There is a danger that some investors will lose sight of the purpose of a benchmark index. The benchmark exists to represent the views of the median investor dollar. For many investors, going with the benchmark is a good guideline – especially those who recognize themselves to be relatively unsophisticated and also those who think they are sophisticated but really aren’t. This is the implication of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis (EMH), for example.
By now just about everybody agrees that the European bailout of Greece has failed: The debt will have to be restructured. As has been evident for well over a year, it is not possible to think of a plausible combination of Greek budget balance, sovereign risk premium, and economic growth rates that imply anything other than an explosive path for the future ratio of debt to GDP.
There is plenty of blame to go around. But three big mistakes can be attributed to the European leadership. This includes the European Central Bank – surprisingly, in that the ECB has otherwise been the most competent and successful of Europe-wide institutions.
“What should I invest in?” We economists get asked this question all the time. Many members of the profession believe that Efficient Markets theory forbids us from giving an answer – beyond recommending “a well-diversified portfolio.” Perhaps a few of us won’t countenance a question that ends with a preposition. But the rest of us would like to be helpful. Even so, the past year has been a difficult time to give an answer.
One can no longer recommend euros or commodities, as the (somewhat predictable) appreciations there have already taken place, over the last five years. As for equities, corporate bonds, and housing, they have all been measurably overvalued for awhile. Even if one believed that the corrections in those three markets were now largely complete, it would be hard to predict that their rates of return on average over the next 25 years will be anywhere near as great as over the preceding 25 years. But, complains the investor, I have to hold something.