2011 economy and investment outlook – its OK but don’t sell your gold just yet.

Good take on the economic outlook for 2011 from the good folks at Kleinwort Benson. The best news for me in this is that there isn’t much talk of economaggeddon that featured so prominently in the analyses that were coming out of banks 12 months ago. (This might just mean that they have missed it).


  • A year quite similar to 2010;  investors make money in range-bound trading markets, the unemployed don’t find jobs, credit crises fill the news media
  • Continued economic recovery in the West, but steady rather than sharp. Emerging market growth remains strong but may disappoint in 2011.
  • Equity markets continue to grind higher over the year, but not in a nice straight line
  • After the recent sell-off, government bonds should also offer positive returns in 2010
  • Alternative assets offer interesting diversification opportunities
  • Gold remains an important insurance policy for very substantial risks that could hit markets
  • Western governments and banks need to issue about $5 trillion of gross new debt in 2011. If buyers do not appear for this debt, expect to see more credit crises.


  • We remain in a phase of balance-sheet deleveraging in the West – this means the recovery is slow and steady rather than sharp. Growth expectations of 3% in the US and 2% in the UK have been improving recently but  are not sufficient to make much impact on unemployment.
  • Until unemployment is clearly falling, it will be difficult for Western Central Banks to begin to increase interest rates. If anything the Federal Reserve may seek to ease more.
  • Inflation is too high for those who focus on commodity prices , or dangerously low for those (like Central Banks) who focus on the underlying or the core rate of inflation.
  • In the short  term , emerging markets are suffering overheating pressures and the authorities are seeking to dampen the inflationary pressures (but do not wish to do this by letting their currencies rise). The risks here are that forecasts for emerging market growth in 2011 are too high.


We expect higher equity markets over the year due to:

  • continued margin growth on top of the economic growth should deliver healthy earnings–per-share growth.
  • This earnings growth is delivering substantial free cash flow for companies, and their balance sheets are in rude health. This opens up the possibilities of better than expected dividend growth, share buybacks and cash-based merger and acquisition activity, all of which should be positive for markets.
  • Earnings and cash flow based measures of valuation are below the historical averages, giving valuation support to markets.

Within equity markets , we prefer US smaller companies, reflecting the fact that the US economy continues to receive the greatest policy support, the UK market reflecting its exposure to commodities, its openness to international takeovers and companies that are culturally most likely to increase dividends.


  • The recent heavy sell-off in government bonds has brought the prices of government bonds back to fairer levels and the expectation of positive returns for the year.
  • We are most positive on government bonds from emerging markets, given their high yields, lower debt levels and better economic prospects. They are also denominated in the their own currencies which we expect to rise over the long term.


  • UK Commercial Real Estate has a place in income-seeking portfolios, although capital growth prospects are pretty muted. We would stick with high-quality tenants however.
  • Commodity prices are a key pressure point for the world economy and are closely correlated to emerging market growth. However if prices rise too fast it will impact economic growth rates
  • Market conditions are coming back in favour of hedge funds, as the world outlook gets more complicated than the “risk-on, risk-off” environment that was seen from summer ’08 to summer ’10.
  • Private Equity is still adjusting to a changed environment where banks will not lend at previous multiples or previous interest rates. Returns going forward will only be made by those who can operationally engineer  their investments rather than financially engineer them.


  • The “cheap” major currencies are the dollar and the pound, and their immediate growth outlooks appear relatively healthy. We expect them to perform better than the yen and the euro in 2011.


  • We continue to advise holding gold in portfolios as an insurance policy against the very substantial risks that exist today in the financial system.
  • Western governments and their banking systems will need to issue over $5 trillion in gross debt in 2011, this is $20 billion every trading day. Issuers that fail to find buyers for their debt may quickly find themselves in a “credit crisis”.
  • The biggest risk remains the debt situation in the government and banking systems in the eurozone. EU leaders need to agree a fundamental change in the economic governance of Europe, which will mean Germany paying substantial amounts of money to poorer nations and those nations being told by Germany how to run their economies and how much money their governments can spend. If not the markets will force a crisis and the eurozone is likely to lose members. This would trigger another banking crisis in Europe.
  • Inflationary pressures in emerging markets. Governments in emerging markets are very sensitive to rising food prices, and are likely to take strong action to avoid popular unrest.
  • Protectionism in the US. One of the few things that Republicans and Democrats might be able to agree on is the idea of taxing foreign companies who are subsidised by exchange rate manipulation. It is easily presented as protecting domestic jobs, but is the sort of policy action  that made the 1930s such a miserable economic period.
  • 2 responses to “2011 economy and investment outlook – its OK but don’t sell your gold just yet.”

    1. Jens says:

      I find this advice funny: “We continue to advise holding gold in portfolios as an insurance policy against the very substantial risks that exist today in the financial system.”

      Let’s look back to the 2008/2009 crash and what happened to gold. It dropped from c. $1,000 to some $725 or thereabouts. That is an over 27% drop. Since then the price has almost doubled to 1,400.

      Why is that? Well, when the world goes down the tube, many people are forced to liquidate their assets to get cash to pay their obligations. Last time, this involved MANY ASSETS. Yes, even gold. And silver. And oil. And stocks. Quite a lot of things really. When that happens, being in gold doesn’t help you.

      What possibly helps in that situation is being short. Or being in cash. Or both. But I guess “We just went short with half your portfolio and hold the other half in a mix of Swiss Francs, US DOllars, and Euros, because the world is going up in flames” doesn’t sound quite so solid as: “We have you in gold, because that is always a solid bet in times of uncertainty.”.

      Reminds me of the Charlie Munger fish tackle quote:

      “I think the reason why we got into such idiocy in investment management is best illustrated by a story that I tell about the guy who sold fishing tackle. I asked him, “My God, they’re purple and green. Do fish really take these lures?” And he said, “Mister, I don’t sell to fish.”


    2. Love it. I also find it curious that people are so down on bubbles. People can make good money in bubbles, you just need to get out at the right time.

      George Soros calls gold a bubble whilst ramping up his exposure to it. Nice summary of recent history from Forbes here: http://blogs.forbes.com/greatspeculations/2010/12/28/the-alchemy-of-gold/

      It will work out great for the people who are clever enough, or lucky enough, to time it right. The ones that were lucky enough will probably think in retrospect that they were clever enough and then mistime their investment in the next bubble. And so it goes.