2013 saw the passing of many beloved celebrities, but one who perhaps seemed to receive less attention than merited was Sir David Paradine Frost, who died of a heart attack, aged 74, whilst aboard the MS Queen Elizabeth, where he had been due to give a speech the following day.
Those aboard the ship were deprived of a chance to hear the words of a journalist and broadcaster without peer in the modern world, whilst the rest of us woke to find ourselves being reminded of the high points of his remarkable life, particularly his famous interviews with Richard Nixon, which were immortalized a few short years ago in the stage play and subsequent movie Frost/Nixon.
But Frost's star was set on its upward trajectory via a completely different type of vehicle when, after graduating from Cambridge University in 1962, he was selected to present a new weekly satirical review devised, produced, and directed by Ned Sherrin and entitled That Was The Week That Was or, as it became colloquially known, TW3.
The writing staff of TW3 was a who's who of British comedy (John Cleese, Peter Cook, Eric Sykes, and Ronnie Barker were all amongst the contributors) but also included literary greats such as Dennis Potter, Roald Dahl, and Sir John Betjemin; and some of its sketches became the stuff of British comedy folklore.
Wikipedia describes TW3 thus:
(Wikipedia): The programme is considered a significant element of the satire boom in the United Kingdom in the early 1960s. It broke ground in comedy through lampooning the establishment and political figures.
You can probably figure out why I'm a fan. TW3 liked to point out the absurdities of the political system and take pot-shots at political figures. If only they'd had some kind of financial crisis in the 1960s, the symmetry would have been perfect … but no. Instead, after a tumultuous four years between 1957 and 1961, the US, though saddled with high unemployment and huge excess capacity, embarked upon a mid-decade boom, which — hard though it is to believe — was actually helped by constructive government policy in the form of the Kennedy-Johnson tax cuts.
Of course, there was the little matter of a
war police action in Vietnam which led to a sudden 3.5% surge in the PPI in 1965, but let's not let anybody get any ideas as to how combat might be used to create a little desired (but controllable) inflation, shall we?
Let's change the subject.
The end of the year is inevitably a time when even the most hard-bitten amongst us wax nostalgic and reflective, looking back on the previous 12 months as though the arbitrary break in the calendar should have some meaningful effect on fortune or fate. Of course, it doesn't, except for the fact that enough people tend to subscribe to that line of reasoning that it feels as though it actually matters.
Human beings change their behaviour around the end of one year and the beginning of the next because over time they've been conditioned to believe that changes are justified. The appropriation of that mindset by various groups over the course of the past twelve months has been, for me, perhaps the most noticeable evolution in 2013.
The title of this week's Things That Make You Go Hmmm… says it all:
"That Was The Weak That Worked"
Throughout 2013, the distortions created by intervention in once-free markets have left many (myself included) scratching their heads. The interventions have worked — almost faultlessly — but for them to do so has required the suspension of one belief system (economic reality) and the adoption of another — namely, that everything will be OK because … well, just because.
Can the fantasy persist into 2014? Yes. It most certainly can.
Will it continue into 2014? Most likely.
Will this new belief system become the new economic reality? Not a chance.
So we're going to end 2013 by taking a three-part look at "The Weak That Worked" to try to get a sense of what could take place in 2014 if it happens to be the year that economic reality finally reasserts itself.
This week in Part I, I will focus largely on equities, and next week we'll take a look at the bond and housing markets before heading to Europe and beyond.
So let's get cracking, shall we?
2013 was another year brought to you by the letters Q and E.
Quantitative easing spanned the entirety of 2013 and, as was no doubt intended, the market, the public at large, and most certainly just about every single inhabitant of Capitol Hill became so inured to the creation of $85 billion each and every month that the enormity of that policy dissolved from the collective consciousness like early morning mist.
But amidst all the commentary and the debate surrounding QE, most people lost sight of what it actually is — even when we received the much-anticipated news in December that there would, in fact, be a Taper after all.
Before we get to the Taper that happened, though, it's important to revisit the one that didn't.
On May 22nd, 2013, Ben Bernanke, in a question and answer session, said the following:
We're trying to make an assessment of whether or not we have seen real and sustainable progress in the labor market outlook. If we see continued improvement and we have confidence that that is going to be sustained, then we could in — in the next few meetings — we could take a step down in our pace of purchases.
The consequences of that statement — and in particular, the last 20 words — reverberated around the financial world and wrought havoc in all sorts of weird and wonderful places.
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