The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) a group of 30 companies that are supposedly an adequate proxy of Capitalism’s Temperature is under a great deal of flux. Recently we saw the removal of Citi and GM replaced by Travelers Corp. and Cisco Systems. GM had been on the Big Board for 83yrs, with only General Electric (November 1907) having a longer tenure. General Motors was one of “…the original 12-company Dow index created by Charles H. Dow in 1896. (GE has been in and out of the index three times.)” All the more reason to be disturbed given that Citi only joined the club in 1997 only to merge with Travelers, which was later spun off in 2002 (http://blogs.wsj.com/marketbeat/2009/06/08/gm-citi-officially-get-boot-from-dow-industrials-at-bell/). This comes on the heals of AIG’s removal from the DJIA in September (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/business/02dow.html?ref=business). Oh yeah and the other shoe has yet to drop given that Bank of America, which only joined the DJIA in February of 2008.
It used to be that the S & P 500 a more holistic index was well correlated with the DJIA and was approximately 12% of the DJIA.
As both have expanded in volume we see the ability of the DJIA to account for the S & P’s variability remains at 99% when plotting the annual relationship from 1950 to 2009.
However, if we hone in on 1997 to the present, the point at which futures - universally acknowledged as precursors to the toxic instruments we all now know and love (ie CDOs and CDSs) - began to be publicly traded (See “The day the signal died!”, May 18,2009) we see that while the S & P remains 12% of the DJIA the latter now only accounts for 82% of the former, which means the signal:noise ratio has essentially declined by 17% in 12 years. This roughly translates to an increase of 1.38% year over year.
While on the surface this value appears trivial it gains import when compared to annual Global GDP in the last ten years, which has hovered around 3.04-3.97% per year or more locally here in the US 5.02% per year between 1999-2008. In other words US and Global macro- and micro-economic markets are embedded with variance factors equal to 27.5 and 39.3% of US and Global GDP, respectively.
So, if the developed world continues to grow at a rate of 2.46% per year and the Dow Jones/S & P 500 decoupling continues to propagate we will see noise accounting for 52-56% of actual statistics, which even for the non-statistician has to be unsettling. What we are seeing is a decoupling of High & Low Finance, To Big To Fail & To Small To Matter, and a shift from an onus on Goods to Services here in America and the developed world. We are also seeing that once robust predictors of corporate growth are being usurped by associated noise. As we see goods being replaced with services and bank assets climbing as a % of GDP, which presumably will result in higher fractions of the DJIA being allocated to financial services, it can safely be assumed the days of a 99% DJIA Vs S & P relationship are safely in the rear view mirror. Consider for a minute the fact that US commerical bank assets stand at 70% of GDP a whopping $9.69 trillion, which doesn’t speak at all to the proliferation of hedge funds ($1.6 trillion, 12% of GDP), investment banks OR for that matter the graying of the line(s) between commerical and investment entities following Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Representatives Jim Leach (R-IA) and Thomas J. Bliley’s (R-VA) gift to the folks on Wall Street in 1999 (http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/05/business/congress-passes-wide-ranging-bill-easing-bank-laws.html?scp=4&sq=Gramm-Leach-Bliley%20Act%20November%201999&st=cse; http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/series/the_reckoning/index.html).
This basically means that in the past if investment banks sneezed commercial banks would be there with chicken soup and offer to drive them to the emergency room. Now however if those same investment bankers sneeze commercial banks (i.e. US) will most assuredly catch a cold. Not sure if 1500mg of Vitamin C will help though! Some might say we should look towards or European brothers and sisters. Well think again! Swiss bank assets equal 6.8 times GDP and the banks of the once robust Celtic Tiger were as of late 2008 approximately 9.5 times Ireland’s GDP (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/05/business/worldbusiness/05swiss.html?scp=1&sq=Ireland%20Switzerland%20GDP&st=cse). Scary thought I know and a long way out most certainly, but inconceivable I doubt it!
Are there ways to reverse this inertia? Of course there are but it will require engineers of capitalism and society as a whole to embrace the “Scorched Earth” principal. We need look no further than the field of ecology for examples of how this principal has done wonders for certain ecosystems, most notably the native grasslands the US and Russia, the savannahs of South America and Africa, and the pinelands of the Southeastern US. It has been shown quite conclusively at this point that these systems require periodic fire and subsequently reset to a vigorous stages of early succession. However, fire can be grouped into 2 broad categories: i) infrequent, intense, and spatially expansive or ii) frequent, mild, and spatially discrete or patchy. The former tend to not only reset biological clocks but also hinder initial succession, while the latter simply tidy up the joint a little.
The economic analog would the S & P requiring category 2 and the DJIA category 1. Many will be hurt under either scenario, but the long-term health of our economy and more importantly (to some!) capitalism hinges on successful implementation of a Scorched Earth paradigm along with political discipline in the face of irrational rhetoric reflecting the irrational exuberance we all languished in during the good times. It seems at least qualitatively that macro-economic forces de facto subject the S & P to mild and infrequent resets, however, it also seems these same forces are determined to protect those in the DJIA from a category 1 type of disturbance. The results will be a complete divergence of the two indices and the apparent creation of 2 sets of rules. This type of contrived and against-the-grain muscling will blow up in the faces of all it’s proponents, including the politicians that champion(ed) it.
The globalisation of our economy is resulting in more nuanced and noisy data. Simply bailing out the To Big at the expense of the To Small will only exacerbate the problem. As it stands we are choosing cosmetic over structural/functional surgery. I for one would much rather look under the hood than take the word of the salesman wouldn’t you?