Future Scenarios

An item from ETF Daily News caught my eye. It’s a post from Tyler Durden Lord Rothschild Warns Investors: Geopolitical Situation Most Dangerous Since WWII.

Lord Rothschild is concerned about the growing military conflict in eastern Europe and the mid-east, deflation and economic challenge in Europe, stock market prices moving above valuations, zero interest rates, and other risk prospects.

Durden has access to some advisory document associated with Rothschild which features two interesting exhibits.

There is this interesting graphic highlighting four scenarios for the future.

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And there are details, as follows, for each scenario (click to enlarge).

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If I am not mistaken, these exhibits originate from last year at this time.

Think of them then as forecasts, and what has actually happened since they were released, as the actual trajectory of events.

For example, we have been in the “Muddling through” scenario. Monetary policy has remained “very loose,” and real interest rates have remained negative. We have even seen negative nominal interest rates being explored by, for example, the European Central Bank (ECB) – charging banks for maintaining excess reserves, rather than putting them into circulation. Emerging markets certainly are mixed, with confusing signals coming out of China. Growth has been choppy – witness quarterly GDP growth in the US recently – weak and then strong. And one could argue that stagnation has become more or less endemic in Europe with signs of real deflation.

It is useful to decode “structural reform” in the above exhibit. I believe this refers to eliminating protections and rules governing labor, I suppose, to follow a policy of general wage reduction in the idea that European production then could again become competitive with China.

One thing is clear to me pertaining to these scenarios. Infrastructure investment at virtually zero interest rates is no brainer in this economic context, especially for Europe. Also, there is quite a bit of infrastructure investment which can be justified as a response to, say, rising sea levels or other climate change prospects.

This looks to be on track to becoming a very challenging time. The uproar over Iranian nuclear ambitions is probably a sideshow compared to the emerging conflict between nuclear powers shaping up in the Ukraine. A fragile government in Pakistan, also, it must be remembered, has nuclear capability. For more on the growing nuclear threat, see the recent Economist article cited in Business Insider.

In terms of forecasting, the type of scenario formulation we see Rothschild doing is going to become a mainstay of our outlook for 2015-16. There are many balls in the air.

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