Several months ago I rhetorically asked whether it was possible to get out of debt crisis by increasing debt. Yes – was the answer, but it was a qualified yes. Given that initial conditions were favorable – relative low debt as a % of GDP, with the ability to produce low/negative short-term policy rates and constructively direct fiscal deficit spending towards growth positive investments – a country could escape a debt deflation by creating more debt. But those countries are few – the U.S. among perhaps a handful that have that privilege, and investors, including PIMCO, have strong doubts about U.S. fiscal deficits leading to strong future growth rates.
So the developing predicament is becoming more obvious to Shakespeare’s “lenders and borrowers be.” Fiscal tightening and budget conservatism may have come too late for Greece and its global lookalikes. Continued deficit spending may be an exorbitant privilege extended to only a few. Caught in the middle are many developed countries that likely face New Normal growth rates and a continued bumpy journey toward that destination.
Investors must respect this rather tortuous journey in the months and years ahead for what it is: A deleveraging process based upon too much debt and too little growth to service it. No longer will “two get you three” in the investment world. Not 1,000%, but for 4-6% annualized returns for a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds is the likely outcome. And be careful – sometimes “three gets you two.”