Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Relax... It’s Not Just Chaos...It’s Schumpeterian Dynamics

As I sat composing this post in my mind this morning over a cup of coffee, I was gratified to learn I am in good company. Before I could reduce my thoughts to writing, I heard both Alan Greenspan and Mario Gabelli refer to recent events in the US business world using Joseph Schumpeter’s famous phrase, “creative destruction.” I guess that puts me in good company regarding the framework with which I observe and interpret the current foment in US economic activity of many types these days.

This week, we see the markets digesting:
Delphi’s Chapter 11 filing
-GM’s fallout from the Delphi filing
-Fed rate increases affecting home building
-Energy prices affecting retail spending and inflation
-Conventional telephony providers being potentially upended within a few years by VOIP from cable providers using wifi distribution
-Cable providers being potentially upended within a few years by dsl-based video services from telephony providers
-Airlines continuing to struggle with mismatches of cost structures and customer demand
-Yahoo, Google, eBay, TimeWarner and Microsoft all reaching outside of their main lines of business to either form alliances or enter new business lines

Is this unbridled chaos we see in both the US equity markets and corporate operating environment? Yes, and that’s a good thing. This is what full-on Schumpterian dynamics, of which creative destruction is only an initial part, are about.

My own equity portfolio strategy is based in part upon Schumpeter’s theories. In particular, he expressed some valuable insights in several papers which he wrote during the 1920s. These views shaped much of my approach to large-cap equity portfolio selection and management. Creative destruction is actually a very small part of his overall theory, despite it being the best-known part.

First, this “gale of creative destruction,” to use Schumpeter’s own phrase, is a good thing for large-cap equity strategists like me. In change there is growth. The ‘90s, a period of sustained low inflation and favorable economic policies for change, and thus, growth, enabled my strategy to perform up to its potential, both absolutely and relative to the market index I watch, the S&P500. Rather than worry about ailing giants, my strategy’s focus is purely on sustained superior business performance. I have never been invested in GM or Delphi. Microsoft has been out of the portfolio for all of this decade. eBay is no longer in it, either.

Second, the existence of such strong gales of economic creative destruction mean, ironically, that focusing on each immediate event is a mistake. When there is great variability and foment on the economic landscape, that is precisely when it’s better to take longer-term positions, then batten down and ride out the daily storms. No doubt brokerage firms are making a bundle amidst the uncertainty over GM, the airlines, and energy prices. Meanwhile, my own portfolio has remained well-performing, without trading since mid-summer. An earlier post addressed the “addiction” to trading some managers and their customers have, and my thoughts about that addiction.

Seeing the looming demise of one or two airlines, an auto maker or two, and at least one of their parts suppliers, gives me hope for new business models. For growth to be sprouting in other areas which is currently overshadowed by all the hand-wringing over these antiquated companies and their now-outdated approaches to markets and suppliers.

What lessons may be gleaned from all this recent chaotic activity? First, you can’t control these events, so don’t worry about them. Second, look on the bright side- for every “problem,” someone sees an opportunity, and there’s a potential for investment in that opportunity. Don’t confuse the two, and focus on the second lesson.

No comments: