Some forty years ago, Charles Gave introduced the “Four Quadrants” concept, used by generations of investors to drive asset allocation in global investment portfolios. The concept crosses inflation and growth to cluster four macroeconomic situations: inflationary boom, inflationary bust, disinflationary boom, and disinflationary bust.

Here we revisit the concept with a scientific eye, applied to ecosystems. We focus on the second derivative of economic production or asset prices, i.e. the acceleration or deceleration of growth and inflation, intentionally ignoring the levels of inflation and growth. A new “Four Quadrants” is born, bridging macroeconomy and simple mathematics. It massively amplifies Charles’ discovery decades ago.

What is it telling us? That the US game on equity price-earnings’ expansion is over.

Equity holders are brave investors who abandon their capital forever (unless they find a third party in the marketplace to replace them, which is never guaranteed) against a flow of uncertain future dividends. Companies, therefore, must distribute dividends, and they can only do so in two ways: they either pay dividends on capital if earnings are sufficient, or they pay dividends off capital.

The worse of the two is the latter and leads to capital destruction. So, who is responsible? The most influential macro factor on portfolio construction for long-term investors, today on the verge of resurfacing: inflation.

Inflation kills equity returns. This has been the case for more than a century in the US, and nearly all countries in the last twenty years, as evidenced in this letter.
So, are we in – or about to enter – the dangerous territory, turning the equity dream into an equity nightmare?