The 2012 Barrons Roundtable came out this morning and the discussion is always interesting. I have tended to veer towards the comments of Felix Zulauf since he’s the global macro master at the table. That said, here are some of his macro thoughts. I think he’s a bit dramatic, but given that he’s one of the few roundtable members who has been able to connect the dots (for the most part) his comments are always worth considering (see past performance from Roudtable members here):
Zulauf: Europe is going to be key this year for the markets and the economy. China is slowing; the emerging world is slowing, and the U.S. is barely above water, constrained by its structural problems. I have called the euro a misconstruction since its birth. The problem is a difference in competitiveness among European countries, and you can’t solve it by lending money to the less competitive countries. You have to deflate wages and prices in the south, and inflate the north. But given Germany’s history, it will never inflate.
The members of the euro zone agreed in December that each country could have a structural deficit of no more than half a percent of GDP. If a deficit goes above 3% of GDP, the country will be sanctioned. This agreement now has to be ratified in all countries. But when you agree to such a prescription and you are uncompetitive, your currency is overvalued by 30%, you can’t devalue, and your nominal interest rates are too high, that is a recipe for a depression. It is a death sentence. Several countries won’t ratify the contract, and the next day their markets will be repriced accordingly. They will exit the euro, and the turmoil will go to the next level. Greece is bust in either case. If you can devalue your currency by 40% or 50% in that situation, at least you will have the chance to see the sun again and recover.
Zulauf: The banking system goes bust. Assume Greece won’t repay anything, or at most 10% of its total debt. It is not just the government but the private sector that is bust. That means banks in other countries will be in trouble, which means they will be nationalized. Governments won’t have the money to pay for this, so they will assume even more debt. That is the chain of events I expect in 2012, and if you believe it won’t affect the U.S. you are dreaming. The estimated notional value of the over-the-counter fixed-income-derivatives market in Europe is estimated to be about 60 trillion euros. There are many links to the U.S. banking system, although we don’t yet know who is positioned how. If one country exits the euro, all hell will break loose.
Zulauf: Every European country will be in recession in 2012, and probably in 2013.
Mr. Roche is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Discipline Funds.Discipline Funds is a low fee financial advisory firm with a focus on helping people be more disciplined with their finances.
He is also the author of Pragmatic Capitalism: What Every Investor Needs to Understand About Money and Finance, Understanding the Modern Monetary System and Understanding Modern Portfolio Construction.