Bob Rice, a managing partner of investment bank Tangent Capital Partners, has some tough words for stocks and bonds: The world is changing. No, it has already changed.
Giving an alternatives presentation at Fidelity’s Inside Track Conference in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday morning, Rice gave a macroeconomic overview of the stock and bond world—the distortion in prices of stocks given the Federal Reserve’s diffidence about raising interest rates, and the thin trading that hobbles bond funds.
Add to that the digital disruption that’s scrambling business models in every industry. Machines are building brick walls. Robots are building—no, 3-D printing!—bridges. Trucks are driving themselves, threatening livelihoods in a country of millions of truck drivers. “The disruptions are profound. They are not just macroeconomic disruptions. The digital revolution is changing everything.” It will change the nature of investing for everybody, even in stocks outside of tech.
Rice posted a list of the big tech names, including Google, Airbnb, Uber, Facebook and Amazon, then asked the audience what the number two company was in these companies’ business lines.
The answer: “It doesn’t make any damn difference. Because in a digital economy, winners take all. … Google makes more money than the entire U.S. print industry. Apple captures more than 94% of smartphone profits.” Meanwhile, Amazon is the top retailer, and a company like Airbnb can make all its money without the overhead of building hotels.
And investors are not going to share in the sweet spot of these trends, but instead buy into the cash-out.
“The public markets are changing. Where the growth is, is changing. … You want the [index] average in a digital world? … Why do you want to own the sector when only one company in the sector is going to win?”
The upshot is that stocks are crazily valued because of worldwide credit easing, and expected returns will be harmed. Bonds are no better, especially when they don’t trade as readily as the vehicles they are rattling around, in such as ETFs.
“Don’t mistake trading volume on the way up for liquidity on the way down in your ETFs,” he said. “What happens when the redemptions come? And think about the distortions that ETFs are causing because they are piling the money in by some dopey formula.”
ETFs haven’t really been tested in the environment we’re going to see, he says. And stocks and bonds are not going to be able to continue doing what modern portfolio theorists and planners want them for: growth, inflation protection, income and downside protection.