- Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund, just published a note on the state of the US economy.
- He noted that the bottom 60% of Americans are struggling, listing a litany of depressing statistics to make his case.
- He said that if he were running Federal Reserve policy, he’d keep an eye on the bottom 60%.
There’s no other word for Ray Dalio’s latest note on the US economy, and the situation it describes. The founder of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund with about $160 billion in management, posted the note on LinkedIn on Monday, and sets about splitting the US economy in two: the top 40% and the bottom 60%.
The point of this exercise is to show that while the headline numbers show a growing, healthy economy, there’s a lot more going on under the surface that needs to be paid attention to.
The stats he cites for the bottom 60% are downright depressing. Here’s a selection taken straight from the note (emphasis Dalio’s):
- Real incomes have been flat to down slightly for the average household in the bottom 60% since 1980 (while they have been up for the top 40%).
- Those in the top 40% now have on average 10 times as much wealth as those in the bottom 60%. That is up from six times as much in 1980.
- Only about a third of the bottom 60% saves any of its income (in cash or financial assets).
- Only about a third of families in the bottom 60% have retirement savings accounts—e.g., pensions, 401(k)s—which average less than $20,000.
- For those in the bottom 60%, premature deaths are up by about 20% since 2000. The biggest contributors to that change are an increase in deaths by drugs/poisoning (up two times since 2000) and an increase in suicides (up over 50% since 2000).
- The top 40% spend four times more on education than the bottom 60%.
- The average household income for main income earners without a college degree is half that of the average college graduate.
- Since 1980, divorce rates have more than doubled among middle-aged whites without college degrees, from 11% to 23%.
- The number of prime-age white men without college degrees not in the labor force has increased from 7% to 15% since 1980.
In other words, the economy isn’t as healthy as might appear at first look. And note includes a warning: the “stress between the two economies” will “intensify over the next 5 to 1o years” because of demographic and technological change.
How does this relate to markets? Well, Business Insider reported back in September that Bridgewater had told clients that the Fed was making a mistake by raising rates. And there is a hint of that view in Dalio’s latest note, where he said that the “average statistics could lead the Federal Reserve to judge the economy for the average man to be healthier than it really is.”
He warned that that could lead the Fed to run “an inappropriate monetary policy.”
“Because the economic, social, and political consequences of an economic downturn would likely be severe, if I were running Fed policy, I would want to take this into consideration and keep an eye on the economy of the bottom 60%.”