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Marketplace Lending: Attractive, Stable Returns In A Zero Interest World

|Includes: LendingClub Corporation (LC)

"Global yields lowest in 500 years of recorded history. $10 trillion of negative interest rate bonds. This is a supernova that will explode one day"

-Bill Gross, Co-founder of PIMCO

Legendary bond investor Bill Gross doesn´t mince words here. The coming supernova will destroy the life savings of countless hard working people worldwide. Yet most investors continue sleepwalking toward an impoverished future. Not only is a very large percentage of private savings held in today´s radically overvalued government and corporate bonds, but most public and private pension savings as well are invested in these same markets.

Why do savings continue to pour into government and corporate bonds despite very low or even negative yields and the potential for huge losses when interest rates normalize at some future time? Based on my twenty five years of experience as an investment advisor, my guess would be simply momentum, along with a self-serving investment management industry that consistently puts the customer´s interest last. Asset management is a huge industry that continues to turn its wheels as it has for decades, investing a large share of the savings of its customers in government and corporate bonds. The fact that the endless quantitative easing bond purchasing programs by leading central banks has distorted the fixed income capital markets to a very dangerous extent is not sufficient to stop these wheels, especially while billions of dollars in fees and commissions depend on continuing to do "business as usual".

What is an investor to do? The answer is surprisingly simple. The first step to get out of a hole is to stop digging. Accept Bill Gross´ wake-up call, and invest no further in traditional bonds or bond funds that hold overvalued, often negative yielding fixed income instruments. Rather, take some time, do some research, and educate oneself about the growing alternatives to traditional fixed income that do provide for steady, attractive returns without the risk of being burned in the supernova that Bill Gross predicts. In short, my recommendation is to turn to marketplace lending.

Marketplace lending, also known as marketplace finance, is where savers can secure attractive returns by lending funds to individuals and businesses directly without the intervention of banks or purchasing bonds on the public exchanges. These loans can be made directly through any number of online platforms, or through investment in specialized investment vehicles (mutual funds or unit investment trusts) that focus on marketplace finance. At this point, the track record is sufficiently clear, and the new investment vehicles sufficiently developed for me to make this recommendation to any serious client who is willing to learn new ways of building their savings without accepting the risks of grossly overvalued bonds.

A further advantage of this approach to achieving reasonable returns on savings is that marketplace finance largely focuses on short maturities (as short as 60 to 90 days, and almost never more than 3 years). These short maturities reflect the needs of business and individuals for loans (often secured by assets or insurance policies) for inventory acquisition, trade finance, small business expansion, aircraft leasing, consumer loans, factoring, discounting invoices, or any of a myriad of alternatives that allow investors to earn returns from deploying their savings into the real economy of commerce and trade, rather than the quantitative easing bubble in the public bond markets created by central banks since the 2007 financial meltdown. An important advantage of these short maturities is that they permit "self liquidation", allowing the investor to recover invested funds if necessary through maturity of the underlying loans, even if secondary markets are disrupted during a financial crisis.

Let´s look at the track record now. For US investors, the Orchard US Consumer Marketplace Lending Index demonstrates a 6% return in the last twelve months, with notable stability and predictability that will allow even anxious investors to sleep at night.

In case one believes that the US experience is exceptional, let´s look at the UK market, where the Liberum Alfi Returns index tracks investor returns from the leading marketplace lending platforms in Great Britain. Once again, the twelve month lagging return is approximately 6%. It is noteworthy that this index demons trates that even in the midst of the financial crisis of 2007-2008, investor returns never were lower than 5%.

Finally, for investors who prefer to delegate to professional management rather than lend directly on platforms, I would recommend the pioneering and innovative Luxembourg SICAV-SIF, Synthesis Market-Based Financing Fund. Founder and CEO Spyros Papadopoulos has built an attractive track record of over three years of positive returns month after month through employing a variety of lending strategies moving well beyond P2P lending, with a particular expertise in trade finance.

As per the warning from Bill Gross, there is a clear and present danger in the bond markets today that could have catastrophic consequences for savers, as well as wiping out their public and private pension plans. The good news is that there are alternatives available for investors who are willing to face the facts and make the effort now to learn about the attractive and low volatility returns that marketplace finance can provide.

This instablog post may well serve as motivation to take another look at the battered shares of Lending Club.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.