Tag Archives: James Grant

Bulls, Bears, and Beyond: In Depth with James Grant, by Kevin Duffy

Since 1983, James Grant has published an outstanding newsletter (Grant’s Interest Rate Observer), focused on economics and finance. Reflecting its value, an annual subscription of 24 issues will set you back $1295. This interview is a rare opportunity to hear what Grant has to say for free. From Kevin Duffy at mises.org:

James Grant is editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, which he founded in 1983. He is the author of nine books, including Money of the Mind, The Trouble with Prosperity, John Adams: Party of One, The Forgotten Depression, and more recently Bagehot: The Life and Times of the Greatest Victorian. In 2015 Grant received the prestigious Gerald Loeb Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in business journalism. James Grant is an associated scholar of the Mises Institute.

Kevin Duffy is principal of Bearing Asset Management, which he cofounded in 2002. The firm manages the Bearing Core Fund, a contrarian, macro-themed hedge fund with a flexible mandate. He earned a BS in civil engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology and has a passion for financial history, Austrian economics, and pithy quotes. He also publishes a bimonthly investment letter called the Coffee Can Portfolio. Duffy attended Mises University in 1990 after seeing Lew Rockwell on CNN’s Crossfire in 1989.

Kevin Duffy interviewed James Grant for his newsletter Coffee Can Portfolio. It is reprinted with permission.

KEVIN DUFFY: 2020 has been part dystopian fiction, part tulip mania. How do we reconcile the two?

JAMES GRANT: I’m not sure there’s much distinction. To me, the current form of dystopia is the bubble form, so I think this is the year of the dystopian bubble.

KD: There has been a worship of authorities. For the past thirty-seven years you’ve focused mainly on the Fed, but this year we’ve seen a reverence for medical authorities. Who has done more damage?

JG: The medical authorities remind me of the economic authorities. Both pretend to draw a bead on the future. Let’s compare them both to the meteorological authorities. The National Weather Service spends over a billion dollars a year and takes tens of millions, if not billions, of discrete observations of wind, weather, tide, temperature, what have you. But notice the five- and ten-day forecasts on your trusty iPhone are ever changing. This is the weather. Temperature gradients don’t have feelings, they don’t get jealous of the millionaire next door, they don’t watch CNBC, yet our forecasting ability goes out, maximum, ten days. Even so, the economists think nothing of calling next year’s GDP.

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The 10 most important lessons in finance from a legend in the field, by Simon Black

Jim Grant is well worth listening to. From Simon Black via zerohedge.com:

Authored by Simon Black via SovereignMan.com,

Jim is the editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer – one of the most-respected and followed financial publications in the world. In his 35 years writing Grant’s, Jim has seen a financial cycle or two.

And he’s amassed a network of many of the most important people on Wall Street (who often share their insights in his publication).

We’re excited to share a special piece from Jim in Notes today about the 10 most important lessons he’s learned in his 35 years in financial markets.

From Jim Grant:

I’ve published over 800 issues of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer to date… That’s more than four million words of market analysis.

I’ve made some good calls in that time (and, yes, some bad ones).  I’ve even gained some fame – at least in certain circles – for my more accurate predictions.

But, more importantly, I like to think that I’ve become a knowledgeable student of Mr. Market. I’ve lived through and analyzed manias and crashes.  I’ve seen interest rates fall from 20% to zero – and below… I’ve seen the stock market sawed in half and I’ve seen stocks rise far above any sane measure of valuation.

And through it all, every two weeks, I’ve shared my thoughts with a select group of readers.  Many of them have been with Grant’s since day one.

With that in mind, here are the 10 most important lessons I’ve learned in finance…

1. The key to successful investing is having everyone agree with you — LATERThe most popular investment of the day is rarely the best investment. If you want to know what’s popular, look no further than the front page of your favored business journal… Or just tune in at your next cocktail party.

At Grant’s, we seek profits where no one else is looking. We’re happy to wait for the consensus to come to us.

We’ve been contrarian since day one. In our minds, there’s no better lens through which to view the market.

2. You aren’t good with money. Because humans aren’t good with money. We buy high and sell low because it’s what comes naturally. It’s difficult to control emotions. It’s more difficult when money is involved.

But with detailed security analysis and an expert understanding of market cycles, you can minimize emotions when it comes to your portfolio.

3. Everything about investing is cyclical… prices, valuations, enthusiasms. And this will never end. The greatest investors develop a sense of when markets have reached euphoric levels. And of when fear is crippling reason.

Where do you think we stand on that scale today?

4. You can’t predict the future. Nor can the guy who claims he can.

You can, however, see how the crowd is handicapping the future. Observing the odds, you can make better choices.

You can recognize the rhythms of market cycles (see lesson 3). And with enough practice, you can profit from those cycles – or at least avoid disaster. As when we warned Grant’s readers in our September 8, 2006 issue about a bubble in subprime mortgage debt – 11 months before the crisis began. And three years later, when we advised going long bank stocks before they rallied 250%.

5. Every good idea gets driven into the ground like a tomato stake. Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) were a great idea. They allowed investors diversified exposure to a number of markets for minimal fees.

 Today, ETFs account for more than 23% of all U.S. trading volume with a total market value over $3 trillion. And the ETF market is forecasted to hit $25 trillion globally by 2025.

Yes, ETFs allow investors to diversify into lots of markets for a little bit of money. But ETFs allocate money without consideration of value. And what happens when everyone rushes for the exits?

6. Markets are not perfectly efficient. Because the people who operate them aren’t perfectly reasonable. The debate over efficient markets has raged since the birth of public markets. Grant’s comes down on the side of inefficiencies—of lucrative inefficiencies.

There will always be value in active management. It keeps the market honest. Active managers bid for companies that have been punished unjustifiably… And they apply selling pressure on egregiously overvalued, fraudulent and dying companies. It’s these inefficiencies – and Grant’slongtime, historical understanding of them – that gives our readers special perspective.

If markets were so all-fired efficient, why did the Nasdaq reach the sky in 2000? Or banks and junk bonds the depths in 2009?

 7. Patience is the highest yielding asset. Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s longtime partner in Berkshire Hathaway, explained the importance of patience this way:

 How did Berkshire’s track record happen? If you were an observer, you’d see that Warren [Buffett] did most of it sitting on his ass and reading. If you want to be an outlier in achievement, just sit on your ass and read most of your life.

 Let us only say that the point survives the exaggeration.

 8. Never stand in line to buy anything. Here I have a confession to make. In January 1980, at the peak of the Great Inflation of the Jimmy Carter era, a line snaked out of the doors of a lower Manhattan coin dealer. The people in that queue were waiting to buy gold at what proved to be a generational high, $850 an ounce. I was in that queue. I’ve made plenty of mistakes since then. But that particular mistake I’ve subsequently avoided. Believe me, once was enough. 

9. Leverage is like chocolate cake. Just a little bit, please.  Markets will always correct. They corrected after the Dutch tulip mania in 1630s. And they corrected after the subprime mortgage debacle in 2007. What do corrections correct? They correct the errors of a boom.

And when markets correct, they cause the most amount of financial pain to the greatest possible number of people.

 You’ll never know exactly when these corrections are coming. But if the creditors aren’t calling your assets on the way down, you will live to fight another day. And if you happen to have cash on hand, you can make the greatest profits of your investing career.

10. “Don’t overestimate the courage you will have if things go against you.”

 “Consider all the facts – meditate on them. Don’t let what you want to happen influence your judgement.”

 “Do your own thinking. Don’t let your emotions enter into it. Keep out of any environment that may affect your acting on your own reason.”

These final three items, which I’ve included as a single lesson, are in quotation marks because I borrowed them from the late Bernard M. Baruch – one of the greatest investors who ever lived.

I know he won’t mind (after a brilliant career in Wall Street and Washington, Mr. Baruch died in 1965, at the ripe old age of 94).

I came to know the great investor in the course of writing his biography. If you read enough, you, too, can assemble a circle of friends from the past as well as  the present.

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And to continue learning how to ensure you thrive no matter what happens next in the world, I encourage you to download our free Perfect Plan B Guide.

Simon also arranged a special deal with Jim for Sovereign Man readers.

How Government Inaction Ended the Depression of 1921, by Lew Rockwell

Once upon a time there was a depression, and the government did nothing. It was over in 18 months. From Lew Rockwell at mises.ca:

As the financial crisis of 2008 took shape, the policy recommendations were not slow in coming: why, economic stability and American prosperity demand fiscal and monetary stimulus to jump-start the sick economy back to life. And so we got fiscal stimulus, as well as a program of monetary expansion without precedent in US history.

David Stockman recently noted that we have in effect had fifteen solid years of stimulus — not just the high-profile programs like the $700 billion TARP and the $800 billion in fiscal stimulus, but also $4 trillion of money printing and 165 out of 180 months in which interest rates were either falling or held at rock-bottom levels. The results have been underwhelming: the number of breadwinner jobs in the US is still two million lower than it was under Bill Clinton.

Economists of the Austrian school warned that this would happen. While other economists disagreed about whether fiscal or monetary stimulus would do the trick, the Austrians looked past this superficial debate and rejected intervention in all its forms.

The Austrians have very good theoretical reasons for opposing government stimulus programs, but those reasons are liable to remain unknown to the average person, who seldom studies economics and who even more seldom gives non-establishment opinion a fair hearing. That’s why it helps to be able to point to historical examples, which are more readily accessible to the non-specialist than is economic theory. If we can point to an economy correcting itself, this alone overturns the claim that government intervention is indispensable.

Possibly the most arresting (and overlooked) example of precisely this phenomenon is the case of the depression of 1920–21, which was characterized by a collapse in production and GDP and a spike in unemployment to double-digit levels. But by the time the federal government even began considering intervention, the crisis had ended. What Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover deferentially called “The President’s Conference on Unemployment,” an idea he himself had cooked up to smooth out the business cycle, convened during what turned out to be the second month of the recovery, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).

Indeed, according to the NBER, which announces the beginnings and ends of recessions, the depression began in January 1920 and ended in July 1921.

To continue reading: How Government Inaction Ended the Depression of 1921

Hostage to a Bull Market, by James Grant

Jim Grant is one of the more astute financial observers out there. He’s also an excellent writer. Here he takes on Ken Rogoff, who advocates abolishing cash in his recently published book, The Curse of Cash. Grant’s review, at wsj.com:

If there is a curse between the covers of this thin, self-satisfied volume, it doesn’t have to do with cash, the title to the contrary notwithstanding. Freedom is rather the subject of the author’s malediction. He’s not against it in principle, only in practice.

Ken Rogoff is a chaired Harvard economics professor, a one-time chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and (to boot) a chess grandmaster. He laid out his case against cash in a Saturday essay in this newspaper two weeks ago. By abolishing large-denomination bills, he said there, the government could strike a blow against sin and perfect the Federal Reserve’s control of interest rates.


“The Curse of Cash,” the Rogoffian case in full, comes in two parts. The first is a helping of monetary small bites: a little history (in which the gold standard gets the back of the author’s hand), a little central-banking practice, a little underground economy. It’s all in the service of showing where money came from and where it should be going.

Terrorists traffic in cash, Mr. Rogoff observes. So do drug dealers and tax cheats. Good, compliant citizens rarely touch the $100 bills that constitute a sizable portion of the suspiciously immense volume of greenbacks outstanding—$4,200 per capita. Get rid of them is the author’s message.

Then, again, one could legalize certain narcotics to discommode the drug dealers and adopt Steve Forbes’s flat tax to fill up the Treasury. Mr. Rogoff considers neither policy option. Government control is not only his preferred position. It is the only position that seems to cross his mind.
Which brings us to the business end of this production. Come the next recession, the book’s second part contends, the Fed should have the latitude to drive interest rates below zero. Mr. Rogoff lays the blame for America’s lamentable post-financial-crisis economic record not on the Obama administration’s suffocating tax and regulatory policies. The problem is rather the Fed’s inability to put its main interest rate, the federal funds rate, where it has never been before.

In a deep recession, Mr. Rogoff proposes, the Fed ought not to stop cutting rates when it comes to zero. It should plunge right ahead, to minus 1%, minus 2%, minus 3% and so forth. At one negative rate or another, the theory goes, despoiled bank depositors will stop saving and start spending. According to the worldview of the people who constitute what Mr. Rogoff fraternally calls the “policy community” (who elected them?), the spending will buttress “aggregate demand,” thus restore prosperity.

You may doubt this. Mr. Rogoff himself sees difficulties. For him, the problem is cash. The ungrateful objects of the policy community’s statecraft will stockpile it.

What would you do if your bank docked you, say, 3% a year for the privilege of holding your money? Why, you might convert your deposit into $100 bills, rent a safe deposit box and count yourself a shrewd investor. Hence the shooting war against currency. If the author has his way, there will be no more Benjamin Franklins, only Hamiltons, Lincolns and George Washingtons. Ideally, says Mr. Rogoff, many of today’s banknotes will take the future form of clunky, base-metal coins “to make it even more difficult to carry large quantities of currency.”

To continue reading: Hostage to a Bull Market