Friday, November 19, 2021
Volume 2, Issue 42
What’s so great about podcasts?
The idea of a host chatting with guests expressing interesting points of view dates back nearly a century to the dawn of radio technology. Yet, for some reason, we appear to be in a golden age of talk radio delivered via podcasts. In just over two years I have gone from listening to zero podcasts to around a dozen per week, usually while doing things that make reading difficult or impossible.
It is through podcasts that I have been introduced to a number of brilliant young people who are involved in new technologies mostly based on the blockchain.1 The world of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens are not weird, esoteric topics for these individuals, most of whom are either entrepreneurs in the space or investors in cryptocurrencies or other blockchain based digital assets. Their enthusiasm is obvious and often contagious, and you get the sense that they envision of world of no upper bounds constraining the future.
Although it is obvious mathematically, sometimes it is easy to forget that today’s 22-year-old was born in 1999 and what that implies regarding their frame of reference and life experiences. If you bring up the dot-com boom and bust to someone born in 1999, they will not relate to the events of those years just as I cannot fully relate to the events of the 1973-74 bear market.
Sure, you can read about historical events.
You can listen to other people talk about their experiences during those events.
You can even watch news coverage of events.
But you can never feel what it was like to experience an event that you do not recall.
You can only imagine what it might have been like and how you hope you would have reacted to it. You have to use your imagination coupled with the facts that you have learned from others.
Should young people listen to older generations who lived through the dot com bubble? Certainly, it would seem wise to do so and learn whatever lessons are available and can be understood vicariously. Although the 1973-74 bear market took place when I was very young, I still read about it before I started investing, most memorably in Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist. But Warren Buffett’s experiences of the early 1970s felt like ancient history to me in 1995.
If you stop to think about it, was the world of 1973-74 so different from 1995? Obviously, technology had improved but 1995 was literally just at the start of the internet revolution. I graduated from college in that year having spent considerable time using microfiche machines in the library, a technology not dissimilar from what a college student of the early 1970s might have used. Most of my research was accomplished by reading physical books.
Of course, we had word processors and computers and I had a university email account. But the age of the computer as a portal to all of the information known to mankind was just dawning. The idea of having a supercomputer in your pocket was inconceivable.
Someone born in 1999 has never known a world without the internet and was likely introduced to smart phones and tablets while still in elementary school. A person in her early twenties can read about how people obtained information and communicated prior to the age of the mobile phone but cannot possibly relate to it. And because the past seems so radically different from the present, it must be tempting to think that nothing much can be learned from the past that is relevant to where the world will be going over the next several decades.
One experience that I don’t think can be understood vicariously is how it feels to lose money that you have worked hard to save over a long period of time. Regardless of the progress of technology, losing money obtained through hard work doesn’t feel any different today than it did 25, 50, 100, or 1,000 years ago. It has always felt like a punch to the gut. Reading about other people losing money can never replicate that feeling.
By the time I graduated from college in 1995, I had saved about $25,000 from various jobs dating back to delivering newspapers a decade earlier. I was fortunate enough to never lose that money, either through temporary losses due to market fluctuations or permanently.
But this was not a function of any particular skill or wisdom. I simply came of age at a time when financial assets were appreciating rapidly, and I dodged the dot com bust through a combination of luck and reading the writings of Ben Graham and Warren Buffett.
My first major reversal, involving losses of very large sums of money (to me), came in the 2008-09 bear market well over a decade into my professional career, and my losses mostly ate into the investment returns earned over the prior decade.
If my first major reversal had come in my early 20s and I had lost what I had saved delivering newspapers and working minimum wage jobs, there is no doubt that my mindset would have been permanently impacted. In theory, there is no economic difference between losing investment gains and losing money you literally had to sweat to earn. In practice, there certainly is a psychological difference for most people.
No two periods of history repeat exactly but it is difficult for someone who observed the dot com bubble to not see significant “rhyming” when it comes to the frenzy we are seeing today in the cryptocurrency and NFT spaces, not to mention the garden variety bubbles in stocks of companies with no earnings and no realistic prospect of future earnings. Yet, nothing we say to a person who was born at the turn of the century will have much relevance because, to them, we are talking about ancient history — a world totally different from what exists today.
I should point out that it is not entirely clear whether young people would be well served listening to the warnings of those of us who see parallels between today and the dot-com bubble. The time horizon of someone born at the turn of the century literally extends almost to the turn of the next century. The world they create will be up to them, the technologies that they create may be inconceivable to older people today, and maybe they are right about more than we might think.
Seventy years ago, Warren Buffett graduated from Columbia having received the first A+ that Benjamin Graham had ever awarded to a student in his 22 years of teaching. When Buffett offered to work at Graham’s investment firm for free, Graham turned him down. Both Graham and Buffett’s father advised him to avoid entering the investment business.2
Oddly, when Buffett graduated, in 1951, both Graham and his father advised him not to go into stocks. Each had the post-Depression mentality of fearing a second visitation. Graham pointed out that the Dow had traded below 200 at some point in every year, save for the present one. Why not postpone going to Wall Street until after the next crash, his heroes counseled, and meanwhile get a safe job with someone like Procter & Gamble?
It was awful advice — violating Graham’s tenet of not trying to forecast markets. The Dow, in fact, never went under 200 again. “I had about ten thousand bucks,” Buffett noted later. “If I’d taken their advice I’d probably still have about ten thousand bucks.”
The older generations are always going to be informed by their own life experiences and the counsel they provide to the next generation will always be influenced by those experiences. I am sure that Warren Buffett did not casually dismiss the advice of his father and his teacher, but he plowed ahead regardless.
I am quite sure that young people who are outright speculating on stocks or various crypto assets will eventually experience what outright speculators have experienced throughout history.
It’s only a matter of time.
But we need to differentiate between a 22-year-old casually trading stocks on an app with the much smaller group of young people actually trying to build things based on blockchain technology. Some of them will likely build things that we cannot conceive of today and have real economic value.
It is often said that many ideas of the dot com bubble were not necessarily wrong, but just early. Business models that required more bandwidth or the presence of a supercomputer in everyone’s pocket were not ready for prime time in 1999. The emergence of smartphones and super-fast bandwidth has changed the world and made previously impossible business models possible.
No one should invest in companies or technologies that they do not understand. I refuse to do so myself, but that doesn’t mean that I have to root for these new technologies to fail. To the contrary, I would be delighted if some of them succeed even if I do not personally see a path to success or participate financially. For example, the concept of a digital currency that is not controlled by a government and not subject to the value destruction of today’s fiat currencies is very attractive if it can actually work. The idea of artists being able to realize new sources of income from the sale of NFTs (as well as royalties on resales) is also very attractive.
I’ll conclude by saying that, like Fox Mulder, “I want to believe” that some of these technologies will bear fruit even as I admit my ignorance and stay resolutely on the sidelines when it comes with how I invest my own capital.3
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- Although I have read about blockchain technologies over the years, I have not done any serious research in the field. Here’s a book review from 2017 with some of my thoughts at the time.
- Excerpt from “Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist” by Roger Lowenstein, published in 1995. Pages 45-46.
- The X-Files, a television show which ran from 1993 to 2002, featured FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Mulder was quick to believe even flimsy evidence of UFOs and other paranormal phenomenon while Scully, grounded in a scientific background, served the role of a skeptic.
Rabobank: Brushing Up Our Greek Alphabets
Rabobank: Brushing Up Our Greek Alphabets
By Michael Every of Rabobank
Brushing up our Greek alphabets
After a ‘sell first, ask questions…
Rabobank: Brushing Up Our Greek Alphabets
By Michael Every of Rabobank
Brushing up our Greek alphabets
After a ‘sell first, ask questions later’ Friday, markets regained some confidence on Monday. News that Omicron may lead to relatively mild symptoms may have helped the mood, though much about the new strain still remains unclear, including how infectious it is compared to other variants and whether it requires updated vaccines. The health ministers of the G7 issued a joint statement that contained little new information on the strain, but did warn that it “requires urgent action”. European equities also defied news that Germany is now the next country to consider stricter measures to curb the rise in cases.
The risk-on tone weighed on fixed income, with 10y Bund yields rising 2bp on the day, though that reverses only part of Friday’s decline. And the German inflation numbers didn’t provide much support for Bunds either. High inflation was already expected, with a 5.5% consensus forecast. Nevertheless, the German HICP managed to surpass that, as prices rose 6.0% y/y in November. With similar inflation rates already observed in other European countries, including Spain (5.6%) and Belgium (5.6%), a high Eurozone-aggregate HICP today shouldn’t come as a surprise.
In addition to German inflation being higher than expected, it was also a bit more broad-based: certainly, energy was an important contributor, but clothing, furnishing and household equipment, and particularly recreation and culture -though notably a volatile component- also drove prices higher. Despite the wider base of inflationary pressures, that doesn’t take away from the fact that most of these effects are probably still temporary factors that result from the reopening of the economy, supply chain disruptions, and the changes to German VAT at the start of the year. Indeed, the Bundesbank had already warned for a near-6% inflation rate this month, and the ECB’s Isabel Schnabel stated in a TV interview that “November will prove to be the peak.”
Nikkei reported some reassuring news to that extent, noting that the supply chain disruptions in the auto sector are starting to ease. According to the newspaper, the global supply of chips used in the auto industry may finally be improving: “after months of shortages, inventories have risen for the first time in nine months.” While it may still take some time before shortages across the entire supply chain are resolved, this does suggest that some bottlenecks are indeed gradually easing, boding well for both price pressures and for the output of one of Germany’s key industries. That said, bear in mind that the chip shortages were at the forefront of the global disruptions; since then shortages in many other materials and sectors have followed.
The rebound in China’s manufacturing PMI may also offer some reassurance about the recovery of the global value chain. The headline recovered to an expansionary reading of 50.1, but this may understate the improvements in actual output, seeing that one of the main drags on this headline relates to a sharp decline in energy prices faced by manufacturers. This likely reflects the government’s interventions in the coal sector, boosting production. Bloomberg reports that the National Development and Reform Commission met with coal producers last week and that prices would have to be guided towards to a “reasonable range”.
That is, of course, assuming that omicron does not throw a spanner in the works here. It certainly does make central bankers’ jobs that bit harder again. Fed Chair Powell said yesterday that the new strain, as well as the general rise in Covid-19 cases, poses downside risks to the full employment mandate and adds uncertainty to the inflation outlook. While he didn’t specifically mention any implications for the Fed’s current policy trajectory, it adds to the markets’ doubts whether the FOMC will still decide to accelerate the pace of tapering in its December meeting, and whether the market wasn’t too aggressive in its pricing of rate hikes next year. EUR/USD continues to find some support in this revaluation of potential for US policy moves.
Certainly, uncertainty also clouds the ECB’s decisive December meeting. However, with a more dovish starting point, that is less of a marked change. If anything, the European Central Bank may want to commit less in December, leaving more options open for earlier in the year when the Governing Council has more clarity on the outlook and omicron’s impact. A key case in point are Vice President De Guindos’ remarks on the TLTRO-IIIs this morning: he is clear that “the TLTROs are not finished yet”, confirming that -in his view- this year’s long-term liquidity providing operations certainly weren’t the last. However, he added that “it’s not going to be a decision we discuss in December”. Assuming that the future of (or rather after) PEPP will still be decided in December, that does put much more weight on the few other tools the ECB could use to mitigate the expected end of pandemic purchases. This could set markets up for an initial disappointment.
Watch Live: Powell, Yellen Weigh In On Omicron, Debt Ceiling During Senate CARES Act Testimony
Watch Live: Powell, Yellen Weigh In On Omicron, Debt Ceiling During Senate CARES Act Testimony
With the new year just weeks away, Treasury…
Watch Live: Powell, Yellen Weigh In On Omicron, Debt Ceiling During Senate CARES Act Testimony
With the new year just weeks away, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will testify before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, part of routine testimony required by the CARES act.
Just two weeks ago, investors could be forgiven for writing off Tuesday’s testimony as a likely snoozefest now that Powell has been nominated for his second term as Fed chairman. But over the last week, the emergence of the omicron variant has (according to some) thrown the recovery timeline out of whack. After the release of Powell’s prepared remarks last night, markets eagerly priced in a more dovish outlook at the Fed.
But hours later, warnings from Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel sent markets back into turmoil, as investors struggled to decide who to trust more: the “science” (ie trial data which haven’t yet been gathered or released), or the authoritative executives who have been talking their book this entire time (whether the market realizes that or not is unclear).
In yet another indication of just how confused Wall Street has become, Deutsche Bank described Powell’s prepared testimony as “hawkish”, an assessment that we (and plenty of investors, judging by the market reaction) would strongly disagree with. Although DB specifies that the only hawkish aspects of Powell’s statement pertained to inflation.
We would agree with DB that nobody cares much about the pair’s prepared remarks. The “real fireworks” – as DB put it – will likely land during the Q&A, where Powell and Yellen will be grilled by Senators of both parties.
Fed Chair Powell set to appear before the Senate Banking Committee at 15:00 London time, where he may well be asked about whether the Fed plans to accelerate the tapering of their asset purchases although it’s hard to believe he’ll go too far with any guidance with the Omicron uncertainty. The Chair’s brief planned testimony was published on the Fed’s website last night. It struck a slightly more hawkish tone on inflation, noting that the Fed’s forecast was for elevated inflation to persist well into next year and recognition that high inflation imposes burdens on those least able to handle them. On omicron, the testimony predictably stated it posed risks that could slow the economy’s progress, but tellingly on the inflation front, it could intensify supply chain disruptions. The real fireworks will almost certainly come in the question and answer portion of the testimony.
Keep in mind: regardless of what Moderna CEO Bancel says, only a tiny minority on Wall Street actually expect omicron to be a major issue a few weeks from now.
But that still presents some difficulties for the central bank as it weighs whether to continue tapering asset purchases, as well as what it should signal regarding the pace of rate hikes.
Read Yellen’s prepared remarks, released Tuesday morning:
Chairman Brown, Ranking Member Toomey, members of the Committee: It is a pleasure to testify today. November has been a very significant month for our economy, and Congress is a large part of the reason why. Our economy has needed updated roads, ports, and broadband networks for many years now, and I am very grateful that on the night of November 5, members of both parties came together to pass the largest infrastructure package in American history.
November 5th, it turned out, was a particularly consequential day because earlier that morning we received a very favorable jobs report– 531,000 jobs added. It’s never wise to make too much of one piece of economic data, but in this case, it was an addition to a mounting body of evidence that points to a clear conclusion: Our economic recovery is on track. We’re averaging half a million new jobs per month since January.
GDP now exceeds its pre-pandemic levels. Our unemployment rate is at its lowest level since the start of the pandemic, and our economy is on pace to reach full employment two years faster than the Congressional Budget Office had estimated. Of course, the progress of our economic recovery can’t be separated from our progress against the pandemic, and I know that we’re all following the news about the Omicron variant.
As the President said yesterday, we’re still waiting for more data, but what remains true is that our best protection against the virus is the vaccine. People should get vaccinated and boosted. At this point, I am confident that our recovery remains strong and is even quite remarkable when put it in context. We should not forget that last winter, there was a risk that our economy was going to slip into a prolonged recession, and there is an alternate reality where, right now, millions more people cannot find a job or are losing the roofs over their heads.
It’s clear that what has separated us from that counterfactual are the bold relief measures Congress has enacted during the crisis: the CARES Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, and the American Rescue Plan Act. And it is not just the passage of these laws that has made the difference, but their effective implementation. Treasury, as you know, was tasked with administering a large portion of the relief funds provided by Congress under those bills. During our last quarterly hearing, I spoke extensively about the state and local relief program, but I wanted to update you on some other measures. First, the American Rescue Plan’s expanded Child Tax Credit has been sent out every month since July, putting about $77 billion in the pockets of families of more than 61 million children.
Families are using these funds for essential needs like food, and in fact, according to the Census Bureau, food insecurity among families with children dropped 24 percent after the July payments, which is a profound economic and moral victory for the country. Meanwhile, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program has significantly expanded, providing muchneeded assistance to over 2 million households. This assistance has helped keep eviction rates below prepandemic levels.
This month, we also released guidelines for the $10 billion State Small Business Credit Initiative program, which will provide targeted lending and investments that will help small businesses grow and create well-paying jobs. As consequential as November was, December promises to be more so. There are two decisions facing Congress that could send our economy in very different directions. The first is the debt limit. I cannot overstate how critical it is that Congress address this issue. America must pay its bills on time and in full. If we do not, we will eviscerate our current recovery. In a matter of days, the majority of Americans would suffer financial pain as critical payments, like Social Security checks and military paychecks, would not reach their bank accounts, and that would likely be followed by a deep recession. The second action involves the Build Back Better legislation.
I applaud the House for passing the bill and am hopeful that the Senate will soon follow. Build Back Better is the right economic decision for many reasons. It will, for example, end the childcare crisis in this country, letting parents return to work. These investments, we expect, will lead to a GDP increase over the long-term without increasing the national debt or deficit by a dollar. In fact, the offsets in these bills mean they actually reduce annual deficits over time. Thanks to your work, we’ve ensured that America will recover from this pandemic. Now, with this bill, we have the chance to ensure America thrives in a post-pandemic world. With that, I’m happy to take your questions.
And readers can find Powell’s prepared remarks, first released last night, below:
Chairman Brown, Ranking Member Toomey, and other members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
The economy has continued to strengthen. The rise in Delta variant cases temporarily slowed progress this past summer, restraining previously rapid growth in household and business spending, intensifying supply chain disruptions, and, in some cases, keeping people from returning to work or looking for a job. Fiscal and monetary policy and the healthy financial positions of households and businesses continue to support aggregate demand. Recent data suggest that the post-September decline in cases corresponded to a pickup in economic growth. Gross domestic product appears on track to grow about 5 percent in 2021, the fastest pace in many years.
As with overall economic activity, conditions in the labor market have continued to improve. The Delta variant contributed to slower job growth this summer, as factors related to the pandemic, such as caregiving needs and fears of the virus, kept some people out of the labor force despite strong demand for workers.
Nonetheless, October saw job growth of 531,000, and the unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent, indicating a rebound in the pace of labor market improvement.
There is still ground to cover to reach maximum employment for both employment and labor force participation, and we expect progress to continue.
The economic downturn has not fallen equally, and those least able to shoulder the burden have been the hardest hit. In particular, despite progress, joblessness continues to fall disproportionately on African Americans and Hispanics.
Pandemic-related supply and demand imbalances have contributed to notable price increases in some areas. Supply chain problems have made it difficult for producers to meet strong demand, particularly for goods. Increases in energy prices and rents are also pushing inflation upward. As a result, overall inflation is running well above our 2 percent longer-run goal, with the price index for personal consumption expenditures up 5 percent over the 12 months ending in October.
Most forecasters, including at the Fed, continue to expect that inflation will move down significantly over the next year as supply and demand imbalances abate. It is difficult to predict the persistence and effects of supply constraints, but it now appears that factors pushing inflation upward will linger well into next year. In addition, with the rapid improvement in the labor market, slack is diminishing, and wages are rising at a brisk pace.
We understand that high inflation imposes significant burdens, especially on those less able to meet the higher costs of essentials like food, housing, and transportation. We are committed to our price-stability goal. We will use our tools both to support the economy and a strong labor market and to prevent higher inflation from becoming entrenched.
The recent rise in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant pose downside risks to employment and economic activity and increased uncertainty for inflation. Greater concerns about the virus could reduce people’s willingness to work in person, which would slow progress in the labor market and intensify supply-chain disruptions.
To conclude, we understand that our actions affect communities, families, and businesses across the country. Everything we do is in service to our public mission.
We at the Fed will do everything we can to support a full recovery in employment and achieve our price-stability goal.
Thank you. I look forward to your questions.
The big question now: will Powell sound dovish, or hawkish, under questioning? What’s more, investors should be on the lookout for Yellen’s comments on the debt ceiling – particularly anything she says about the timing for when the Treasury might run out of funds.
Whiplash Price Action Continues
There’s no shortage of volatility in the markets this week and today we’re seeing the negative side of that…
There’s no shortage of volatility in the markets this week and today we’re seeing the negative side of that, with Europe down around 1% and US futures not far behind.
The old adage that markets hate uncertainty couldn’t be more true and it’s going toe to toe with another well-known force, investors’ love of dips. It’s been so beneficial over the years, backed by endless central bank cash, so you can’t blame them. But on this occasion, they may be swimming against the tide as the downside risks are potentially severe.
It’s was encouraging over the weekend to hear that cases appear more modest, which drew dip buyers in on Monday. But huge uncertainty still remains and we’re seeing that in action today, as Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel warned current vaccines will be far less effective against Omicron.
This whipsaw price action could become a regular feature over the next couple of weeks as information on the variant trickles out and we get a much better understanding of what we’re dealing with. For now, markets will remain very sensitive to indications that vaccines may not protect us this winter as much as we hoped.
This brings us to central banks and what they intend to do if countries are forced to impose tight restrictions and lockdowns. It’s always assumed that they’ll just turn the taps on, drown the market in liquidity and save the day. But throughout the experiment of the last decade or so, they’ve never had to contend with high inflation, rather the theoretical risk of it.
Are they really going to be so keen to flood us with QE this time around? Or is the best we can hope for that they don’t raise rates for a few months and pause the tightening cycle before it’s really begun. And at what cost given that lockdowns may exacerbate the supply-driven inflationary pressures and give central banks a worse headache. That could be a drag for equity markets in the near term.
Of course, this is all hypothetical at this point and a bit of good news on the vaccine front would quickly get investors back on board and allow central banks to proceed with cautious tightening. But the early signs from the actual experts suggest there is something to worry about with Omicron, which may be a shock to the system this winter.
Euro buoyed by higher inflation data but shouldn’t get carried away
The euro is rallying strongly after eurozone inflation soared to 4.9% in November – a record high – led by higher energy prices, while the core reading also blew past expectations rising to 2.6%. The single currency had been on the rise all morning after the French data surpassed expectations, as did Germany and Spain on Monday. Ultimately though, I don’t think it changes much as far as the ECB is concerned. Euro area inflation will ease after the turn of the year and as a result the central bank is not among those that will be feeling the pressure at this stage.
Lira hit again as economy grows slower than expected
The lira is getting hit once again after reports that the CBRT Executive Director for Markets has left their post. The dollar broke back above 13 against the lira after the reports and remains above there despite paring some of those gains, which also came after the country reported growth of 7.4% in the third quarter, a little shy of expectations.
The currency remains extremely vulnerable to further losses as President Erdogan continues to fiercely oppose higher rates and the central bank shows no sign of changing its approach, rather its staff.
Bitcoin seeing strong support despite market risk aversion
Bitcoin bounced back strongly on Monday, along with other risk assets, but failed to break back above USD 60,000 and has come under pressure once again today. What’s interesting though is it appears to have found support around USD 56,000 again, ahead of last week’s lows which may suggest we’re seeing a flurry of bargain hunters hoping to capitalise on the recent 20%+ dip.
It seems premature given the wild swings we’re seeing in sentiment at the moment and risks to the downside that Omicron poses. But bitcoin has performed well since the start of the pandemic and perhaps there’s a view that should central banks be forced to step in, bitcoin could benefit once more. I guess we’ll see if that turns out to be the case.
For a look at all of today’s economic events, check out our economic calendar: www.marketpulse.com/economic-events/
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