Howard Marks talks Economy, QE and More

When it comes to investing in less efficient markets, Howard Marks (founder and co-chairman of Oaktree), has plenty of expertise. He also has plenty to say about the state of the economy and the factors influencing our financial outlook. In a recent Barron’s article, Marks shares his views:

  • Central bankers can’t create economic progress; they can only stimulate activity temporarily. Rather, a nation’s productiveness (GDP) is the driver of long-term growth, which is independent of money supply or interest rates.
  • If GDP is weak, a nation’s ability to provide above-average benefits to its workers is compromised. Regulation can’t produce prosperity. So, when political candidates promise free public education, healthcare, or protection of Social Security benefits, the question remains as to how these promises will be funded.
  • The use of taxes (specifically, increases levied to the more affluent) as the primary means of funding expensive programs can build class resentment and lead to an unhealthy dynamic. At the state level, such increases can also encourage those of means to relocate.
  • Raising the money supply to support financial goals only serves to debase currency values. A fatter wallet, Marks says, doesn’t have more spending power.
  • “Quantitative easing” through increasing money supply is a strategy sometimes used by governments to create inflation. The “new” money is used to meet outstanding debt obligations, increase the amount of currency in circulation and therefore raise the price of goods. But inflation remains a mysterious phenomenon, difficult to either create or correct.

The bottom line, Marks asserts, is that there is no “free pass”. He says, “There’s little a country can do in terms of policy actions to improve its situation in a meaningful way and enhance its long-term outlook.” In other words, treating the symptoms won’t offer a cure.