The world has almost always been pretty crazy. I think there is a bias, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, to believe that now is a special time, it’s different. Now is “the best of times” or “the worst of times.” In a very real sense the current time IS the most important because the present is the only time we can directly impact. Also as humans we seem to enjoy superlatives. But it’s important to realize that things have almost always been fairly crazy. The world has almost always been mad.
Supply Chain Breakdown
So what is the crazy du jure? Well, the US and probably other countries are realizing what was obvious to anyone who cared to think about it: if you shut down industries, print money, pay people to stay home and otherwise disrupt and destroy supply chains you get price increases, delays and shortages. As if labor wasn’t tight enough, vaccine mandates are driving more people out of the work force.
One of the scariest phrases is “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” When I heard Biden was going to get involved in the supply chain issues, particularly the ports on the United States left coast I knew it was only going to get worse.
Their brilliant solution? Fine Shipping Companies if their shipping containers remain in the marine terminals for too long. How that will actually enable the shipping containers to get unloaded and moved faster is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the shipping companies weren’t sufficiently motivated before and that was the problem? It makes no sense to me.
But I don’t have the experience in supply chain management that Biden and Harris do. Wait, scratch that, as a kid I worked in a warehouse shipping packages for four summers. Not stellar credentials in supply chain but four more summers experience than these public “servants” have.
Forgive me for repeating myself when I use the phrase government dysfunction. When it became apparent Biden was going to occupy the White House and the blue team was going to have both chambers of congress I thought it was going to be bad. Really bad. I thought it would be bad because I don’t think that taxing, regulating and spending work and that is pretty much all Biden can or would do.
If you do think that taxing, spending and regulating work then we’ve been deprived from the socialist paradise by two moderate Democrats (or if you’re from New York or California, right wing extremists).
I am waiting for the other shoe to drop because Senator Joe Manchin a blue team member from West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema, another blue teamer from Arizona are actually doing things I don’t wholly disapprove of. Or to be more precise they are not doing things.
That is the standard I have for politicians: did they do one or two things I don’t wholly disapprove of? If so they’re doing pretty good relative to their peers.
When his wife was appointed to a federal position that pays some $163,000 per year for public “service” I thought for sure Manchin was bought and paid for and would march to whatever beat Biden (who whomever is actually in charge of the executive branch) drummed.
But so far he hasn’t.
Manchin has put the Kibosh down on ending the filibuster (which is a racist Jim Crowe relic when anyone but the Democrats use it), he’s stopped the IRS from violating the fourth amendment by being able to snoop on anyone’s bank account with more than $600 $10,000 in transactions in a year, which is basically everyone not on welfare. He’s stopped the carbon tax and done some other good stuff. I didn’t realize there were still moderate Democrats but there is Joe Manchin.
Kyrsten Sinema gets some credit too. See? I can say something nice about Democrats.
Politicians always fail us, usually miserably, so I’m sure it is only a matter of time before Manchin and Sinema are brought in line and they click their heels like a good party members and do as they are told. But not so far.
Biden the Lame Duck
President’s who don’t accomplish anything are great. Gridlock in Washington is great for ordinary Americans. If Biden turns out to be a lame duck that would be fantastic. If you’re on the government dole it is a bummer, if you’re connected with the right folks in government you might not make another few million which is a bummer, but I’m convinced that for everyone else government inaction is a real plus.
Biden’s approval rating is pretty bad. I’m glad the US isn’t officially in Afghanistan anymore and I give Biden credit for having actually withdrawn. Obama didn’t make it happen, Trump didn’t make it happen. Biden (or whomever is actually in charge of the executive branch) made it happen. Full credit for that.
But even still it was a disaster. Incompetent leadership is not without its costs, some of which are deadly serious.
I’m not a military man (and neither is Biden) but why wouldn’t you make sure the US civilians (and Afghan allies) were evacuated PRIOR to withdrawing most of the military? I don’t think you need to have gone to West Point or the Naval Academy to have that instinct. What happened over there makes no sense to me.
Seeing desperate Afghanis clinging to airplane landing gear so they would not be left behind to be killed by the Taliban was disturbing and horrifying. But perhaps the worst was when the United States government killed an innocent family of 10 including 7 children.
That combined with how he is “handling” COVID-19 and the economy I think Biden’s prospects at a second term, should he decide to run, are not great. Disclaimer: “In my opinion the President has more power than he should have but less than people realize. The President gets blamed when the economy is doing poor and gets credit when it is doing well. But it’s all unwarranted.” But while not impossible (as we’ve seen with Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Trump in recent decades) it is tough to beat the President in an election.
Regardless I expect the blue teamers to do poorly in the mid-term elections. My political predictions haven’t been stellar, but if history is any guide the party occupying the White House tends to lose ground in the next election cycle, and with Biden being less popular than most things (ok that link is to a satirical news site), I don’t expect 2022 to be any different. At this point in my life, I would be content if no new laws were passed and the government was in deadlock. When either party gets control particularly bad things happen.
Gold Has Failed as an Inflation Hedge
This has been a real bummer because I’ve written about gold a lot. I’ve written about how I think it is an important part of a diversified portfolio. Well inflation is here and gold hasn’t done much of anything. Stocks are up, real estate is up, Bitcoin and Ethereum are up, plywood is up, Costco has reinstated paper towel quotas, even $163,000 a year isn’t enough to buy a US Senator anymore, the CPI for goodness sake, a metric seemingly designed to not measure inflation is up. It seems like the price of everything is up, except gold. Gold is not up. Maybe it is a “barbarous relic”. If you own any I wouldn’t sell it, but it has been a disappointment.
Sure, it had that tease-of-a-run-up in 2020 where it broke over $2,000, but since then it has dwindled and is stuck around $1,800. While it is better than a sharp stick in the eye gold going form $1,500 at the start of 2020 up $300 as of writing this isn’t going to save anyone from inflation. That is about a 20% increase. Meanwhile, the dollar has depreciated some 15% during that time. Not fantastic.
I still think gold is important. It doesn’t have counter-party risk, it’s been subjectively valued for thousands of years. It’s not liable to get replaced by Bettercoin 2.0 like Bitcoin is, but I would have expected it to go up more during COVID times.
The World Has Gone Mad
The world has gone mad, but it didn’t happen in 2020, it happened much, much earlier. Twenty-twenty was certainly crazier than other years but it could have been worse.
I don’t mean to downplay these past few years for those who have lost loved one or who have had their life dramatically impacted by COVID-19 and the ensuing government response. Almost 5 million people worldwide have passed as a result of COVID-19. If you’ve lost a friend, family member, co-worker, teammate or anyone else due to COVID-19 it is not a statistic it is a very real tragedy. If you’ve lost someone because they couldn’t get preventive care or screening because of the lockdowns, if they committed suicide as a result of the social isolation resultant from social distancing policies and lockdowns, if they’ve lost hope because of job losses these are all real tragedies. Perhaps you yourself are suffering. These are all real and tragic realities that we’ve all been coping with to one extent or another.
Having said that I want to end on a (relatively? kind of?) upbeat note. The last couple years have not as bad as the Bubonic Plague outbreak of the 14th century where perhaps 25 million people (about 2/3 of Europe at that time) perished. It’s not been as bad as the 1918 pandemic where perhaps 50 million people died. It wasn’t as bad as the mid 1940s in Europe during World War II when an estimated 50-70 million people died. Or the 1950s in China under Mao where some 30-40 million people died or were killed. Thankfully, nearly 223 million people worldwide have recovered from COVID-19. It’s not like we’ve had World War 3. And while that is a low standard perhaps that is good enough for now. And God willing, perhaps 2022 will be a little better.
stonk: A term to express a financial decision that resulted in financial gain. Mostly used ironically.
For those of you not familiar GameStop is a brick and mortal video game retailer. Its stock had been heavily shorted by hedge funds. I heard that hedge funds were at one point short 150% of the GME stock in existence. How that is legal or possible is beyond me. That was the background. If the hedge funds had not been so short GME, this would not have happened.
But that is just the scene. Enter the main actors: a group of people on the reddit forums decided, for various reasons, to buy GME. The result triggered a massive short squeeze and stock price melt-up. In the course of 10 trading days GME went from around $30 to as high as $513 per share. It has cost hedge funds a lot of money as they’ve been forced to cover their short positions and buy the stock at the higher prices.
Several brokers halted GME trading or placed restrictions on the types of trades that could be made, angering (rightfully so) their “customers”.
I don’t know the reason reason why trading was halted by some of these brokers. It could have been for very innocent and good reasons on the part of the brokers to limit their risk. Other theories alleging nefarious intent abound. Did some of these hedge funds call in a favor? Was trading halted to tank the price so the hedge funds could cover their shorts? Who knows?
The volatility seems to have spilled into other markets as well. Major indices were down on the week–seemingly because hedge funds had to liquidate other holdings to cover their short positions.
It’s been a crazy week.
Here is an anecdote: I was in a company meeting (at my day job which has nothing to do with finance or investing) and the CEO was talking about GameStop. One employee mentioned a friend who was up over $100,000 in GME gains.
I hope they know when to sell.
Is the GME situation an extreme example of the broader trend?
While the GME stock melt-up, and even the other “reddit stocks” like AMC are extreme examples, I think they are indicative of the times: a lot of unemployed people at home, bored, angry, frustrated, armed with stimulus checks, low interest rates, and margin accounts buying up stocks. I think that is a bad sign. The rampant speculation devoid of fundamentals isn’t a good thing. A large number of unemployed people isn’t a good thing. Rampant speculation isn’t a good thing.
Of course it isn’t just retail investors. Institutional investors have low interest rates, are seeking returns, and have driven up asset prices beyond what I think the fundamentals would otherwise warrant. Sure, the institutional investors are supposed to be the “smartest folks in the room”. But they were also behind the dot com bubble and the housing bubble. So don’t tell me they don’t chase returns or make irrational decisions.
I have many reasons for believing assets are overvalued. I’ll just share one at this time, the Shiller PE ratio for the S&P 500 (shown below). The only time it has been higher is at the peak of the dot-com bubble in 2000.
I do think this short squeeze is a healthy thing. Some of these hedge funds are getting beat at their own game and getting taught an important lesson in risk management. It’s also got to be humbling for these hedge fund types to get beaten by the retail investors that they seem, in general, to have a lot of contempt for.
The GME Price Rocket is Still Absurd
On the flip side it is absurd. As of writing this GameStop now has a market capitalization of $22.6 billion. The market cap was just $1.3 billion on December 31, 2020.
The rapid increase in market cap has nothing to do with GameStop as a company. As billionaire hypocrite Warren Buffet once said: “In the short-run, the stock market is a voting machine. Yet, in the long-run, it is a weighing machine.” So what we’re seeing right now is many people voting for GameStop. But the “weight” of the stock has not changed.
Maybe people start buying more video games at GameStop. Maybe GameStop issues more shares at these high prices to raise capital, revamp their business model and they become a company whose fundamentals support a $22 billion or more valuation. I think this is unlikely.
But maybe none of that matters. People can subjectively value whatever they want. I don’t think that Bitcoin’s market cap of $645 billion makes sense but the market disagrees with me. Those buying into bitcoin back when it was just a few bucks and held to this point are sitting on tremendous profits. Bitcoin means a lot of different things to different people and as long as there is demand for BTC the price will be what it will be. If there was a special kind of dollar bill, people might be willing to pay $2 for it. Maybe GameStop will represent sticking it to the man and people will buy it just to participate in that movement. Maybe people will just buy it “for the lulz”.
As long as people value GameStop it can stay high.
What Does it All Mean?
In the short term fundamentals don’t matter. GME is exhibit A. People can subjectively value whatever they want. But in the long term I believe fundamentals do matter. What we are seeing, and have seen, is a lot of price action devoid of fundamentals. GameStop is an extreme example of this price action, but I think the same principle applies in a variety of markets and assets.
But for someone blessed enough to have assets to invest, what can you do?
Cash and even bonds are going to get destroyed by inflation over the long term. I like gold and silver as an asset and I think having a 10-20% allocation to these assets makes sense but they don’t provide growth or income in the way stocks do. Real estate, particularly residential and farmland, could be a good play, but there is a high cost of entry. There are REITs, but a lot of the tax benefits from investing in real estate come from directly owning the property and you can’t buy $10,000 worth of an apartment complex. (Although if there is a way with WITH the tax benefits please let me know!)
I think there is a place for cryptocurrencies although it is still a very young and volatile market segment.
The “big three”: S&P 500, Nasdaq and Dow Joes are all negative for 2021. There is reason for caution. But I’m looking for opportunities to buy into stocks. I think stocks are overvalued. But I don’t think avoiding stocks is a viable option. If stocks do tank, I believe the Federal Reserve will print as much money as possible to prop up prices, even if it means it destroys the value of the dollar.
Although it might sound trite, the best investment might be in yourself and those around you. There is a lot an individual can’t control but you can do a lot to learn, grow, and take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health.
I was wrong in my prediction regarding the 2020 election season. I thought it was most likely the red team would retain the senate with Biden in the oval office or what I called “Scenario 3”. I wrote “Scenario 4” was second most likely and that is what happened: Biden in the White House with the blue folks in control of the Senate.
My understanding of the Senate also lacked nuance. While the blue team does have a simple majority in the Senate thanks to 50 members plus Vice President Harris breaking ties, only certain legislation can be passed without a 60 Senator majority. With a simple 51 vote majority the Senate is (somewhat) limited in what legislation it can pass to what is authorized in the budget reconciliation process.
My very superficial understanding of the reconciliation process is that it must pertain to spending and revenue and can only be used once per year. It could be used to raise or lower taxes (for the blues it would be raise) and who knows what other tomfoolery.
Taxing and Spending
But even with the blue group being somewhat limited by the reconciliation process, I can guarantee new taxes and more spending. Perhaps Wall street either likes the tax and spend approach, or the market had already priced in a Biden-Harris Administration, or perhaps it is simply the removal of the election uncertainty for the next two years, combined with vaccine optimism, regardless of how the election turned out.
In any case the S&P 500 is up nearly 9% since November 5th.
Wall Street does seem to love spending, and doesn’t seem to care about the national debt. So while I wouldn’t expect the stock market to crash because of Biden’s tax and spend approach, I do think the economy would fare better under low taxes and fiscal discipline.
Perhaps Trump will say the stock market is magically back in a big, fat, ugly bubble again now that he isn’t in power. I think the stock market has been in a bubble for a while. However, the ability of the powers that be to keep the bubble inflated has far surpassed what I believed possible.
Even though the blue team is known for spending, their tax hikes don’t cover the bill. To be fair red team doesn’t have many fiscal conservatives either. The national debt goes up regardless of who is in power.
I predicted back in January of 2017 that the US nation debt would go to $40 trillion under Trump. However, under the Trump administration, the debt only went from about $19.9 trillion to about $27.7 trillion. Granted I thought Trump would win reelection at the time I made that prediction and he would have 8 years to run up the debt by over $20 trillion.
Unless Trump runs for office again and wins, my $40 trillion prediction was wrong. However, I think the national debt will go to $40 trillion by the end of 2024.
I think over the next four years it will go from $27.7 trillion to over $40 trillion. It would mean about $3 trillion per year. In 2020 the national debt increased by $4.2 trillion. I’m sure Biden will be looking for a big spending package in 2021 to get his administration started off with a bang.
Government spending financed by debt reduces the value of dollars, so more dollars are required for later stimulus in order to have the same effect. For example in 2008, when the banks were being bailed out the debt went up by about $1 trillion. Then the next year the debt went up by $1.8 trillion.
Granted 2020 had COVID-19 and lockdown crisis, but that hasn’t gone away. In 2018 and 2019, with the economy supposedly humming along and no large-scale military engagements, the debt still increased by over $1.2 trillion each year.
My $40 trillion prediction is based on the national debt going up by $4-5 trillion in 2021, followed by $2.5 trillion per year after that.
This is one reason why interest rates can’t rise. The treasury issues debt at a variety of maturity rates. But as interest rates rise, that means the government has to pay out more money on the debt. The treasury is already paying about $393 billion per year in interest at current rates.
In June of 2007 the yield on a 10 year treasury was 5%. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis it has steadily fallen. While still stupidly low, the 10 year treasury yield has been rising. In July of 2020 it was as low as about 0.5%. Since then the yield has risen to about 1%. As I said before it is still stupid low, in contrast the 10 year treasury yield was 15% in the early 1980s.
However, the market is addicted to low interest rates. If the 10 year yield continues to rise and gets to 3 or 4% I think that would be devastating for stocks. As mentioned above it would also dramatically increase amount the treasury would need to pay in interest. For example at 0.5%, $2 trillion would cost $10 billion, but at 3% it jumps up to $60 billion. But it isn’t just the new debt, as older debt expires and the borrower gets paid back, the treasury issues new debt to pay for it, which must be issued at the new rates.
I’m sure the Federal Reserve will step in and drive the yield back down before that happens. The Washington elite definitely don’t want a stock market crash to happen when the blue team is in control of the government.
I think the Biden-Harris administration is much more likely to increase hostilities in the world. Despite all his faults, and alienating allies of the United States, Trump didn’t start any major military engagements in the world. I believe Biden-Harris will follow the Bush II and Obama approaches to foreign policy.
More war is good news for “defense” contractors, but less positive for everyone else. The loss of human life in war is the most tragic element and the most important reason to avoid military action except as a last resort. A distant second reason for avoiding war is that bombs, drones and aircraft carriers are expensive and contribute to the national debt. Surely the military action, as it always is, will be dressed up flowery rhetoric to make it seems necessary, noble and courageous.
I think a 10-20% allocation to precious metals is as important now as it ever was. Gold has been down and sideways since the new high was made in August of 2020. It seems to have support at around $1,790 per troy ounce. I think this is consolidation prior to the next leg up.
Stocks only seem to go up. Valuation and fundamentals don’t seem to matter.
While I always have some exposure to the stock market, I’ve missed out on the some of the gains of the last 8-9 years since I’ve been underweight US stocks. I’ve been waiting for a buying opportunity. I was considering buying in around March of 2020, but I expected the markets to go lower.
I was wrong.
The powers that be are able to maintain the stock market prices far beyond what makes sense to me. I’m planning on averaging into various mutual funds over time. Perhaps my capitulation is a sign that the top is near!
Despite all the challenges from higher taxes, more regulations, debt and lockdowns, there are still productive businesses out there. While I think Biden/Harris and their allies on the blue team will make things worse, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Being in a “bunker mode” for the past 8 years has cause me to miss out on a significant stock market rise. At some point I think the dollar will crash and maybe stocks will go down too, but that is what the precious metals are for.
I try to avoid being political on this site or at least be apolitical. For example I did not endorse either United States presidential candidate. However, government and politics has so permeated nearly every aspect of our lives in the United States it is impossible to discuss finances and the economy without being at least somewhat political.
Voting outcomes in key swing states are left unknown. But there are a limited number of outcomes with respect to who controls the government. If one party controls the house, senate and presidency, that party (or team) has the opportunity to make sweeping changes to the legal and regulatory framework of the country, with some check on what they can do enforced by the judicial branch/supreme court.
The current balance of power in the United States house of representatives is 232 blues to 197 reds with one libertarian and five vacancies.
Although the results are not finalized we know the blue team will retain control of the house of representatives with something like 227 members (218 are required for a party to control the house). Net the red team will have picked up some seats. Some of the elections are still in counting limbo but those numbers will not change by more than 2-3 seats. So until the next election cycle in 2022 the blue team is guaranteed to continue to control the house.
The current United States senate party division breaks down at 53 red, 45 blue, and 2 independents aligned with the blue team. In other words effectively 53 red 47 blue.
Current senate race results show 48 red and 47 blue. Current forecast predict a 49-49 split with one toss up and one runoff. 51 seats are required to have control of the senate. In the event a vote in the senate is tied, the vice president is the deciding vote. So if the senate does come down to be a 50-50 split, whichever party controls the White House will also control the senate.
Of course there is also the presidency which is up for grabs. I’m inclined to believe that Biden will be declared the next president, regardless of who was actually elected because I think the blues are probably better at “counting” votes. But Trump could still win. Either way this leaves just a few possible scenarios for control of the government.
Remember, if the senate is 50-50 splite, which is possible, control of the senate would go with the team with people in the White House.
Scenario 1: Trump Presidency with Red Team Control of the Senate
In this case there will continue to be a lot of gridlock. There will be a small(er) stimulus bill and some legislation but for the most part not a lot will change. This is the scenario we’ve been in for the past 2 years. Trump could still pull off a victory if he wins Georgia and then if lawsuits could uncover enough voter fraud to turn the right combination of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania back to him. It isn’t looking good for Trump but it is also possible that Arizona or Nevada, if they ever finish counting votes, could go to Trump.
Scenario 2: Trump Presidency with Blue Team Control of the Senate
I think this would result in even more gridlock. Congress would not have enough votes to override presidential vetos because that requires a 2/3 vote in both houses. So there would be a lot of back and forth of the blue controlled congress blaming and vilifying Trump and vice versa.
Scenario 3: Biden Presidency with Red Team Control of the Senate
In this scenario Biden is president (at least ceremonially) and Harris is VP. The red team would need to have at least 51 seats. I think this is the most likely scenario but it is by no means certain. Even though at this time I think Biden will be declared president (or if you’re feeling romantic elected) Trump could still pull off some type of upset.
In the senate, to get to 51, the red team would need to win Alaska (seems likely), and one of the Georgia seats (which also seems likely). Then, they would need to win the Georgia run-off on January 5 of 2021, which seems possible.
Note: Explanation of the Georgia run-off can be found here.
North Carolina is being called as a tossup or advantage red team (depending on the source), the red team candidate is currently in the lead by over 96,000 votes with 97% reporting.
If NC does go to the red team candidate and both Georgia seats do as well the red team could get to a 52-48 majority in the Senate.
I think there would be moderate gridlock because Biden was a senator for many, many years and has relationships with the senators and I think the red team senators are much more likely to compromise and go along with the blues. Not only that, but the blues would only need one or maybe two reds to come over to their side and then Vice President Harris could vote to break ties.
Scenario 4: Biden Presidency with Blue Team Control of the Senate
I think this is the second most likely scenario. Again we’re assuming a Biden/Harris administration. Biden would be president but I’m not sure who would be the de facto president in this case.
Blue team would need to win Arizona (seems likely), North Carolina (which is listed as leaning that way). These two would get them to 49, then they’d need to win the Georgia seat (which is listed as a toss-up, although the red is up by over 90,000 votes). This would get them to 50, plus Vice President Harris gets 51. They could also win the Georgia run off election which would get them to 51 even without Harris.
In this scenario the blue team would have the power to implement lots of changes. They could implement the green new deal, raise taxes, increase regulations, expand the affordable care act, provide medicare for all, restrict gun ownership and anything else really. They would probably be limited only by their fear of voter backlash in the next congressional election cycle.
A blue government might be limited in some instances by the supposedly conservative Supreme Court (which is 5-4, since Roberts tends to side with the liberal Justices). However, they could try to implement their plan to stack the supreme court and appoint as many new justices as needed to prevent having their laws struck down as unconstitutional. I don’t know enough about this to have an opinion if they would be successful or not.
What it all might mean
If what I estimate to be the most likely scenario does indeed come to pass the US will face a Biden presidency with a blue controlled house and red controlled senate.
The president has a lot of control over foreign policy. Doubtless the US will be cozier with China and Iran and markets don’t seem to like trade wars, so that would be positive for stocks. However, when there were trade wars, the Federal Reserve has stepped in to be accommodative and the markets love stimulus.
Although purportedly neutral, the president appoints the head of the Federal Reserve and in my opinion (despite protestations of neutrality) the Federal Reserve will do what the president wants for the most part.
While bad for the economy, artificially set rates are great for presidents because they goose asset prices and the stock market is used as a proxy for how the economy is doing.
I doubt there will be a stock market crash, as fiscal stimulus will be used to prop up asset prices. I do expect deficits to continue to grow unchecked and I think gold and the right foreign stocks will do well.
Worst Case Scenario
With a Biden presidency and blue team ruled congress a lot of socialist policies will be implemented. Higher taxes, a stricter COVID-19 response, wealth redistribution and increased government regulation. I think this will be negative for the economy with the middle and lower classes hurting the most. Alternative energy companies and select industries would do well in the US, but gold and foreign stocks would also benefit.
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