If PIGS could fly

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This post is a guest contribution by Niels Jensen*, chief executive partner of London-based Absolute Return Partners.

“A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy…”

Alexander Fraser Tytler, Scottish lawyer and writer, 1770

It was always naïve to believe that a crisis so deep and profound was going to go away with a whimper; however, an increase of more than 50% in global equity prices can be very seductive, and nine months of virtually uninterrupted gains have led many to believe that the problems of 2008-09 are now largely behind us.

Well, not quite everybody. Friend and business partner John Mauldin remains a sceptic. I have had the pleasure of travelling across Europe with John over the past week or so and, as the week progressed, my mood swung decisively towards a state where Prozac would probably be the most appropriate remedy.

Now, John and I do not agree on absolutely everything. For example, I believe – and have believed for a while – that he is too bearish on equities. But, before we go there, allow me to share with you the essence of John’s views which can be summed up quite nicely by two charts, courtesy of BCA Research.

Chart 1: De-leveraging has a long way to go in the US

absolute-return-pc1

In John’s opinion – and I do not disagree – we are still only in the second or third innings of the de-leveraging process (chart 1). Years of excessive debt accumulation cannot be reversed in 18 months, and it will take at least another 5-6 years to play out, possibly longer.

Chart 2:  US Government borrowing has replaced private borrowing

absolute-return-pc2

The other part of John’s argument – and again it is hard to disagree – is that it remains an open question how much de-leveraging has in fact taken place. As you can see from chart 2, US sovereign debt has risen as fast as private debt has declined (and the picture is similar in many other countries), providing support for the argument that all we have achieved so far is to move liabilities from private to public balance sheets, effectively burdening tomorrow’s taxpayer.

Click here for the full report.

* Niels Jensen has 25 years of investment banking, private banking and asset management experience. He founded Absolute Return Partners and is its chief executive partner.

Source: Niels Jensen, Absolute Return Partners, February 1, 2010.

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