Doug Kass Should Have Stuck With His 2009 Predictions

by: Brian McMorris

A Mid-Year Checkup on some of Doug Kass' 2009 Predictions (made on December 31, 2008). If he would review his own work from 8 months ago, he would not be so negative today:

2. Housing stabilizes sooner than expected. President Obama, under the aegis of Larry Summers, initiates a massive and unprecedented Marshall Plan to turn the housing market around. His plan includes several unconventional measures: Among other items is a $25,000 tax credit on all home purchases as well as a large tax credit and other subsidies to the financial intermediaries that provide the mortgage loans and commitments. This, combined with a lowering in mortgage rates (and a boom in refinancing), the bankruptcy/financial restructuring of three public homebuilders (which serves to lessen new home supply) and a flip-flop in the benefits of ownership vs. the merits of renting trigger a second-quarter 2009 improvement in national housing activity, but the rebound is uneven. While the middle market rebounds, the high-end coastal housing markets remain moribund, impacted adversely by the Wall Street layoffs and the carnage in the hedge fund industry.

Comment: This would have been a great idea to turn around housing; but it looks like housing prices are bottoming anyway, without much help from the Fed (I don't count the $8000 First Time Buyers program; way too narrow to have much effect).

3. The nation's commercial real estate markets experience only a shallow pricing downturn in the first half of 2009. President Obama's broad-ranging housing legislation incorporates tax credits and other unconventional remedies directed toward nonresidential lending and borrowing. Banks become more active in office lending (as they do in residential real estate lending), and the commercial mortgage-backed securities market never experiences anything like the weakness exhibited in the 2007 to 2008 market. Office REIT shares, similar to housing-related equities, rebound dramatically, with several doubling in the new year's first six months.

Comment: Check out the REIT index and GGP; the Commercial RE market is recovering as Kass predicted with good benefits to banking and the economy.

4. The U.S. economy stabilizes sooner than expected. After a decidedly weak January-to-February period (and a negative first-quarter 2009 GDP reading, which is similar to fourth-quarter 2008's black hole), the massive and creative stimulus instituted by the newly elected President begins to work. Banks begin to lend more aggressively, and lower interest rates coupled with aggressive policy serve to contribute to an unexpected refinancing boom. By March, personal consumption expenditures begin to rebound slowly from an abysmal holiday and post-holiday season as energy prices remain subdued, and a shallow recovery occurs far sooner than many expect. Second-quarter corporate profits growth comfortably beats the downbeat and consensus forecasts as inflation remains tame, commodity prices are subdued, productivity rebounds and labor costs are well under control.

Comment: Kass needs to drink his own Koolaid (nutritious), not that of the Ultra Bear crowd (poison).

5. The U.S. stock market rises by close to 20% in the year's first half. Housing-related stocks (title insurance, home remodeling, mortgage servicers and REITs) exhibit outsized and market-leading gains during the January-to-June interval. Heavily shorted retail and financial stocks also advance smartly. The year's first-half market rise of about 20% is surprisingly orderly throughout the six-month period, as volatility moves back down to pre-2008 levels, but rising domestic interest rates, still weak European economies and a halt to China's economic growth limit the stock market's progress in the back half of the year.

Comment: Not optimistic ENOUGH; First half was right on, but 2nd half looks to be better than Kass' "surprise".

6. A second quarter "growth scare" bursts the bubble in the government bond market. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note moves steadily higher from 2.10% at year-end to over 3.50% by early fall, putting a ceiling on the first-half recovery in the U.S. stock market, which is range-bound for the remainder of the year, settling up by approximately 20% for the 12-month period ending Dec. 31, 2009. Foreign central banks, faced with worsening domestic economies, begin to shy away from U.S. Treasury auctions and continue to diversify their reserve assets. By year-end, the U.S. dollar represents less than 60% of worldwide reserve assets, down from 2008's year-end at 62% and down from 70% only five years ago. China's 2008 economic growth proves to be greatly exaggerated as unemployment surprisingly rises in early 2009 and the rate of growth in China's real GDP moves towards zero by the second quarter. Unlike more developed countries, the absence of a social safety net turns China's fiscal economic policy inward and aggressively so. Importantly, China not only is no longer a natural buyer of U.S. Treasuries but it is forced to dip into it's piggy bank of foreign reserves, adding significant upside pressure to U.S. note and bond yields.

Comment: Right on with 10 year Treasury.

7. Commodities markets remain subdued. Despite an improving domestic economy, a further erosion in the Western European and Chinese economies weighs on the world's commodities markets. Gold never reaches $1,000 an ounce and trades at $500 an ounce at some point during the year. (Gold-related shares are among 2009's worst stock market performers.) The price of crude oil briefly rallies early in the year after a step up in the violence in the Middle East but trades in a broad $25 to $65 range for all of 2009 as President Obama successfully introduces aggressive and meaningful legislation aimed at reducing our reliance on imported oil. The price of gasoline briefly breaches $1.00 a gallon sometime in the year. The U.S. dollar outperforms most of the world's currencies as the U.S. regains its place as an economic and political powerhouse.

Comment: Wrong; stronger oil pricing than expected; no violence required.

11. State and municipal imbalances and deficits mushroom. The municipal bond market seizes up in the face of poor fiscal management, revenue shortfalls and rising budgets at state and local levels. Municipal bond yields spike higher. A new Municipal TARP totaling $2 trillion is introduced in the year's second half.

Comment: Wrong; stronger economy than anticipated; (he cheats a little here with surprises in both directions, so that at least some of them will be right).

12. The automakers and the UAW come to an agreement over wages. Under the pressure of late first-quarter bankruptcies, the UAW agrees to bring compensation in line with non-U.S. competitors and exchanges a reduction in retiree health care benefits for equity in the major automobile manufacturers.

Comment: Right on.

15. Focus shifts for several media darlings. Though continuing on CNBC, Jim "El Capitan" Cramer announces his own reality show that will air on NBC in the fall. At the time his reality show premieres, he also writes a new book, Stay Mad for Life: How to Prosper from a Buy/Hold Investment Strategy. Dr. Nouriel Roubini continues to talk depression, but the price of his speaking engagements are cut in half. He writes a new book, The New Depression: How Leverage's Long Tail Will Result In Bread Lines. "Kudlow & Company's" Larry Kudlow proclaims that it's time to harvest the "mustard seeds" of growth and, in an admission of the Democrat's growing economic successes, officially leaves the ranks of the Republican party and returns to his Democratic roots. Yale's Dr. Robert Shiller adopts a variant and positive view on housing and the economy, joining the bullish ranks and writes a new book, The New Financial Order: Economic Opportunity in the 21st Century.

Comment: Funny comments on Nouriel Roubini; I bet he isn't even getting 1/4 of his price late last year.

20. The Middle East's infrastructure build-out is abruptly halted owing to "market conditions." Lower oil prices, weakening European economies and a broad overexpansion wreck havoc with the Middle East's markets and economies.

Comment: He was pretty close on this as the infrastructure projects were shut down in the first quarter, but are already coming back; this is a good reason to own FLR.

Disclosure: No Positions