As Good Once As It Ever Was

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Every morning, we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours worth of financial media to find the most on-narrative (i.e. interconnected and central) stories in financial media. It’s not a list of best articles or articles we think are most interesting … often far from it. But for whatever reason these are articles that are representative of some chord that has been struck in Narrative-world. And whenever we think there’s a story behind the narrative connectivity of an article … we write about it. That’s The Zeitgeist. Our narrative analysis of the day’s financial media in bite-size form.

To receive a free full-text email of The Zeitgeist whenever we publish to the website, please sign up here. You’ll get two or three of these emails every week, and your email will not be shared with anyone. Ever.


One of the observations we made in our most recent video was that “Broken IPOs have broken growth and momentum!” has become a part of the narrative surrounding the factor rotation of the last several weeks. I don’t know how true it is. But it has emerged from a common, if slightly out of the mainstream, theory into something that everybody knows that everybody knows.

Now, you won’t hear us say that IPOs are unaffected by narratives, in part because that would be a very stupid thing to say. I mean, it’s literally the most important opportunity most companies have to tell everyone how to think about how to value their company. Still, a private company coming to public markets presents an interesting case study for us. It is an opportunity to analyze common knowledge about both individual companies and risk appetites / preferences at large. It tests whether the narratives which served to produce private valuations are robust to a conversion of some portion of the underlying investor base. In a sense, it is one of those very few opportunities we get to peek behind the curtain of abstractions to see, just maybe, some measure of reality.

So was the We Company’s IPO disaster an isolated bridge too far? Was it, alongside various nightmares lurking within SoftBank pools, part of a series of related bridges-too-far? Will their breaking of profitless-growth-forever narratives become a broader phenomenon that investors need to account for in the rest of their portfolios? Is that what we have seen in the fits and starts of value kinda-sorta working these last several weeks?

I’m not sure. One of the problems (and beauties!) of focusing on observing instead of predicting is that it’s a lot harder to pin down causal relationships. I can see the connections people are making between the momentum/growth-to-value rotation on the one hand and SoftBank and WeWork on the other. I can see the sentiment of language used in reference to top-line growth stories veering more negative. I can see cohesion of narrative structure for consumer tech stories breaking down.

I can’t tell you whether fear of SoftBank and its funders’ ability to continue to backstop aggressive private valuations had a meaningful influence on the (very) recently disappointing relative returns of more expensive stocks and sectors. I can’t tell you whether or how much a sudden willingness of investors to question pursuing greater fool strategies on the WeWorks of the world contributed. I can’t tell you whether all of this worked in the other direction, with a range of trade, central bank, idiosyncratic and other concerns pushing risk postures at the margin in a direction that caught public and private high-flying growth stories in the wash.

What I can tell you is that we can observe the ideas being connected. This is the story we are all watching the crowd tell the crowd about growth, momentum, value and tech stories.

What I can also tell you is what would come next if you were someone with a mind to maintain and extend the Long Now: you’d want a good IPO. A consumer tech unicorn, sure, but a real one. One that would allow us to act like we were not in the heady excesses of the late 90s, but the practiced adolescence of the late teens. A company that would say “growth” but also “hey, I can actually see how this business model might make money!” A reset button.

And we would need it now.

$31 billion Airbnb announces plan to go public in 2020 [Business Insider]

I can’t tell you why they decided to announce this now. Maybe – probably – coincidence.

What I can tell you is why this sits atop the Zeitgeist, as one of the five most linguistically connected articles in all of financial media today. Because financial media, investors (no, not you, seven remaining value investors), execs, asset owners – all the benefactors and beneficiaries of capital markets as a public utility, need this.

Will the IPO market be as good as it once was? Probably not. But I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people will be working overtime to make it as good once as it ever was.

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So is it just me or is no one talking about the Fed basically just initiating $1-1.5 trillion (stealth?) QE4 over a period of less than a month? Not part of the Zeitgeist?

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For those interested in some analysis of this week’s repo activity:
http://creditbubblebulletin.blogspot.com/

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The Daily Zeitgeist

The Common Knowledge of Inflation

By Ben Hunt | October 11, 2019 | 3 Comments

“Until an hour before the Devil fell, God thought him beautiful in Heaven.”

That’s my fave Arthur Miller quote, from The Crucible.

Our Devil is inflation, and today we think him beautiful in Heaven. You’re not ready for the Fall.

Read more

In Chinese, the Emphasis is on the Second Syllable

By Ben Hunt | October 9, 2019 | 4 Comments

Every US company with Chinese consumer-facing products is going to be forced to make a choice. Do you want to preserve your authenticity and your brand, or do you want to preserve your earnings guidance and share price?

Choose one. You can’t have both.

No one will believe me when I say this, but it’s the truth: this is bigger than tariffs.

Read more

Imagine That.

By Ben Hunt | October 7, 2019 | 6 Comments

They keep us sick, you know.

They keep us hooked on this framing of something-something Republicans vs. Democrats.

The cure? Take back your distance.

You’ll find your local library to be the perfect place to start.

Read more

Fear Factor

By Ben Hunt | October 4, 2019 | 3 Comments

Yeah, yeah … I know that the Deep State is a powerful adversary. Or at least that’s what my MAGA buddies on twitter keep shouting at me.

But I’ll take the Deep State as an enemy any day compared to Steve Schwarzman and the rest of the Private Equity Tong looking to keep their carried interest tax treatment.

I bet Elizabeth Warren feels the same way.

Read more

When the Product is Free, You’re the Product

By Ben Hunt | October 2, 2019 | 3 Comments

This isn’t a note about Facebook. It’s a note about online brokerage fees. And it’s a note about Facebook.

As a consumer … don’t cry for Argentina, and don’t cry for the online brokerages who are taking their commission fees down to zero. As an investor in or an employee of ANY financial services company, on the other hand … maybe it’s time for a good cry and a hard look at your future prospects.

“Yay, free!”

Read more

The Emerging Market Zeitgeist is Broken

By Ben Hunt | September 30, 2019 | 2 Comments

Yes, Deadwood is the greatest HBO series ever. Don’t @ me. I’m not having it. David Milch is MY President.

And while Al Swearengen is the greatest character of that greatest show, the fact is that it’s another character – George Hearst – who drives the narrative arc for the entire series (and movie).

You see, Deadwood is a show about property rights.

So is the Argentina – IMF show.

Read more

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