Trees Grow to Outer Space

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Posted Jul 29

Well, trees don’t grow to outer space.  Isn’t that strange?  Why not?  Well, if you’ve ever tried sucking a soda up a 50 foot straw you’ll see why; there is too much mass to escape the inexorable pull of gravity.  The only way giant Sequoias reach record heights is if they break off or get struck by lightening, thereby allowing water to pool in the cavity.  We find nothing odd about the fact that trees only grow to limited heights.
Conversely, we expect all things human to barrel forward and upward forever.  A good example is the economy.  In particular, one measure of it:  The stock market.  Although not a physical thing like a tree the markets are, nevertheless, subject to forces beyond our control, and “rules” beyond our perception.
Jeremy Grantham, founder of GMO funds (Grantham Mayo van Otterloo, nothing to do with genes) describes a case in point.  I quote:

What the past 25 years has done in the form of an overly inflated P/E ratio requires a 57% decline to revert or “normalize” the market’s key ratio and revert to the historic average that was present prior to Greenspan.

Grantham points out that 80% of executive comp. is stock options vs. 20% 30 years ago.  What awful incentives.  It’s easier and less risky for management to use corporate cash for stock buybacks”.  They get the greatest reward for creating nothing!  Why spend money on R&D, plant and equipment when you can boost your own stock- and your own pay -by buying it up with stockholder cash?  I believe this profligate behavior will soon come back to bite us all.