You gotta hand it to "The Mooch."
If there's one skill that will guarantee a successful career in finance, it's throwing a good party. And by all accounts, no one does it better than Anthony Scaramucci with his annual SkyBridge Alternatives Conference in Las Vegas, better known as SALT. This party dominated the week's financial headlines, which is saying something considering it was the same week that Paul Tudor Jones walked around wearing a giant brain hat.
Scaramucci gathered the managers of what he estimates is upwards of $3 trillion of assets and entertained them with appearances by the likes of Ron Howard, John Boehner, Dennis Miller, the Killers and Caitlyn Jenner. Truly something for everyone! (Ron Howard probably hasn't been the subject of this many photo ops since Fonzi jumped the shark.)
Here's a sample of the advice offered by the Hollywood set to the hedge-fund world, from "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" actor Will Smith: "Fail early, fail often, fail forward." Good tip, Fresh Prince, but this crowd's way ahead of you on the failure front. However, for the throngs of financial press in attendance, who we estimate collectively manage about $150, the real attraction is the Fresh Princes and Princesses of Wall Street who come to talk their books. And there were so many story lines that it was hard to stand out, but a few managed to do so:
Jim Chanos got to take a victory lap for successfully shorting LendingClub and SunEdison.
Roslyn Zhang, managing director of the China Investment Corp. sovereign wealth fund, stood out by delivering an impressive tongue lashing to the 2-and-20 set. She compared their herd mentality to the retail traders who crowd into popular strategies and ribbed them for yuan short bets that haven't worked out so well. (Note to yuan bears: Maybe it's not the best idea to go around bragging about your short of a currency whose value is fixed daily by the government?)
Don Brownstein, founder of Structured Portfolio Management, stood out on the same panel for having the awareness to know who's in charge of the most among that $3 trillion and announcing: "I'd rather put my money with a communist government than a capitalist government."
Still, no one stood out quite like consultant Milton Berg. To a crowd of hedge-fund managers who are likely all too aware of the fact that the industry outperforms only during bear markets, Berg dangled this delightful prospect: "A bear market in both stocks and bonds that will last up to 30 years."
It would be easy to dismiss this sensational forecast as just another Chicken Little warning from another perma-bear crackpot, but Berg is not exactly a perma-bear or a crackpot. He's held senior positions at Duquesne Capital, Soros Management, Steinhardt Management and Oppenheimer Funds. You can track his calls with the MB Tracking Portfolio which, according to his bio, has gained 52 percent since inception at the beginning of 2014 while the S&P 500 has gained 12 percent.
While it's tough to judge the total track record of a guy who's been in the biz since the 1980s, some recent calls stands out. The S&P 500 sank to a two-year low on Thursday, Feb. 11, then rebounded strongly the next day. While many were wondering whether that was just a dead-cat bounce, Berg came out on Sunday with a report titled "Markets Have Turned," saying: "We expect a gain of at least +14.40%." The index rebounded 14.94 percent at its peak on April 20:
His call on Bloomberg Television in early September to buy after the correction last summer also looks pretty good:
That came after he said on March 9, 2015, that "all I know is the next direction is down and you want to be positioned for that," which was early, but a down move took place in a few months:
However, his bullish individual-stock calls on Tesla, GoPro and Blackberry in October of 2014 weren't so hot:
Berg uses a lot obscure technical measures to make many of his calls. Heavy volume when stocks are falling to new lows or rising to new highs may be a sign to bet on a turn in the other direction, for instance. The rationale for his 30-year bear-market call is more fundamental and not too different from what you hear from a lot of bears: equities are way overvalued, central banks have pumped up a global bubble and when it bursts the results will be "pretty, pretty terrible."
Stocks may rise over the 30 years, he said, but won't be higher in real terms when accounting for inflation. So in order to make money, investors will have to be flexible and time the market.
Is all of this enough to trust Berg regarding what to expect for the next three decades? Of course not. It would be silly to trust anyone who is looking that far out. Though it does make you wonder when someone who spent three decades in the market is this skeptical about the next three. You have to give Berg some credit (and a Trade of the Week award) for adding some spice to the SALT conference.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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