The Master of Nothingness

Bill Bonner

We are disappointed in our own peers.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the financial press seems to be racing towards mediocrity. Dullness is its highest standard. “Nothing new” is its most daring forecast.

We speak not of ourselves…not of our own little modest corner of the industry, naturally. No, if there is criticism to be found in these electronic pages…you will not find it leveled against us. We are much too humble to presume to criticize ourselves. No, we refer instead to our competitors who seem to stretch merely to touch their own noses.

What set us off was another piece in yet another feotid magazine taking issue with our predictions. This time, the offender is Britain’s “Money Observer” edited by a Mr. Andrew Pitts. “Nonsense,” he said of our worries and guesses.

We would not mention it to you, dear reader, except that we think it indicates the state of mind that now dominates the entire Anglo-Saxon world. Sentiment indicators in America and Britain show a pool of bullishness as vast and seemingly permanent as the ocean between them. In nary a week in 2003, 2004 or 2005 have more advisors been bearish than bullish. Investors’ Intelligence, the service that tracks these things, says it is unprecedented. It is as if an hour had come round that was so delightful, so fetching, so enchanting that investors decided to stop the all clocks. Look, they say to each other, it is still afternoon! The sun will be out forever.

With time coming to a complete halt…there is no need for past or future. Things will always be as beneficent as they are in the here and now…in the magnificent, ever-lasting present. Investment advisors, journalists, analysts and editors are bullish. They were bullish last year…and the year before. They have been bullish for a very long time…so long that they have lost track of any pre-bullish age. They have forgotten any history that came before 1982. It has been dropped from the collective consciousness – like Greek and Latin classics tossed aside by Vandal tribes.

In particular, Mr. Pitts highlights our colleagues’ guesses about “Seismic” events in the energy sector…and a prediction: “…a falling dollar, the debt crisis and high energy prices could bring about a financial disaster.” You will notice, dear reader, that we use the future tense with hesitation…in the conditional mode.

Not so, Mr. Pitts. “[T]he world is not going to end,” he writes, “and that’s why we persist in publishing sensible (rather than scaremongering) tips…”

How he knows the world is not going to end…we can’t say. Someone must have told him. It’s a fair bet, we guess, but one with such short odds, we don’t see how you can make any money at it. Besides, if you were right, you’d have a hard time collecting…

Betting that the world is not going to change, on the other hand, is likely to be a poor wager too. That side of the trade is so crowded; we doubt that there is any money in it. But that is Mr. Pitt’s bet…and that of virtually the entire financial press as well as the investment industry. The world is long dollars. Long debt. Long stocks. And long property. If you listen to Mr. Pitts, you will become even longer.

Money Observer’s “Dose of Realism” is really nothing more than a big dollop of mainstream conventionalism. The rag admits that there are clouds in the sky. They just can’t imagine that they hold any rain.

“A perfect storm appears to be forming [in the property market] with interest rates rising, sales falling, stocks up and buyer enquiries and mortgage approvals down,” Pitts quote an “equity strategist” with approval. Still, this expert sees U.K. stocks up at the end of the year by “close to 10%.”

Is there anyone, anywhere in the mainstream financial media, on either side of the great pond who doesn’t think stocks will go up 10% in 2005?

Later, Mr. Pitts, still at sea, tells readers: “This year, as in the past, investors must navigate their way around hidden reefs and towering icebergs. They include slowing global growth, the plunging U.S. dollar, a fragile outlook for consumer spending and return of disinflationary pressures [Roughly the same predictions he called nonsense…]. But…our experts predict that investors have little to fear and a good deal to gain.”

The Money Observer experts observe the same problems we do. They just don’t think they make any difference. The clocks are stopped. No matter how many clouds show up…it cannot rain.

On page 42, for example, the magazine tells readers that “recent reckless economic policies have brought the dollar to its knees.” Meanwhile, over on page 24, Money Observer includes a helpful “View from the top.” We were hoping the piece had been written by Gordon Brown or by God himself. But the top to the money observers seems to stop at Michael Hughes who also warns of some “seismic shifts” and then goes on to make comments so listless we fell asleep before we got to the end of it.

Sometimes we had the impression that the magazine meant to put readers to sleep. It reminded us of that famous scene in the movie Alexander the Great. While his closest friend and dearest lover lay dying, Alexander stared out the window and might have been reading from a script written by Money Observer. The conqueror of the known world wistfully spoke of bringing the benefits of Western civilization of the heathen tribes of Mesopotamia (after seven years of slaughtering them)…and while he gabbed world improvement, his friend died. Of boredom, said one reviewer.

Money Observer gabs on too – without realizing that all its gabby guesses rest on nothing more than a single ubiquitous sentiment: No matter what happens, nothing much will change. In the Money Observer world there is no past and no future. Just a sort of perfect and eternal balance…a state of dynamic equilibrium, where the porridge is never too hot nor too cold…and no matter how many impossible things we are expected to believe before breakfast, we fall for every one of them.

There are seismic shifts coming…and perfect storms…but nobody will be hurt.

And over on page 53 is a “How to start 2005 with a bang,” column. What constitutes a “bang” to the money observers? “Pay off your credit card debts,” advises the magazine. Refinance your mortgage is the second suggestion. By number five you are ready for the mind-blowing counsel: “Save for your retirement.” Bang, bang.

What we particularly admire in Mr. Pitts is his exquisite mastery of “nothingness.” He manages to soothe readers with lulling predictions that amount to pure air: “Although 14 of our 16-strong panel of experts believe base rates will end 2005 at or below 4.75%, there are good reasons why this might not be so.” Hmmm… Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Our advice: read Money Observer aloud to a dying friend; get it over with.