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Merrill Lynch chief economist nails the truth about risk in a perfect 3-word sentence

Sam Ro
Managing Editor
Rodin's "The Thinker" (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

“It’s always something,” writes Ethan Harris.

Harris, co-head of global economics for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, was talking about risk in the markets and how they currently seem to be occurring on a rotation. In other words, there’s never no risk out there. Rather, when the risks at the forefront rotate out, new risks rotate in.

That really is the underlying truth that drives financial markets. Investors and speculators assume risk, and then they are rewarded for it. And there's always risk.

For a hundred years, it's always something

There’s always a reason to be nervous about the state of the economy and the markets. But in the long-run, it has paid off to be long and patient because the world seems to want to move past those uncertainties and grow.

During the scariest moments of the financial crisis in October 2008, Warren Buffett wrote an op-ed for the New York Times communicating this ever-presence of risk.

“Over the long term, the stock market news will be good,” Buffett wrote. "In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.”

Check out this annotated chart (GSPC) from JPMorgan Asset Management’s Guide to the Markets. As you can see, history is peppered with scary events. But ultimately, things paid off for investors who stayed long and stayed strong.

Despite a long history of uncertainty and geopolitical risk events, the market has rallied. (Image: JPMorgan Asset Management)

The "doom and gloomers" of the market always have something to point to when it comes to investing. Historically, however, the market has gotten by.

What the "doom and gloomers" point to today

“The risk factors around the market are changing, but seem to be neither building nor fading,” Harris said on Friday. “Doom and gloomers like to combine both recent risk factors (that show signs of fading) and new factors (that are growing) into one toxic cocktail of negativity.”

Harris identified three big risks that were fading: 1) Chinese data show signs of a stabilizing economy; 2) fears of a further collapse in oil prices are abating; and 3) price corrections have taken some of the “froth” out of risk assets like junk bonds.

Offsetting those fading risks were three Harris said were looming: 1) Europe is becoming an area of concern with its refugee crisis and terrorism; 2) Britain is contemplating an exit from the European Union, which “could be quite disruptive; and 3) the US presidential campaign has come with anti-trade rhetoric from both parties.

Harris closed his note by saying: “It’s always something.”

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Sam Ro is managing editor at Yahoo Finance.

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