Aleks Svetski

Aleksandar Svetski: A world full of blind excess

2018 was a year of excess. In fact, there were many times when I thought the world had completely lost the plot. But there are important lessons amongst the wreckage. 

 

 

I started writing this article when that pretentious monkey Kylie Jenner was being hailed as the youngest female “self made” billionaire. I added some more when I saw the news article going viral about Trump being “late” to some meeting with the Queen. I’m going to finish it now, because…well…because this stuff just needs to be said, and as a friend of mine said, I’m clearly a professional “cloud yeller…”

 

Me…too often. (Image: The Simpsons)

 

In all seriousness though, this is an important article for everyone to read. There is a whole lot of craziness going on in the world, and most of it is well above the norm.

In the absence of real problems, we as a society have begun to collectively construct problems that are more abstract in nature, and begun to drive stupidities to new levels.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these sorts of excesses are occurring at the peak of a credit cycle, where the difference between “reality” and “fluff” are at their peak.

Note: the situation is further pronounced when both the short-term and long-term cycles peak, which is what’s happening now. For further info, read or watch some of Ray Dalio’s stuff.

 

Warnings…they’re useful

This article is going to be a two-part warning, because this kind of blind excess can only lead to one thing: a reversion to the mean.

And as with all reversions, the greater the over-shoot to one side, the more it over-shoots on its way back toward the mean.

Part one is a list of early signs of blind excess, of which surely there are countless more.

I’ve referenced as many of them as I could be bothered, the rest are either self-evident, or have come from my own personal observations.

My intent is not to dishearten people, nor to say that the world is coming to an end or that it’s all hopeless.

My intent here is to help shake the average reader from their hypnotic slumber and see beyond what they’ve been conditioned to of late; in other words, slap some sense into a few of you, who may in turn be able to slap some sense into a few more, in hope that we can collectively begin to come down from this high and begin to work on, and worry about, shit that’s actually meaningful.

 

Fifty signs

I’ll try to group these as coherently as possible, in categories such as:

  • Social/structural factors
  • Market/economic signals
  • Pointless professions
  • Political insanity/delusion

 

Pre-frame/disclaimer: I’m going to roast a whole lot of stuff. Try not to get too offended. These are gross generalisations and I am well aware of the fact that it’s not “everyone”. What I’m referencing is the norms they have slowly become. Here goes…

 

Social distortions

Well…if we’re going to start anywhere, let’s start here.

1. Everybody is an “influencer”

Being an “influencer” is now actually a profession. Whilst it makes sense from an “authority” standpoint, I question the idea that anybody with a camera and one tenth of a brain can somehow “influence” swathes of people. That generally points to the influenced having a fraction of the cognitive capacity of the chimps they follow.

2. The rise of pets

Pets have become a status symbol…instead of pets. I love animals, but the pet hotels, fashion brands, Instagram pages, have morphed this into a symbol of pointless excess.

3. “Luxury” pet foods

Obviously an extension of the above – but definitely a sign of how late-stage we are in the cycle.

There’s businesses making goat-milk lattes for dogs.

Pets.com for our generation…

4. Kylie Jenner being labelled a “self made” billionaire

Let’s put the “self made” part to the side for a moment… Kylie Jenner is almost worth a billion dollars?

Did I read that shit right?

I mean – I don’t want to sound like some socialist/communist hater here, but there is definitely something wrong with the world and our ability to allocate capital accordingly when brilliant entrepreneurs, teachers, engineers, artists and numerous others around the world earn less in a lifetime than what she takes in weekly.

I can understand Elon Musk or Bezos being worth multiple billions; these guys are catalysts for human progress and a better world.

Kylie did…well…

5. There’s a GoFundMe campaign for $100 million so she can reach $1 billion?!?!

To add insult to injury, there are people actually sending money to that campaign…

WTAF.

Not sure we can get more ridiculous than this, but let’s see…

6. Journalism much?

What happened to real, objective journalism? Bloggers are journalists and journalists are bloggers. Seriously. You can’t tell the difference anymore.

Blogging is fine (I do it), but the media has been overrun by opinionated peasants who can barely string a sentence together and who’ve never produced anything in their lives but a WordPress blog with a bunch of nonsense.

7. News? Nope…

Every time I look at the news section on my iPhone, the “trending stories” are rubbish celebrity/reality television-type publications telling me about The Bachelor, or another rant on Trump. It’s all crap. It’s no longer relevant or important and it’s no longer news.

8. Pointless publications

…such as Mama-Mia, have become mega-popular not because of the few good articles that might sometimes appear in there, but because of the avalanche of absolute crap they write about.

Instead of discussing the real issues we’re facing in today’s world, people are arguing about what dress some nut-job celeb is wearing at the Logie’s or Oscar’s.

9. The royal wedding

Harry and Meghan seem cool, and for once we have a real couple in that family, but give me a break – four out of six trending news articles are about what they’re wearing, or that their plane had to land earlier or later than planned. And people actually read that shit?

10. HayU

An on-demand reality television subscription service…actually exists.

But wait…there’s more…

11. The “flaunt your wealth” challenge

There is a social media thing going viral in China, with people (morons) pretending to fall out of their cars with luxury goods sprawled all over the floor.

This shit takes the cake.

I was in Melbourne the other week, walking past the Langham Hotel. They were actually taking one of these photos with some Asian lady rolling around on the floor. It took like 20 minutes. It was one of the most awkward, ridiculous, narcissistic and embarrassing things I’ve ever seen…

Looking back on all of this, I don’t know if the crown of dumb goes to the Asians falling out of their cars or to people sending money to Kylie Jenner’s GoFundMe campaign, but it’s going to be strangely satisfying watching these idiots lose a significant portion of that wealth to those with a brain during this next, long overdue economic and social downturn.

 

Markets and the economy

This is one of my favourite topics, and one that I believe is central to all of this.

One could argue, as I did earlier, that a lot of this PC and societal madness is a result of over-exacerbated credit cycles that create large distortions between reality and a fake “wealth effect”; it manifests itself as a shell of society; a veneer, without a depth or meaning..

Markets are an incredible example of how humans (or human psychology) exaggerate things, and a brilliant micro-representation of how the broader world actually works; the madness of crowds, the natural irregularity so beautifully represented by Benoit Mandelbrot’s fractal geometry.

So…what can we see/learn from this?

What are the signs of excess?

12. Venture capital has gone mad

Scooter companies are raising $80 million rounds.

Scooters. Seriously? Need I say more?

There is so much money chasing so few exceptional ideas that we’re now pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into scooter companies. If this isn’t our generation’s version of the dot com bubble, then I dunno what is.

13. Everyone is a “fund manager”

There are new “funds” popping up every day. People who’ve never been around markets, who have zero math background, zero macro understanding, zero concept of the complexities of crowds, risk, volatility and economics…they’re running “funds”.

90% of the returns are Ponzi-like paper gains.

I’ll let Chamath Palihapitiya do the talking on this one, because he’s one of the sharpest guys out there.


Caption: If you’re short on time, start from 25min in. No bullshit here.

14. Highs for high’s sake

The equities markets went parabolic, not because we’ve had some sort of unprecedented renaissance of production worldwide, but because of so much cheap, excess credit. Money’s had to flow somewhere, anywhere.

15. Cheap credit

Money has been so cheap for the last six to eight years that it’s being thrown at everything and anything in search for whatever return, carry or pointless bit of yield is available. It’s ridiculous.

16. No cheap assets

As Howard Marks would put it: “there is nothing cheap or fairly priced in any markets anymore.”

All rational valuation or interpretation has gone out the window and it’s been replaced with the greater-fool theory.

This can only go for so long – until the fools run out… or run out of money. And in this case, it’s likely to be both.

Thanks to Rory Highside for this one.

17. Shopify

Companies like Shopify have gone from $18 to $166 in less than three years (and people thought Bitcoin was a bubble) all because every Tom, Dick and Harry is selling clothing online and thinks they’re going to be the next Lorna Jane.

18. Collapsing AUD

The AUD is collapsing. It’s down more than 12% in the last few months. AUD is a “risk on” currency, and one that generally strengthens on increasing global growth.

If that’s not a clear divergence, I don’t know what is.

AUD/USD…daily…falling…adios…

19. Catch 22 for Australia and AUD

As global growth peaks, and the deep shit our “saviours” China are in starts to reveal itself more, we in Australia find our currency and economy in a Catch 22:

Hold rates steady (or lower) and watch our already-crumbling currency continue its downward spiral and cause our excessively high foreign debt (denominated in USD) to send us broke, or;
Raise rates and watch our property market, which makes up a significant portion of our fake-GDP, crumble and take the economy with it.

We pigged out, and now… uh-oh…

I’ll focus more on this stuff in the next article.

20. Debt to GDP

We’re back to record debt to GDP ratios. People can barely afford to service their debts, let alone eat, we’re all living off credit, wages aren’t rising because businesses can’t afford it and everyone’s wealth is tied up in the “phantom equity” they have in bubbles like stocks and property.

Goldfish syndrome is real…

21. US household debt is back up to record levels

Whilst there was a period of austerity post 2008, our monkey-brained memories are definitely short.

Mortgage debt, credit card debt, student loan debt and car loan debt are all, once again, at record levels…and growing.

22. Repackaged debt: from CDOs to CLOs

We’ve completely forgotten what got us into the 2008 financial crisis in the first place.

Last time, we had CDOs and CDSs. This was mainly housing and subprime debt packaged and repackaged into high yielding instruments and sold to investors everywhere.

This time around we have CLOs. Corporate bonds (debt) packaged and repackaged into high yielding instruments and sold to investors everywhere.

23. Corporate buy-backs

2008 was the result of the housing and retail credit binge, brought on by both the banks and stupid “property investors” that pigged out on cheap money (sense a theme here?).

This time around, it’s the corporates with access to cheap credit – and they really know how to spend it.

Instead of investing in the future and focusing on productivity, they’re just buying back their own stock – and with debt!

24. Financial engineering 2.0

At least one third of all corporate share buy-backs are funded with debt. Debt!

Issue a corporate bond, buy stock, push price up and thus convert equity into debt. Financial Engineering 2.0.

25. Rise of the ETFs

In the past, most corporate loans were made and held by banks, while corporate bonds were held by pension funds, insurance companies and mutual funds that held them to maturity, keeping bond prices stable.

Today, we have a new class of investment that allows the retail market to get involved with shit they don’t understand: bond ETFs!

A decade ago, about $15 billion worth of these ETFs were being traded. Today, that market has grown to $300 billion.

26. Buy Now, Pay Later schemes are buoying retail sales

AfterPay is a great example.

Their stock has gone parabolic in an environment of stagnating, to now declining retail sales.

People are running out buying shit they can’t afford, which just leads to a bubble of it’s own.

Facebook page “Afterpay Obsession” is a prime example of the kind of excesses I’m talking about.

26. Uber Pool

This is not a bad thing, it’s great for the environment, and it’s just a better use of resources – but after having spoken with a bunch of people in Sydney over the past few months, it’s the only way they can afford to still use Uber.

It’s just an interesting (anecdotal) sign…

 

Australian property

This topic really deserves an entire section of it’s own, but in the spirit of brevity, I’ll save it for the next article. The following are some interesting stats:

27. LVR

30% of current loans in Australia have a greater than 80% LVR – and that’s only what we know of.

28. The Big Four…

Royal commission aside, the mortgage portfolio between the Big Four banks in Australia is more than $1.5 trillion, and over a third of that is to investors!

29. Burwood

A forty-year-old, three-bedroom, ground-level apartment in $%&#hole Burwood (inner Sydney), where it takes you 45 minutes to drive 1.2km at 5pm on a Saturday, costs over $1.3 million.

30. Money for nothing, credit for free

In a 2018 survey, one in five Australian home-owners estimated their home had increased in value by up to $300,000 since purchase, 20% estimated growth of up to $700,000, while 6% placed their gains in the staggering $900,000-plus range.

A major proportion of Australia’s “millionaires” did nothing much else but buy a house. Intelligence much?

Dire Straits were onto something… a lot of people are gonna be in Dire Straits!

 

Pointless professions

This one is probably going to hurt/annoy a few people. Well…probably more than a few people. But who knows, instead of being a victim, some of you might choose to reflect on the statement’s inherent truths, and actually do something about it, to change it/make it better.

Ignorance is not bliss.

Real estate

31. Everyone in Australia is a “real estate agent”…

…and they think it’s actually a profession.

32. Earnings

Real estate agents are earning more than engineers and software developers.

33. 20-year-old “property investors”

Instead of the media featuring entrepreneurs creating value, increasing productivity and making an impact on the world, they feature 20-something year-old “property investors” who are levered up to the wazoo, one 25 basis point move away from going bankrupt.

34. “Developers”

The real estate agents who think they’re “really smart” are property developers. And those simpletons believe that the reason they’re making money is because they’re smart…and not because we’re at the peak of an economic credit cycle.

35. Property porn

Property porn “renovation” shows like The Block continue to run rampant.

Startups

35. Everyone is starting a “startup”

Like everybody. Why? I dunno. Maybe we need another scooter company, or an Uber for Pets…on the blockchain…

36. The lie of the entrepreneur

People think being an “entrepreneur” is sexy, that “anybody” can do it, and that everybody “should” do it. All three couldn’t be further from the truth.

37. The rise of co-working spaces

They’re popping up all over the place, and becoming the only viable way for a business to actually function. Umm… Hellooooo – does that not show that we have some fundamental flaws in the system here??

38. The fall of co-working spaces

These co-working spaces are all going broke. The bullshit startups they’re full of can’t pay the rent on a single desk, because the wantrepreneurs running them have some pie in the sky idea to make a billion dollars tomorrow, and are too busy being socialites on a Friday night or on Snapchat and Instagram trying to be influencers instead of actually doing some work.

39. Investors

Everyone’s an “investor” but they barely know the difference between a stock and a share. Whether it’s stocks, forex, CFDs, ETFs, real estate or crypto, we’re all now “experts” because we made money in a bull market.

The reality is the opposite. An economy where everyone’s wealth is made from “investing”, whilst there is no real productivity, is a recipe for disaster.

40. Professional stay-at-home “traders”

“I’m a trader” these days is generally code for “I’m unemployed and I taught myself to trade watching YouTube videos; I’ve made some money in a bull market, but funnily enough, I would’ve made more money just going long an index.”

This sort of excess is another sign of the peak of a credit cycle.

Most traders, real estate agents, personal trainers, property investors, wantreprenuers and recruiters are all the same. Lack of skill, looking for ways in which they can make a quick buck within an economic cycle they don’t understand.

And it’s those who conflate their “level of skill” with the reality, that will hurt the most when the credit cycle begins to deleverage.

41. The rise of crypto and crypto traders

I love Bitcoin. As an idea, as a concept, as a self-sovereign bearer asset, as a hedge against the madness of the excess I’ve described in this article and as a nascent asset class, representing sound money.

But I don’t think I’ve seen so many idiots rush to an industry…ever. We seem to have attracted a blend of (good):

• libertarians;
• brilliant engineers;
• visionary technologists;
• sound money economists,

and (bad):

• conspiracy theorists who are convinced the world is run by lizard people and Bilderbergs;
• overnight crypto experts;
• overnight “trading” and “technical analysis” experts;
• armchair/keyboard economists and fundamental analysts;
• blatant ICO scammers;
• dumbass ICO/token issuers who accidentally scammed everyone;
• get rich quick salespeople and marketers looking for a quick buck;
• Ponzi schemers, like USI Tech and Bitconneeeeeeeeeect;
• cultists.

I’m sorry, but despite all the promise, right now; the above is the reality.

 

42. “Coaches”

This has been going on for a while, and although it might have tapered off a little bit because people are numb to the sales tactics, it’s still an area full of charlatans, “life coaches”, get rich quick schemers and scammer people like Rossco Paddison.

I mean…Tai Lopez is still in business, and people are still buying his shit.

43. Cafes/bars

Everyone is opening up a “new cafe” because they think it’s cool. Little do they know that hospitality booms usually occur during the last part of a credit cycle, right before the bubble pops.

44. “Agencies”

There are agencies everywhere. There are even agencies that manage agencies. This one grinds me the wrong way, because it’s a little-to-no-skin-in-the-game industry, designed to sell you “likes”, “impressions” and other vanity metrics.

45. Services

What do running a cafe or agency, or being a recruiter, a real estate agent, broker or a personal trainer, all have in common?

Well, they’re all service-based. That doesn’t make for a very defensible position, nor does it make for a high barrier to entry.

Now…there isn’t anything inherently wrong with these professions, but because they add very little value to society, they won’t have a long shelf-life. They’re staring down the barrel of the largest credit crunch in history and, particularly with all but cafes, technological obsolescence.

I hope that wasn’t too harsh. Just to be clear on my intent:

This is definitely a jab to all the arrogant narcissists who tripped over and made a bunch of money by accident, and are now running around talking about how “smart” they are.

This is definitely not meant to be insulting to the many good people in those industries, who love what they do and do what they love, although I do hope it reminds them to think more deeply about what they’re involved in – and I wish them all the best on that journey…

 

Now…the last five…

Political madness, delusion and insanity

If the last part didn’t piss enough people off, this one is should take care of it.

Seriously though: why is politics such a heated subject?

I think it’s got something to do with the ever-increasing level of narcissism in today’s society. People have forgotten what being objective means. You can’t say shit without someone taking it personally!

It’s funny – as I write this, I’ve got my classics playlist on, and this is playing:

Everything is about “me too”

There is a new politically correct “movement” every week now. You can’t say shit without being labelled a misogynist, sexist, bigot, inconsiderate, racist, a terrorist, or a Trump supporter. People seriously need bigger shit to worry about.

Let’s have a look at some examples of rampant, over-reaching political correctness…gone mad:

46. Trump was apparently 12 minutes late to see the Queen

Why is this even news?

Ten years ago, we would’ve been like “screw the Queen, look at her sitting up on her high perch…she can wait.” Now, because it’s Trump, people lose their minds.

47. Feminists lost their minds about Jennifer Lawrence and the cold

Instead of commenting on her beautiful dress, a bunch of morons whose opinions don’t matter kicked up a storm on the Interwebs, effectively saying, “Look at Jennifer surrounded by her warmly-dressed male co-stars. This is so sexist!”

Seriously?

Get a life. Go do some real journalism, or go add some real value to the world.

Massive credit to Jen, who kicked back the next day with: “Get a grip people. Everything you see me wear is my choice. And if I want to be cold THAT’S MY CHOICE TOO!”

48. Pipe Bomb Guy

How about this one? Conspiracy theories aside, let’s just dissect the stupidity and incredibly blatant bias:

“Firstly, he’s a republican”.

…huh?

Like that has anything to do with the price of fish?!?!

I’m pretty sure Hitler was a Christian. I don’t see anyone writing an article up like that.

How about Stalin, or the rest of the socialist left? Do they not more closely resemble Democrats?

“Oh…but no…they’re not like them. They’re bad people, and so is Trump and therefore so are the republicans – and Trump or republican supporters.”

That’s so hypocritical.

This shallow, unintelligent, moronic and myopic line of thought is what produces literary shit-pieces of journalism like this article (and others…) and is just another clear sign that people have run out of anything meaningful to discuss or report on.

All the more reason that a reversion is becoming more imminent.

49. American Pie

This one takes it to a new level. People are now “offended” by movies. Oh you poor things. We should go and delete everything potentially offensive just so we can make you feel better…

50. “Baa Baa Sheep Sheep

And just when you think it couldn’t get any worse…

They changed the name of a nursery rhyme…a nursery rhyme!

https://www.facebook.com/iwakeupwithtoday/videos/1094251087420070/

Caption: What the actual fuck?

 

The world needs some real problems.

I hope it’s not WW3, because that’s probably a little high on the “brutality” scale, but we definitely need another GFC type economic collapse – one that will bring some humility back into the psyche of the people who live in excess.

In its current state, the world is in trouble.

It’s like everyone is high.

People are more worried about how many friends, likes and follows they have – and those who are influencers set out to artificially inflate those numbers for an extra dose of dopamine.

Australia is a basket case that produces nothing.

It’s an economy full of clip-the-ticket middle-men, selling houses, avocados and coffees to each other.

Silicon Valley’s gone insane, funding everything and anything, whilst all the smart people like Chamath and Thiel are moving away.


Also on The Big Smoke


Everyone else seems to be either totally offended by the world or completely numb to everything, and either blind or ignorant to the fact that the entire economic system is a house of cards.

If you want to get an idea of what’s actually going on, and you don’t want to read about economics or go too far down the rabbit hole, just go watch The Big Short.

Watch closely when the character Steve Carrel plays goes out to Florida, and speaks to the real estate agent, or the stripper who is a “property investor” with five properties. Or when they speak to those two morons who are selling subprime loans (reminds me of real estate agents in Australia).

It’s the same shit, just a different time.

Drives me a bit crazy and instead of focusing on building a company, or chilling out, I spend my weekends writing shit to slap some sense into people… Maybe I’m actually the dumbass…

Hmm…

 

Closing the rant

Whilst I know I may sound jaded, or like I have a bone to pick with the world (which I kind of do), and that I sound overly pessimistic and dismissive, I’m naturally an optimist…

I’ve been through my fair share of shit, lost everything and started again multiple times – but I think that that ability to start again and be resilient can only come from an innate optimism.

At the same time, some life experience and a keen study of history, humanity, psychology and the state of the stupidity of the world will just not allow me to view things through rose-coloured glasses any longer, like a Pollyanna.

Hence why I write…hopefully to provoke some deeper thought.

 

A couple of final thoughts

Irrationality can stay irrational for much longer than a rational person can stay sane, and that’s because, by definition, it’s irrational, but at some stage, the musical chairs we’re playing is going to need to stop.

The same thing happens every decade in the short term cycle, and six to ten decades in the longer term cycle. It has a lot to do with generational shifts, and new people coming up not being aware of what happened last time.

There isn’t much difference each time we repeat the cycle, apart from the absolute movement being so much larger, and the impact much broader.

Broader because as a society and as a species, we are far more interconnected and co-dependent than we’ve ever been. And we are most definitely far softer and more prone to being “offended” by everything.

Which makes me wonder…when it comes time to pay the piper (as it always does), how many people will be prepared, and how many will have no idea what hit them, and have to be broken down before they build themselves up again?

Maybe all this writing is pointless. Perhaps the only real cure to this problem of irrational exuberance, like Nassim would describe it, is to let the organism fail and make way for the new.

 


 

 

Aleks Svetski

Having been involved with financial markets since 2007, Aleksandar was first introduced to Bitcoin in 2012. Since that time he’s worked with cutting edge tech in machine learning, Ai, decentralised networks and public blockchains as either a founder, advisor, speaker, writer or researcher. Aleksandar is the founder of the Blockchain Training Institute, Chairman @ Fabric.ac, a user-owned KYC identity passport & financial data aggregation service, and CEO @ AMBER; Australia’s first digital currency exchange, wallet, and round up app in one - where users can get started in crypto with as little as 50c.

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