It’s a fraught time, writes hedge-fund guru Smick in this timely book. If the “Chinese juggernaut” doesn’t sink us, then class warfare and our spendthrift ways will.
Borrowing his title, obviously, from Thomas Friedman’s optimistic The World Is Flat (2005), Smick dourly notes that in finance, the horizon is near while the dangers lurk out of sight—“nothing happens in a straight line. Instead, there is a continual series of unforeseen discontinuities—twists and turns of uncertainty that often require millions of market participants to stand conventional wisdom on its head.” Seeing over the horizon is the job of sound analysts and good political leaders, who seem to be in short supply. Weathering the fiscal storms is ever harder for numerous reasons, one of them the declining vigor of central banks, another, in the United States, an accumulation of personal debt that threatens to put the economy into a Japan-like state of decades-long stagnation. Globalism, some would object, is a vehicle for weakening national economies, but Smick counters that “liberated global financial markets and free trade” are largely responsible for the creation of vast wealth in the last quarter-century (during which the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose from 800 to more than 12,000) and should not be unduly regulated, since economies seem to be slipping beyond the control of national governments. Instability will thus be the norm in the future, especially inasmuch as private concerns dwarf whole economies: The exposure of the Swiss bank UBS to the subprime mortgage meltdown was four times as large as the entire Swiss economy, Smick observes. Couple profligate habits with an ever-growing Chinese economy beholden to no one, and suddenly the future looks like a roller-coaster ride for even the most aggressive investor.
A supremely useful book for portfolio planning, though not the thing to give someone who’s inclined to worry about the state of the world.