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Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Brief Note on Financial Crises and Safe Harbors

One of the great new contrarian pieces of "knowledge" has been that you can hide from a developed market financial crisis in emerging markets. This was said in 2007 and 2008 when we went into the soup and it was said again this time during the ongoing European financial crisis. Just to show how silly that idea is, here is a chart from June 1, 2008 through March 1, 2009:

The green candlestick line is the S&P 500, the olive line is the FXI from yesterday, the purple line is the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund (EEM) and the light blue line is the iShares Brazilian Index Fund (EWZ). As you can see, over this period, the U.S. outperformed all of those markets for the duration of the worst of the crisis.

Similarly, in the current crisis the pattern has been continued:

The pattern is repeated, to varying degrees. So, what is the safe harbor? U.S. Treasuries have been, are, and will likely continue to be the last best hope for investors in the midst of a crisis. I could show the chart from 2008, but that's just beating a dead horse. Here's the most recent performance with the iShares Barclay's 20+ Year Treasury Bond Fund (TLT) represented by the.... I guess that's salmon colored line:

As you can see, long-duration U.S. Treasuries are a good safe harbor for assets in short term financial crises, regardless of whether they are here in the U.S. or if they are in Greece, China, Japan, or wherever else there might be a crisis. That being said, as a long term prospect, I am not thrilled with the outlook for Treasuries at the moment as I have indicated previously. As interest rates rise in the future, you will get slaughtered for a large position in them. In the short run they might be appealing, though even here I'm not sure how much more upside they have. I think we are probably within a couple weeks of the worst of the European crisis being behind us, though it will get ugly before it is over.

Someone may ask "What about gold?". In response I say, "Treasuries > gold" in a crisis. It was true in 2008. It is true now. Gold is only superior in a time of hyperinflation.

Anyway, those are my thoughts.

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