Monday, February 6, 2012

Hussman Weekly Market Comment: Notes on Risk Management - Warts and All

One of the great challenges of investing is the distinction between hindsight and foresight. Hindsight treats each major advance, each market crash, each recession and each expansion as if their turning points were obvious, and extrapolates prevailing trends as if their continuation is equally obvious. Foresight is much messier, because it deals with unknowns and unobservables. It recognizes that major financial and economic events are often hidden from view when they are actually already in motion. Foresight requires the willingness to rely on data that tends to precede important outcomes (recessions, market crashes, durable long-term returns), even when those outcomes can't be observed in recent economic and market behavior that we can see and touch. Most importantly, hindsight creates the illusion that uncertainty is never very great, and risk management is never very challenging. Foresight demands a much greater appreciation for randomness, noise, uncertainty, risk management, and stress-testing.

Presently, there seems to be an unusually wide gap between hindsight and foresight, both in the financial markets and in the economy. In both cases, forward-looking evidence suggests weak outcomes, but recent trends encourage optimism and risk-taking. Rather than sugar-coat these uncertainties and minimize the messy divergences in the data, I think the best approach is to review the evidence, warts and all, including economic risks, market conditions, and the strengths and limitations of our own investment approach.