Chris Lau - Seeking Alpha

Monday, October 26, 2009

What's Next for Stocks

Michael Pettis is a professor at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management, where he specializes in Chinese financial markets, and a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

So, what business does this blog or any individual have, in taking advice or developing/validating a theme for an investment portfolio?

China is a driving force in influencing currency levels and commodity prices. The important point made by Pettis is marked with a bold font.

I spend a lot of time talking to large hedge funds and institutional investors – with at least three or four one-on-one meetings a week – on China and market conditions. It worries me that recently I have heard investors say many times, generally very sophisticated investors, that we are clearly in a bubble and the best strategy is to ride it out as long as we can. This has almost become one of the mantras of sophisticated investors – the less sophisticated, I guess, assuming that the crisis is safely behind us.

It worries me because of course we can’t all collectively ride the bubble and bail out before everyone else does. I wonder if this means that an awful lot of the big funds can be expected to rush to the doors at the same time when things turn bleak. If so, of course, that means we are likely to see both the upside and the downside market risks increase. Several of my fund management friends have insisted the problem has to do with the nature of hedge fund compensation. Most of the hedge funds were hurt pretty badly in the financial crisis, but a very large number of them were very pleasantly surprised by how quickly they’ve been able to make back a substantial share of their losses.

This means that recovering the high-water mark, which many thought would take years, has suddenly become a lot easier, and many expect that if the markets go on as they have been doing for another year or so they’ll be back in business (that is, able to charge performance fees once again). This may create a natural, albeit dangerous, incentive to take big risks on the likelihood of a rapid recovery.