The Eye of The Storm
Have you ever been in a hurricane? I have, and one of the strangest things about it is the phenomenon that happens right in the middle of the worst of the storm – the eye.
You can walk outside and literally see the stars and the branches lying askew all around you…the air feels eerie and a sense of anticipation for what is left to come fills the air.
I can’t help but think we are witnessing a similar occurrence in the markets over the last couple of weeks.
Every now and again, I will glance at the screen and see the Dow up a few hundred points, followed by an irrational headline like: “Market Rises on Hope for Shorter Recession” or some such nonsense.
But, we all know that we are only partially through the natural consequences of what we have witnessed already.
Rules of Nature
For those of you who have been reading Paranoid Bull for awhile, you probably are tired of the “shoe-to-drop” metaphor, or before that the “trainwreck in slow motion” ones, so I’ll go for another one.
We are witnessing something like the end of an Ice Age. There has been a fundamental shift in the temperature of the environment which was previously calm and unrealistically muted to risk. The molecules and atoms moved more slowly at the lower temperatures, and the over-confidence of false-statisticians suggested that this temporary cold-chill was indicative of the indefinite future.
However, as we see in the weather, one of the few things that can be certain about the future is that it will look different than the present. Also like the weather, most systems in the world move through a wide variety of states: cold, medium, hot…slow, fast, zooming.
Right now our system has gone from cold to hot, from an appearance of risk mitigation to a reality of correlated, levered and volatile risks.
As the temperature rises and glaciers melt, this has an impact throughout the ecosystem: entire landscapes are transformed as water rushes with such velocity that it crushes anything in its wake.
And once the melt has begun, there is no going back.
The People Factor
The problem with our financial system is that unlike the natural order of a post-glacial natural ecosystem, our world is inhabited by human beings who are smart enough to have some semblance of an understanding of the world, but not smart enough to recognize their own limitations.
In addition, they are driven by passions and irrationalities that cause them to build cities on piles of snow…because if it hasn’t melted yet, it won’t.
These quirks of humanity also cause us to run with the crowd, and as the chaos of the system has emerged over the last couple of months, the emotional side of human behavior – especially that of fear – has set in.
People don’t know what to do, what to expect, which direction to run, and they surely don’t know what the landscape will look like once the ice has finally completely thawed.
As a result, we are caught in a state of fits and starts, with each pundit and pseudo-intellect looking over his or her shoulder at the next quasi-intelligent one wondering what the other one is thinking.
In this game of chicken, however, the one who stops running first will likely be caught in the flood.
I wish there was better news, and given the stars in the sky, one can almost believe that we are through the storm.
However, don’t forget that the patterns of nature are much more powerful than any we could hypothesize…and I haven’t heard of a one-sided hurricane or a partially melted glacier yet.
But don’t run in fear. Run because it is exhilarating, and enjoy the scenery and lightness in your step as you go.
A friend of mine recently highlighted the importance of ‘play’ in life…and I think even in moments like these, while we are reacting to a change in the landscape, we can find these rose-colored lenses in all that we do.
I for one am going to try, as I stop to catch my breath before the next leg of the marathon.