Economic Theory, via YouTube and Cartoon; Ray Dalio, the founder of the largest hedge fund, offers a 30-minute lecture in how the economy works. No tuition necessary, just a connection to YouTube

OCTOBER 21, 2013, 8:53 PM

Economic Theory, via YouTube and Cartoon

By ANDREW ROSS SORKIN

Forget Econ 101. Take a look at the lessons in Dalio 101. Ray Dalio, the 64-year-old founder of Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world with some $150 billion under management, has quietly begun teaching his investment secrets on YouTube. Mr. Dalio, who is said to be worth some $13 billion, was one of the few investors to see the financial crisis of 2008 developing, and perhaps just as important, the rebound. He’s made his money by predicting big macroeconomic cycles. His economic theories, up until now, have been known only to a small group of investors and those willing to pay his firm 2 percent management fees and 20 percent of the investment profits.

Mr. Dalio’s plain-spoken 30-minute video is an oddly entertaining animated cartoon filled with provocative theories about the way the economy runs. He dispenses with the way economists have long taught economics in school, and instead explains the economy as if it were a “machine” that he believes is much easier to understand and predict.

The average Main Street investor has probably never heard of him. It also may seem counterintuitive that a money manager who sells his clients on his foresight would want to preach to the masses. But he told me that he decided to make the video to demystify economic cycles because he believes most investors, regulators and politicians are focused on the wrong issues.

“While I kept it confidential until recently, I now want to share it because I believe that it could be very helpful in reducing big economic blunders, if it was more broadly understood,” he wrote in an e-mail. He explained that, “I believe that most influential decision makers and most people cause a lot of needless economic suffering because they are missing the fundamentals.”

Mr. Dalio says he believes that the traditional approach to economics is too academic and impractical. It is one of the reasons he, and others, believe that the Federal Reserve and many other institutions missed the signs of the financial crisis.

Just as there is monetarism and Keynesianism, Mr. Dalio’s approach may be a more practical way to think about the economic cause-and-effect relationships. There are refreshingly basic explanations for neophytes in his video, titled “How the Economic Machine Works,” that even the most sophisticated investors will appreciate.

“Think of borrowing as simply a way of pulling spending forward,” he says, explaining that to buy something you can’t afford today, “you essentially need to borrow from your future self. In doing so you create a time in the future that you need to spend less than you make in order to pay it back.”

This is how he explains austerity: “When borrowers stop taking on new debts, and start paying down old debts, you might expect the debt burden to decrease. But the opposite happens. Because spending is cut — and one man’s spending is another man’s income — it causes incomes to fall.”

Mr. Dalio’s effort is attracting attention with both students of economics and the financial cognoscenti. Already, more than 300,000 people have viewed the video since it went up last month. Henry M. Paulson Jr., the former Treasury secretary, has been sending the link to friends.

Paul A. Volcker, the former Fed chairman, a fan of the cartoon, described it as “unconventional but it casts strong light on how the economy actually works, with its history of repetitive and ultimately destructive excesses in credit creation. The analysis points the way to practical ways central banks and governments can ease the pain of defaults and deleveraging.”

Mr. Dalio has been compared to George Soros and has become something of a philosopher king in recent years — though it is worth noting that his firm’s returns in the last year have been a bit lackluster.

Mr. Dalio has always believed he can see more clearly than others. His approach to running his firm, for example, is based on 210 rules he devised in a handbook for his firm, called Principles. (Among them: “Ask yourself whether you have earned the right to have an opinion.”) As a result of his unconventional management style, his firm has been likened to a cult, a description that irks him because he believes it undervalues the success of the approach.

Unlike traditional economists — Mr. Dalio isn’t one — he does not focus on the much-watched statistics that most economists depend on. He also doesn’t focus on basic theories like supply and demand nor does he believe that monetary policy makers can control inflation simply by controlling the money supply. He derides the MV=PQ formula that is a central principle of economics. (A quick economics lesson, by way of TheStreet.com: “M is the money supply; V is velocity — the number of times per year the average dollar is spent; P is prices of goods and services; and Q is quantity of goods and services. The equation suggests that if V is constant and M is increasing, there must be an increase in either Q or P.”)

That theory, developed by the esteemed Milton Friedman, leads to the wrong conclusions, he says.

Mr. Dalio said in an e-mail that his template indicates the formula “is misleading because there really isn’t much ‘velocity’ of money happening as most of what we call velocity is credit growth, which is very different and has different reasons for happening. Velocity is made out to be some vague force that drives the rate that money goes around, and it’s not that at all. I believe that we should agree that spending comes from either money (with a bit of velocity) or credit and we should understand how each is made up and spent to make nominal G.D.P. (gross domestic product).”

If that sounds a bit confusing, that’s because it is. But his video is more straightforward.

For example, he says that there are only two types of economic cycles, but investors always seem to miss them. “One takes about 5 to 10 years and the other takes about 75 to 100 years. While most people feel the swings, they typically don’t see them as cycles because they see them too up close — day by day, week by week,” he says in his video.

So where are we now in the economic cycle? He doesn’t exactly say. But based on his theories, we are probably in the back half of a long deleveraging, which Mr. Dalio says he doesn’t believe has to be a bad thing.

“The key is to avoid printing too much money and causing unacceptably high inflation, the way Germany did during its deleveraging in the 1920s,” he says. “If policy makers achieve the right balance, a deleveraging isn’t so dramatic. Growth is slow but debt burdens go down. That’s a beautiful deleveraging,” he continues. “It takes roughly a decade or more for debt burdens to fall and economic activity to get back to normal — hence the term ‘lost decade.’ ”

So if you studied his lesson, you can estimate that it will be 2018, or at least 10 years after the crisis, before you can begin to proclaim all clear.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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