What connects New York, Athens and you?
In the fall of 2008, just as Lehman Brothers closed its doors, we hosted a gathering of our clients. I led off the meeting in my broken Chinese with the saying, “May you live in interesting times.” It seemed to me a perfect fit to the headlines of our era — then and now.The origins of the phrase itself are disputed, and it may or may not have been a Chinese proverb. But what is clear is that it was meant to be less of a blessing than a warning and curse that turmoil and chaos appear to rule the day.Why does it matter if we live in interesting times or not?Curse or blessing, these are very much our times, and how we decide to interpret, prepare for, and ultimately handle the bumpy road is what matters as citizens, investors and their advisers.During the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to witness firsthand the tensions of a country like Greece tearing itself apart due to a debt crisis and to see developments such as Occupy Wall Street reveal our nation’s own interesting and tumultuous times.The first thing one can’t help but notice is that so many young people are struggling to deal with the changing landscape of peril and opportunity. They are far removed from the entitled status of the baby boom generation.Has the stagnant economy and high unemployment rate created too many “idle hands”? I can’t help but be aware of the tablets, smartphones and social media connections that didn’t exist a decade ago. But these advances in technology have come with a price – the same technologies that give us our gizmos also create massive workplace productivity gains that lessen the need for actual people to do the work.’Great deleveraging’I was in Greece with my wife on a three-year delayed anniversary adventure, and the cradle of civilization was bursting at the seams. Though not easy to confess, I felt physically fearful in Athens, with a constant awareness of riots and massive civil unrest as Greece deals with the twin realities of severe austerity measures on the public sector and potential default on loan obligations.The decline was palatable. Just after we left, the Athens airport bank was robbed at gunpoint of more than a million euros. Hours later, striking workers shut the entire airport down.In New York, I was invited to two exceptional conferences and also took a long walk to visit with the Occupy Wall Street crowd at Zuccotti Park. The protesters were a very diverse, disenfranchised and disenchanted group and seemed to be without a focus except to change the national conversation. We need to hear their voice.Two themes I’ll share from the Financial Times gathering, entitled “The Future of America,” is that now, more than any time in history, markets are interconnected, and there is literally no place to hide from events in Greece, Italy, Libya, or even the U.S.We are in the midst of the “great deleveraging” from old methods and the abuse of credit by corporations, governments and individuals. It’s a new and untried economic experiment on a massive scale that is playing out in real time. The growth of anxiety and acrimony is as great as the wealth disparity in much of the developed and developing world.The second theme impacts investors and advisers alike. The combination of technology and complex mathematical algorithms has created enormous liquidity in the markets and volatility is the likely result. Markets are operating and functioning fundamentally differently due to the advent of high frequency trading, in which the holding period for a given security may only be a fraction of a second. Trading is now occurring quite literally at the speed of light.We are in for an uneven and very “interesting” ride in these “times.” What is needed more than ever is a Zen-like, patient plan to keep one’s head straight while, to borrow from Kipling, many around us are losing theirs.Tom Sedoric, managing director-investments of the Sedoric Group of Wells Fargo Advisors in Portsmouth, can be reached at 603-430-8000 or thesedoricgroup.com.