July 21, 2024
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Dubroff: Dearth of acronyms underscores major shift for markets


You can tell the global markets are going through uncertain times because we are in the middle of a serious acronym drought.

These days the BRICS are busted, the FANGS are fangless and “Chimerica,” the word once used to describe a world dominated by two economic giants, has lost its magic amid trade war tensions.

It’s never easy to predict the stock market, and people who tell you they can are almost certain to be wrong. Earlier this month, two of the world’s best investors, Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett, conceded they badly missed the rise of tech giants over the past decade or so.

But since the 1960s, one clear trend has been for some clever wag to stumble on a simple phrase or verbal construct to describe what’s going on. It started with the so-called “nifty fifty” of growth stocks like IBM that described the dawn of the technology-industrial age that America dominated for half a century.

The early 2000s saw the rise of the BRIC with Brazil, Russia, India and China hailed as the new superstars. Brazil has fallen on hard times; Russia’s economy has never matched its potential; India’s rise has been slower than expected; and China has outperformed them all.

As the world entered the Great Recession, a now-forgotten historian named Niall Ferguson popularized the idea of Chimerica as a U.S.-China axis that would reshape the global economy. With the trade relationship unraveling tweet by tweet and tariff by tariff, at least this week, Chimerica looks more like a chimera.

Likewise, the FANG era — shorthand for Facebook, Amazon or Apple, Netflix and Google — seems to be also coming to an end. Netflix has never made money, and now it faces a new rival in Disney. Facebook is facing penalties and calls to break it up. Google has changed its name to Alphabet, and Apple’s innovative culture is being called into question.

Closer to the Tri-Counties, the term I coined last year to describe our emerging tech hub needs a serious rethink. One of my “iMAAST stocks, Mindbody, our lone entrant from San Luis Obispo County, has gone private. Two Santa Barbara companies, Inogen and Sonos, have been grappling with big changes in their markets that have severely impacted their stock price. Even for the Central Coast, it’s time for an acronym overhaul.

Judging the state of the markets by the catch phrase of the day might sound a bit superficial but there’s some serious intent here. For one thing, the fall of Chimerica means that some of the economic synergies that came about when China joined the World Trade Organization in the 1990s are really coming apart.

The once-friendly ties between the U.S. and China are being replaced, in part, by the geopolitical wrangling between leaders.

President Donald Trump has placed America First above global alliances and even wants the Federal Reserve to adjust its policies to respond to a nascent trade war. Premier Xi Jinping is the first Chinese leader since Chairman Mao to hold a potential lifetime appointment and he’s got a much tighter grip on the media and dissent — even within the Communist Party — than his predecessors.

Will Chimerica be repaired by a Xi-Trump alliance? How will the trade disputes play for Trump, who faces election in 18 months? And for Xi, who could face a day of political reckoning, if his plans for global economic dominance devolve into a recession in Beijing?

Meanwhile, geopolitics has trumped economics in the Middle East, where Saudi Arabia and Iran are maneuvering for power amid an increased military buildup in the Persian Gulf.

Perhaps the bottom line is that while we all were looking for the next acronym to steer the markets, global leaders were becoming a bit more willing to take risks. Given the return of volatility, the markets seem to have taken note.

• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at hdubroff@pacbiztimes.com.