Nouriel Roubini: The Mother and Father of All Bubbles

Nouriel Roubini is just not identified for his optimism. A perennial permabear who bears the moniker Dr. Doom, Roubini is never sanguine. That stated, he appropriately referred to as the housing bubble within the lead-up to the worldwide monetary disaster, and his evaluation, whereas not often bullish, has proven outstanding accuracy through the years.

So when Roubini talks, it’s nicely price a pay attention. With that in thoughts, we spoke with him to get his tackle numerous market phenomena, together with the crypto craze, the present state of financial coverage and international progress, and extra.

Under is a flippantly condensed and edited transcript of our dialogue.

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CFA Institute: Dr. Roubini, when you spoke with us in 2015, roughly six years after the monetary disaster, the main focus was unconventional financial coverage and the way it had but to ship a sturdy international restoration. How have your views developed since then?

Nouriel Roubini: Since 2015, the worldwide economic system has gone by way of intervals of growth the place progress is optimistic and accelerating and intervals of a slowdown the place progress is decelerating. There have been two danger episodes. One was August–September 2015, after which the opposite one was January and February 2016. In each episodes, there have been worries about China, and within the second episode, there have been additionally worries about US progress stalling, signaling a slowdown in Europe, Brexit worries, and oil costs falling.

And in every a kind of two episodes, there was a short-lived but fairly important international fairness market correction related to a slowdown. Then we’re in an growth, then a slowdown once more within the first half of 2016, after which [more of a slowdown] beginning in the course of 2016 with a few of the clouds and worries in regards to the US, China, oil, unhealthy coverage, impacts of Brexit. As soon as these clouds had been eliminated, for a yr and a half or two, the worldwide economic system was rising in an growth.

The yr 2017 was actually one in every of international growth when there was a synchronized acceleration of progress within the US, Europe, Japan, most rising markets. However then final yr, that growth turned much less synchronized. The US and China had been nonetheless rising comparatively robustly, however Europe and the eurozone, Japan, a bunch of rising markets, had been fragile.

This recap brings us as much as 2019, which remains to be more likely to be a yr of optimistic progress, however I might name it a synchronized slowdown. Most main areas of the world at the moment are slowing down. A few of them simply in direction of potential, however a lot of them, just like the eurozone, may very well begin sputtering in direction of one thing weaker than their stage of potential financial progress.

So the excellent news may be that we don’t have a worldwide recession, however since 2015 possibly we’ve had solely a interval of 18 to most 24 months of a real international growth, from the center of 2016 to the center or first half of 2018. And since then, it has been intervals of mediocre progress, or slowdown. And now we’re in this type of late stage of the worldwide cycle.

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CFA institute was one of many founders of the Systemic Risk Council shortly after the worldwide monetary disaster. Since then, some systemic protections had been put in place, however others have been walked again. What’s your take?

Let’s start by acknowledging that for the reason that international monetary disaster, a few of the dangers that had been in conventional monetary establishments like banks have been decreased. There’s general extra liquidity, extra capital, much less leverage. Conventional financial institution depositors are safer now after reforms had been applied to restrict the risk-taking habits of the regulated monetary establishments. However two issues have occurred that could be a component of concern over time.

One, as you identified, the regulatory pendulum is swinging again to say we over-regulated after the worldwide monetary disaster and now we should always cut back a few of these rules. That course of is ongoing in the US with the Trump administration. There have been phases within the Dodd–Frank laws and regulation that counsel giving extra leeway, even to regulated monetary establishments, to take extra danger.

And two, the final disaster was an issue of extreme leverage within the family sector, subprime and different mortgages. And banks this time round, they’re starting to see some excesses within the company sector. . . . And a few of the dangers have moved away from more-regulated banks to less-regulated or unregulated monetary establishments — so-called shadow banks.

My concern is that now the pendulum could also be going too far within the course of sunshine regulation and relying excessively on market self-discipline. Over time, if and when there’s a turnaround in some unspecified time in the future in that credit score cycle, credit score excesses might put a variety of economic establishments in danger.

The place particularly do you see credit score increase dangerously?

Properly, extreme debt definitely is current within the company sector. These excesses manifest themselves in three alternative ways. The rise of leveraged loans, and covenant lite, is one such space of potential danger.

The second space is that the numerous buildup of high-yield junk bonds and the pricing of these junk bonds when it comes to unfold is possibly too low in contrast with their potential riskiness.

And three, even in funding grade, now there may be this phenomenon of . . . fallen angels: companies that was excessive grade, however have had a deterioration of their monetary situation and their score is falling towards the decrease finish of that high-yield borderline, with the danger of downgrade to even beneath funding grade to high-yield junk. And the pricing, once more, is just not mirrored in the truth that beforehand high-grade companies should not taking a look at excessive grade.

Now, the optimists say that debt metrics for the company sector are wholesome. Debt-servicing ratios are low as a result of each brief and lengthy charges have gone up, however solely progressively. And other people say the profitability of the company sector remains to be excessive and progress remains to be, for the US, one way or the other above potential. GDP progress is 2% to 2.5% relying on how you are expecting it. So so long as the economic system continues to develop and income are first rate, the debt-servicing issues should not going to be extreme.

This optimism could also be justified proper now, however what if there are some shocks? A slowdown of progress, say, or a slowdown of profitability, or a widening of credit score spreads? For instance, spreads widening can take markets abruptly prefer it did to start with of 2016, when high-yield spreads went from 300 to 900 in a matter of months, or what occurred with the leverage loans within the fourth quarter of 2018. Then immediately one thing that regarded sustainable underneath one set of economic financial situations turns into much less sustainable.

We aren’t but within the final inning of that credit score re-leveraging within the company sector, however it’s the starting of a major buildup of vulnerability. Ought to an financial slowdown happen, it will harm the company debt house rather a lot. For my part, we’re beginning to enter a extra harmful zone right here.

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Talking of potential vulnerabilities, are you involved about growing indexation within the markets? Do you see any systemic implications arising out of such funding approaches?

Index-driven investments displacing lively administration is, in my opinion, optimistic. It has been extensively documented that more often than not, lively managers underperform on a long-term foundation web of charges. Personally, I’ve most of my investments in these index funds which might be very low value — weighted common price of 0.10% per yr. So why ought to I pay 1% to 1.5% or 2% plus 20 for stuff that really doesn’t give me over time any actual final result? Many of those investments are primarily leverage beta. That’s the reason many small buyers and even subtle ones are going on this course.

Moreover, even when there was an financial downturn that results in harmful important correction, I don’t know whether or not passive buyers will probably be extra impulsive than lively buyers in attempting to promote out of their positions. You can even argue that a few of the passive buyers might have extra inertia. Passive buyers have a tendency to not time the market and, I might say, are much less more likely to exacerbate the market cycles.

Some are involved by the worth discovery danger posed by the proliferation of passive investments. My reply is, there’s a number of passive funding, however there are sufficient lively managers, lively analysts, and different activists. These have a transparent motivation, so I don’t but see this development in direction of passive funding as both having an actual systemic danger or one thing that impacts value discovery an excessive amount of.

Now, within the credit score house there’s a phenomenon that has been identified by the IMF [International Monetary Fund], BIS [Bank for International Settlements], and others that claims we’ve had huge debt issuance, each non-public and public sector. These devices don’t are usually traded on exchanges. They are usually illiquid and over-the-counter, and so the final three years, there was a progress of specialist credit-focused funders focusing on direct lending.

Ought to there be a menace within the credit score market, then immediately, say, high-yield or leverage loans unfold widened, if many individuals had been to dump this credit score fund, then you would have the equal of a financial institution run. Which means immediately there are companies that should promote these belongings in an illiquid market, additional miserable the worth of underlying securities. That results in additional credit score unfold widening and might trigger systemic injury if a bunch of them going stomach up.

One other concern is that the underlying is extremely illiquid, however passive funds sometimes provide their buyers quick liquidity so you’ll be able to promote out of your place as if it was a checking account. It’s extra just like the repetition of one thing that appears just like the maturity mismatch of conventional banks. In order that’s an space that, when it comes to systemic danger mixed with the mis-pricing of a few of these credit score devices, could possibly be a supply of stress if and when the credit score cycle turns round.

Are there segments of the market that convey out your inside Dr. Doom? Are there any self-evident market assumptions on the market which might be illusory?

Properly, I all the time attempt to be a realist. I’m neither unfavourable, pessimist, nor optimist. I apply a fairly subtle evaluation to what’s happening on the planet and the market, then attempt to get it proper. And, in fact, no person goes get it proper on a regular basis.

Are we near a recession now? There’s a number of concern on the market now, 10 years after the disaster, that the standard US cycle doesn’t final for many years. My reply to that’s, expansions don’t die a pure loss of life. Australia could also be an exception with optimistic progress now for 25 years. Normally, expansions finish due to financial or monetary vulnerabilities exacerbated by a wide range of coverage errors. We’re most likely not going to have a worldwide recession this yr, however there’s a buildup of extreme debt within the US.

And it’s not simply company within the US. There’s additionally a buildup of family debt, together with scholar loans and auto loans. And even housing is exhibiting some weak point given the rise in mortgage charges and modifications in tax legal guidelines that make housing funding much less helpful.

After which there may be additionally buildup of debt the world over. For instance, I’m maintaining a tally of Chinese language non-public debt, actual property lending, in addition to state and native authorities. Some rising markets are extremely leveraged, both within the non-public and/or public sector, and in Europe we nonetheless have some nations the place public debt, if there was one other financial downturn, could possibly be a supply of serious stress. And the primary nation that involves thoughts is Italy. Its authorities is pursuing populist insurance policies that may finally result in recession. The debt dynamic might change into unsustainable as nicely.

Globally, there may be an excessive amount of non-public and public debt, each overseas and home. We’re fortunate that though the leverage is excessive, the debt-servicing ratios seem manageable because of low rates of interest. Nonetheless, the method of coverage normalization has began and rates of interest might progressively go greater. And even when some authorities bond yield choices stay low, the credit score unfold for private and non-private belongings can begin widening. This will happen immediately if the market will get nervous about financial fundamentals or geopolitical dangers. So slowly, slowly we could also be increase the seeds of the following financial downturn. Selecting the precise time when the disaster will hit is sort of unimaginable, however we don’t dwell in a protected world. We’ve kicked the can down the street in some ways.

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One might argue central bankers kicked the proverbial can down the street prior to now decade. What coverage recommendation would you give them?

Straight after the disaster, I used to be sympathetic and in favor of Ben Bernanke’s stance on market insurance policies, as a result of with out these, the disaster of 2008–09 might have developed into Nice Melancholy 2.0. Do not forget that within the absence of financial or fiscal stimulus, the inventory market crash of 1929 led to the Nice Melancholy when hundreds of banks had been allowed to fail. Bernanke and his fellow central bankers learned this lesson, and I think their actions, including huge unconventional monetary stimulus, when policy rates went to zero, was necessary. Fiscal stimulus was essential as was the coverage of supporting illiquid however solvent monetary establishments.

Nonetheless, now we’re coping with the legacy of those actions, just like the buildup of personal and public debt we spoke about earlier. Though low inflation charges might enable the method of coverage price normalization to be very gradual, the sheer quantity of debt makes the worldwide economic system weak to a extreme disaster.

In abstract, central banks haven’t used the years of the restoration too successfully. Because the saying goes, “The very best time to repair the roof on the home is when the solar shines,” in order that it is going to be protected when the following storm hits. Vulnerabilities within the system are at present hidden and can emerge if and when the following financial downturn happens.

Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies grew out of mistrust for central bankers. You lately expressed sturdy views on this topic.

Properly, I’m an skilled of asset bubbles and of economic disaster. I’ve studied so many historic bubbles. I wrote an entire ebook, Crisis Economics, on bubbles and their busts. I do know one after I see one. And, in fact, figuring out when there’s a actual bubble — it’s an extended and sophisticated story. However to me, the entire crypto house is one in every of belongings that aren’t actually cash. They’re not likely a forex. They’re not a scalable technique of fee. They’re not as secure when it comes to retailer of worth.

And what occurred, particularly in 2017 when the worth of bitcoin went from $2,000 all the way in which to $20,000 by the top of the yr, to me had all of the options of a bubble. Particularly telling was that by the second half of 2017, there have been tens of millions of people that didn’t know something about finance or portfolio investments, pushed by FOMO or the worry of lacking out, shopping for bitcoin and all these different s**tcoins.

To me, it regarded like an exponential, parabolic bubble. That’s why I turned very vocal in direction of the top of 2017. And guess what? That bubble began to burst as a result of there was no actual basic worth on these belongings. Then even bitcoin, for the reason that peak, has misplaced virtually 85% of its worth. And that’s the very best one as a result of hundreds of those s**tcoins had been created as scams and have misplaced virtually all of their worth. The highest 10 cryptocurrencies, excluding bitcoin, the typical lack of worth for the reason that peak has been between 92% and 93%.

This was to me the mom and the daddy of all bubbles. And like each bubble, it went uncontrolled after which went bust, and I used to be assured sufficient I used to be proper that this was a bubble. I did the US Senate banking testimony with a 40-page paper calling cryptocurrency out for what it’s, and I used to be very vocal on Twitter in opposition to this military of people that had been completely delusional. Happy to say I acquired this bubble proper.

I regarded on the three hottest tweets in your Twitter feed anticipating they’d focus in your work on financial crises. However your hottest posts relate to cryptocurrencies. There’s a number of ardour on this house. Does that provide you with any pause?

Properly, I interact on Twitter and I even have attended many of those crypto or blockchain conferences. I met a few of these people, and I have to say I’ve by no means seen in my life individuals who on one aspect are so boastful of their views, who’re whole zealots and fanatics about this new asset class, whereas on the similar time fully and completely blind to fundamental economics, finance, cash, banking, central banking, financial coverage.

They wish to reinvent every part about cash, however most of them are completely completely clueless. The ratio between boastful and ignorant is astounding — I’ve by no means seen such a niche in my life. These are fanatics. A few of them, like criminals, zealots, scammers, carnival barkers, insiders who’re simply speaking their ebook 24/7.

There is a component of extra in each bubble, however the typical bubble is an outgrowth of some technological evolution that possibly modifications the world for the higher. The web was in a bubble within the late Nineteen Nineties, however it was an actual factor however valuations of many internet-related shares had been sky-high. Costs crashed and dot-coms went bust, however the web saved on rising. Billions of individuals used it, and it has modified the world. Cryptocurrency as a know-how has completely no foundation for fulfillment, and the mom of all bubbles is now bust.

Twitter and in-person interactions with the followers of cryptocurrencies made me stronger and safer in my perception.

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Was there one particular cryptocurrency mania episode that stands out?

Within the fall of 2017 when the bubble was in full swing, actually anyone I knew, even random individuals on the street, would cease me and the very first thing they’d say, “Are you going to be a part of the crypto motion? Ought to I purchase bitcoin?” This was a typical late bubble habits when some unsophisticated buyers who’re whole suckers hear in regards to the bubble, they don’t even know what it’s. That’s regular. Worry of lacking out. And so they soar on the bandwagon having no clue, and the insiders took full benefit of those suckers at costs of $20,000 per bitcoin and comparable junk. Thousands and thousands of individuals misplaced their shirts shopping for on the peak solely to lose 80% to 90% of their funding within the subsequent 12 months.

While you see these sucker buyers — on this case I name them the retail suckers — get into this FOMO frenzy, then you recognize this bubble is about to burst. So I noticed it coming, even when it comes to the timing of it.

The saving grace of cryptocurrencies is that, not like different bubbles that exploded and led to some form of a systemic disaster, this asset class was comparatively small. Sadly, a number of suckers misplaced their shirts, however it doesn’t have any systemic implications.

What are some bubble-spotting instruments? What does your disaster evaluation framework contain?

It’s a mixture of a scientific method and an artwork. I’ve been learning bubbles and asset and credit score bubbles and their busts and monetary disaster for 30 years now.

You need to separate, say, a scholar debt downside from a company downside from a family debt downside from a banking downside from the issues of non-bank monetary establishments or nations. This provides you the idea for assessing the vulnerability to a forex disaster, banking disaster, funds disaster, scholar debt disaster, company or family points. Every one in every of them is completely different relying on the nation, the state of affairs. The excesses could be one sector or the opposite with a number of suggestions loops.

There’s, in fact, an enormous physique of educational literature, which I’ve contributed to, like many others, on find out how to mannequin the buildup of those monetary vulnerabilities. All through historical past, we had hundreds of empirical case research of crises of every kind.

All the pieces I discovered over 30 years I put in Disaster Economics, the place I start by stating that crises should not black swans. Somewhat I name crises white swans.

What did I imply by that? My good buddy and an excellent thinker, Nassim Taleb, wrote Black Swan in regards to the occasion that comes from the intense tail of the distribution and can’t be predicted upfront however that everybody believes was explainable after the actual fact.

However for me, monetary crises should not tornadoes or earthquakes that escape prediction. Monetary crises are as a substitute extra like hurricanes that develop from a buildup of financial and monetary vulnerabilities and coverage errors that finally attain a tipping level, a Minsky second, when a buildup of extra debt and credit score result in extreme danger taking. The habits of many members within the system results in a buildup of each asset costs and a credit score bubble that will get uncontrolled. In some unspecified time in the future, shocks happen, and it is rather arduous to foretell which shock would be the one, however finally one thing will finish the increase and the bubble will burst.

Now, getting it proper when it comes to the precise timing of the bust is just not simple, however that buildup of economic vulnerabilities and coverage errors doesn’t occur over six months. Normally it occurs over numerous years. So if you’re monitoring these excesses, you’ll be able to see the place there’s a buildup of, say, housing and mortgage debt, a bubble that’s not sustainable. So you should utilize a mixture of theoretical fashions and empirical research after which evaluate the buildup phases to different monetary or credit score bubbles. That’s the place the artwork of it comes, along with the science, to make an affordable evaluation of whether or not we’re within the fifth, sixth, or seventh inning of that buildup.

Let’s say buyers do see some bubbles on the horizon. They wish to park their belongings someplace uncorrelated. The place ought to they appear to diversify?

The purpose is that buyers want to keep away from monetary vulnerabilities. On one hand, they want to keep invested, however on the opposite, they search capital preservation ought to a major downturn happen. Not only a 10% correction. Not even a 20% bear market, however one thing worse.

Savvy buyers might be able to discover methods to purchase safety in opposition to excessive market drawdowns. It may be subtle “tail-risk” hedge funds that actually attempt to present the insurance coverage in opposition to one other international monetary disaster. However you pay a premium in insurance-like funds for a very long time to guard your self in opposition to one thing that will come up solely as soon as each 10, 12, or 15 years.

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Your buddy Nassim Taleb has questioned whether or not the protected haven standing of US Treasuries is justified. What’s your take? Do buyers have viable alternate options?

One essential investor perception is that equities bear the market danger, whereas bonds are assumed to be protected. The financial historical past suggests, and monetary dangers over the previous couple of a long time verify, that even sovereigns can default. We’ve got seen this within the rising markets. I wrote an entire ebook about that, and now even some developed economies, underneath sure situations, could be weak to a debt disaster. This implies, within the nations with an unsustainable stage of public debt, that authorities bonds should not essentially a protected different to equities.

Particularly within the US, our fiscal trajectory doesn’t look sound in any respect. The finances deficit this yr is more likely to be a trillion {dollars} and rising. Over the following decade, with the retirement of child boomers, this hole is more likely to get even worse. Due to this fact, our already excessive debt goes to get greater and better.

In relative phrases, the US remains to be in higher form than, say, Europe and Japan. Public debt as a proportion of the economic system in most of Europe and Japan is greater than within the US. Potential progress is decrease, and within the US, like in Japan, you’ll be able to monetize your debt whereas particular person members of the eurozone, like Italy, do not need their very own currencies. Europeans can monetize money owed throughout all members of the EU on the similar time, however not individually.

That’s the reason I don’t fear in regards to the US fiscal local weather within the brief time period, and even in the course of the international monetary disaster, US Treasuries and greenback belongings turned the protected haven. Do not forget that whereas the bottom zero of the worldwide monetary disaster was right here, the US authorities debt obligations had been, in relative phrases, perceived as safer than others.

Nonetheless the US fiscal trajectory, in the event you take a medium- to long-term horizon of, say, 10 years, is just not sustainable. So whereas they’re protected now, the much-needed change in fiscal coverage that addresses the issue is unlikely given the dearth of bipartisanship. I fear that the US will solely take care of this downside when the disaster strikes a few years from now. And it might take this type of extreme disaster to power politicians to deal with the issues. I don’t see this occurring in any other case.

We’ve got seen what market-imposed self-discipline can do in Eire, Spain, Portugal, and Greece to power changes. There has not but been market self-discipline within the US. Plus, the US greenback enjoys the privileged reserve forex standing. What which means is that this specific can will probably be kicked far down the street. However the reckoning will finally happen. I don’t count on this reckoning to happen within the subsequent 5 years, however given present traits, give it 10 years, even the US fiscal outlook will change into unsustainable.

So regardless of very actual longer-term considerations, within the short- to medium-term, US debt will proceed to supply some stability. Do you will have different excellent news? What capital market developments are you most enthusiastic about?

I feel that probably the most positives issues is that there’s a technological revolution that may most likely change the world. It’s a mixture of synthetic intelligence, machine studying, large information, and the web of issues that’s resulting in a producing revolution, a fintech revolution, a biotech revolution, and doubtlessly an power revolution

There are many main disruptions which might be going to finally improve productiveness and create extra items and providers. In that context, I might argue that the way forward for monetary providers has nothing to do with cryptocurrencies or so-called blockchain know-how.

The actual revolution in monetary providers is fintech, however fintech has nothing to do with crypto. Fintech goes be a mixture of synthetic intelligence and massive information and the ever-present web. It is going to revolutionize fee programs, credit score allocation, capital market features, insurance coverage, funding administration, monetary recommendation, and so on.

In order that’s the excellent news. The unhealthy information is that these technological improvements are capital intensive. This implies if you’re a enterprise capitalist, you’ll do nice. If you’re within the prime 20% of distribution when it comes to human capital plus expert and educated, AI will make you smarter. It is possible for you to to make use of these improvements to change into extra productive and earn more money. However if you’re a low- and even medium-skilled employee, or your job’s blue collar, then more and more this technological revolution will threaten your prosperity. Due to this fact, I worry that earnings and wealth inequality will probably be getting worse.

We will see this already within the backlash in opposition to commerce, in opposition to migration, in opposition to globalization. The massive disruptions within the subsequent 10 to twenty years should not going to be essentially associated to commerce and globalization however to those technological disruptions, except we discover a option to broaden the human capital by way of schooling. We have to be certain that within the digital and AI economic system, most individuals thrive. Or face a extreme populist backlash in sure sectors or elements of the world.

So I’m a technological optimist. These information instruments will revolutionize many points of our lives. In order customers we’re all going to profit. I’m apprehensive that as producers, some persons are not going to have earnings and jobs to profit from the cheaper items and providers, which is able to spark a number of social unrest.House ad for Behavioral Finance: The Second Generation

To conclude, Dr. Roubini, figuring out what you recognize now, what recommendation would you give to your youthful self?

One factor I see in every single place is a really low stage of economic literacy. Most individuals don’t know fundamental economics and lack fundamental finance abilities. Most of these individuals who had been asking me, “Ought to I purchase bitcoin?” didn’t even recognize the distinction between shares and bonds or kinds of markets, or the fundamentals of credit score and rates of interest.

This has two unlucky penalties. First, individuals don’t save sufficient. For those who don’t begin saving if you’re younger, you’re not going have sufficient retirement cash to dwell comfortably in a world the place life expectancy is turning into longer and longer. You need to begin saving, as a result of Social Safety is just not going to be enough.

Secondly, after they do save, individuals generally save in a reckless method. They purchase dangerous issues, they gamble, they commerce an excessive amount of, they go into silly bubbles like bitcoin or the opposite fads of the day. An unsophisticated retail investor ought to save as a lot as they will. Put money into a diversified portfolio of principally index funds and go away it alone. There isn’t any cause to pay big charges to hedge fund managers. Purchase and maintain equities with some allocation to liquid stuff and make investments till you retire in a passive, low-cost index fund.

It doesn’t take a number of sophistication, however most individuals don’t do it. So I want there was a required fundamental course in school, if not earlier, in highschool, on monetary literacy, in order that any younger individual is aware of it’s essential to avoid wasting and put money into an clever method. The stakes are excessive and in the event you make fundamental errors, they may value rather a lot down the road. In order that’s what I might give as recommendation to anyone.

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All posts are the opinion of the writer. As such, they shouldn’t be construed as funding recommendation, nor do the opinions expressed essentially replicate the views of CFA Institute or the writer’s employer.

Picture courtesy of Nouriel Roubini

Paul Kovarsky, CFA

Paul Kovarsky, CFA, is a director, Institutional Partnerships, at CFA Institute.

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