jeudi 6 janvier 2011

Parier sur la déflation

Initialement j'ai commencé à investir dans le secteur de l'or en pensant que c'était une protection contre l'inflation, ou même l'hyper-inflation qui nous attendait.

Depuis, j'ai raffiné mon analyse macro-économique à mesure que j'ai étudié le phénomène et les ressorts des mécanismes du "leverage" et je pense maintenant que les forces déflationnistes seront plus fortes que les efforts inflationnistes des banques centrales, en tout cas à moyen terme.

L'inflation voire l'hyperinflation est tout à fait possible, mais ce sera une conséquence de la déflation qui frappera encore comme en 2008.

Par ailleurs, que l'on soit en inflation ou en déflation, je suis extrêmement sceptique au sujet des marchés actions à long terme, qui n'ont pas encore suffisament corrigé leurs excès de 2000.

Quant à l'or il est une protection aussi bien contre la déflation que l'inflation. (et les actions aurifères également peuvent très bien performer en situation de déflation). C'est un des cas lorsque l'or est décorrélé des matières premières.

L'article suivant (qui cite Gary Schilling) donne de très bons arguments en faveur de la thèse déflationniste.

Il provient de la rubrique Buttonwood de "The Economist", que je trouve en général beaucoup plus pertinent que le reste du magazine.


An economist advises investors to expect deflation
Buttonwood Jan 6th 2011 | from PRINT EDITION

THE debt crisis has presented investors with an extremely awkward dilemma. Debt ratios, relative to GDP, are so high that it seems unlikely that most developed economies can grow their way out of the mess. That leaves the unappealing options of default, Japanese-style stagnation or rapid inflation to erode the real value of the debt burden.

Selecting the right portfolio to take advantage of these different scenarios is very difficult. An inflationary outcome would encourage investors to buy commodities and sell Treasury bonds; a deflationary outcome would suggest the reverse. Equities might perform better than government bonds in the event of inflation, but might still deliver negative real returns as they did for much of the 1970s. Cash may provide security but offers virtually nothing in yield.

In a new book “The Age of Deleveraging: Investment Strategies for a Decade of Slow Growth and Deflation”*, Gary Shilling, an economist, argues for the deflationary outcome. He expects American GDP growth to average only 2% over the next decade as the economy struggles to deal with the debt burden.

The baby boomers will be forced to increase their savings as they approach retirement, he argues. Heavier regulation will weigh on the business sector and governments will be forced to tighten fiscal policy. As a result of all this, there will simply be too much spare economic capacity to generate inflation, despite the Federal Reserve’s attempts at quantitative easing (creating money to buy assets). China, in particular, has indulged in an investment boom, building enormous excess capacity that will keep downward pressure on global prices.

Mr Shilling is sceptical about the appeal of Wall Street in such circumstances. He points out that American equities are significantly overvalued on the best long-term measure, the cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio which smooths profits over ten years. Total real returns are likely to average 2-3% annually over the next decade, much lower than investors seem to be expecting.

Nor is Mr Shilling very optimistic about emerging markets, since he believes they are still dependent on American consumption. Following the same reasoning, he is also sceptical about credit-card companies, most home builders and companies selling big-ticket consumer items (such as cars). And his deflationary view inclines him against exposure to commercial property and commodities.

Instead Mr Shilling thinks that investors should own long-dated Treasury bonds. He thinks that the yield on the 30-year issue, currently around 4.5%, could fall to 3% or below, as it did briefly in 2008. In addition, investors should own high-quality corporate bonds, stocks with solid dividends and those exposed to consumer basics, such as food. He also believes that the dollar will do well, given that it is undervalued in purchasing-power-parity terms and that other regions, notably Europe, face big debt problems of their own.

Publishing deadlines are unforgiving to authors writing about the financial markets and recent events have not been helpful to Mr Shilling’s thesis. Commodity prices were still weak in the summer of 2010, when the book appears to have been written, but they rebounded in the second half of the year. Stockmarkets also seemed to recover from the shock of the sovereign-debt crisis, rallying strongly in the last quarter of 2010. The 30-year Treasury-bond yield has risen sharply from a low of 3.5% in August. And the latest batch of American economic data (such as the purchasing managers’ indices) have tended to point in the direction of fairly robust growth this year.

None of this proves that Mr Shilling, who has made some shrewd market calls in the past, will be proved wrong in the long run. Many of the world’s economic problems, from weak American housing and European fiscal weakness to global economic imbalances, have not gone away. Debt has simply been transferred from the private to the public sector. The latest growth figures may be just a blip: even Japan has had some strong quarters in the past 20 years.

But it does suggest that investors cannot afford to put all their eggs in the deflationary basket. Inflating away the debt is still an option if the authorities try hard enough. A portfolio exposed to the long-term debt of a government that has just opted to cut taxes in the face of a trillion-dollar deficit would suffer heavy losses if Mr Shilling turns out to be wrong.

* Published by Wiley, 512 pages, $39.95

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