Special to the Financial Independence Hub
Diversifying Fire & Fury
What danger does the North Korea situation present for global investors? Clearly, Trump’s indulgence in nuclear brinksmanship carries risk. Pyongyang potentially firing missiles at US territory in the Western Pacific is also real. And there is a global existential threat should it ever escalate into intercontinental warfare.
Yet, rather than add to the volumes of prognostications about North Korea’s specific situation, consider the track record of major events and their impact on markets.
Most geopolitical events are false alarms
First, most geopolitical events are false alarms. As card-carrying members of the change-anticipation field, we understand the desire to divine the big events: to be first to spot the outlines of a looming disaster can be glorious (and career-enhancing).
But most warnings are false alarms simply because big turns are rare events. Remember Y2K, Saddam Hussein’s so-called “weapons of mass destruction” and, recently, Brexit? None of these widely-feared threats materialized or they delivered benign outcomes.
Second, more often than not, geopolitical events create opportunity. Rummaging through past post-crisis periods produces a long list of stellar returns after the initial event. For example, the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 was a 13-day confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union, widely considered the closest the Cold War came to full-scale nuclear warfare.
However, after the crisis subsided, the Dow went on to gain more than 10% that year. Or take the Korean War, when the North invaded the South. This conflict lasted from June 1950 — July 1953. During that time, the Dow was up an annualized 13.6%. History is brimming with similar examples.
Such events often have binary outcomes
Finally, geopolitical events may have binary outcomes. By this we mean that a negative scenario would either produce an extremely large portfolio loss or gain. There is no knowing which ahead of time. As such, narrowly focusing on one type of risk is speculative at best.