smooth regime changes and law that has contributed to social stability and a sense of overall order.
- The U.S. has a solid and transparent corporate reporting system. Our regulatory and reporting standards are among the strongest in the world. Compare, for example, the opaque reporting and absence of regulatory oversight in China vs. the U.S. (It is beyond compare.)
- The U.S. is rich in resources.
- The U.S. has a functioning and forward-looking central bank that is aggressive in policy (when necessary!) and capable of acting during crisis.
- The U.S. dollar is (still) the world's reserve currency that is far more solid than the euro.
- The U.S. is a magnet for immigrants seeking a better life. This and other factors have contributed to a better demographic profile in our country that has led to consistent population growth and formation of households. (Demographic trends in the U.S. are particularly more favorable for growth than those population trends in the Far East.)
To summarize, I believe 2012 will be a surprisingly good year for the U.S. stock market. I anticipate that domestic economic and profit growth will surprise to the upside, and I am of the view that market valuations will expand (after contracting in 2011). If Europe settles down, the flight to safety of 2010-11 should become a thing of the past this year, and fixed-income instruments could take the brunt of the damage in a potentially large reallocation out of bonds and into equities.
I fully recognize that the slow worldwide economic growth exposes economies and markets to exogenous shocks, but I also think much is discounted in current prices. The world is imperfect and, reflecting that condition, I am not "over our skis" long. Rather, my net long exposure of about 60% is hopefully a balanced and objective reflection of the imperfections that exist today and that constrain valuations -- most notably, a recognition of imprudent domestic policies that have led to our country's fiscal imbalances.
Reflecting my emerging optimism I have been gradually expanding my net long exposure and -- assuming my baseline economic, political and European policy expectations are not altered -- I expect to opportunistically add to my long investments, especially during bouts of market weakness ... which we will surely experience from time to time.
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