Welcome to another rousing edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance.
Another busy week is crossed off the list. So without further ado, let’s get right to the commentary …
“This is a madhouse!” said Horace. Deirdre laughed. “No, doveling. It’s a menagerie.”
— from Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
Credits and Debits
Credit: Did you see this? Earlier this week, with assets of more than $187 billion, Bernard Arnault — of Louis Vuitton fame — surpassed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest person. His rise to the top was short-lived, however — by the end of the week, Bezos’ net worth was $600 million higher than Arnault’s balance sheet. Call me crazy, but I don’t think these guys are worried about the cost of hot-rolled coil steel …
Mycroft Holmes IV (@mycroft_holmes4) May 27, 2021
Credit: Speaking of assets, as the Swarm Blog points out, “The greatest trick Wall Street ever pulled was convincing the world that an asset would never go down, which means that even if one is willing to take a stand against the financial system, there’s still a high probability the bet will be wrong because most investors underestimate the occurrence of extreme events.” And why is that? Because, despite the Fed-induced moral hazard, it’s been a profitable strategy; that’s why! Unlike this hazard …
Debit: Frankly, investors who believe the Fed has their back see no reason to consider inconvenient facts about a company’s financial health. Take corporate debts, for example; the ratio of corporate debt to profit has never been higher — and the ratio of corporate total debt to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for investment-grade companies is also at an all-time high. See for yourself:
Credit: Don’t tell that to stock market investors though. The S&P 500 ended the week near yet another all-time high, while the Russell 2000 small cap index capped its eighth consecutive month of gains — that’s its longest run since 1995.
M-1 money supply is up 316% in last 12 months no way FED through QE and Congress through deficit spending can print that much money without alot of inflation!
Doug (@Douglas16475773) May 25, 2021
Powell just gave that dog one trillion dollars
jeff messantonio (@jmess78) May 27, 2021
Credit: Meanwhile, asset manager Matthew Piepenburg argued this week that, “the Fed has to choose between allowing markets to die by hawkishly tapering the money supply needed to control rates, or allowing for Main-Street-crippling inflation to increase by dovishly accommodating the markets with unlimited fiat money.” He then added, “Given that the Fed bows to the markets not the people, which choice do you think they’ll make?” Before you answer, here’s a hint … On second thought, make that two hints:
Add an extra $1.50 to that gas price in CA
Svet (@0xfudamentals) May 28, 2021
Credit: By the way, John Williams, economist and founder of ShadowStats, is on the same page. He says the Fed has painted itself into such a tight corner with the economy it really has only two choices: “inflation or implosion.” Williams then went out on a limb, predicting that the US will suffer a “a hyperinflationary economic collapse” in 2022. You know, ten years ago a statement like that would have permanently destroyed an economist’s credibility. Not any more.
Raised the cost of a melon slice to two bitcoin due to inflation. pic.twitter.com/pyNX0r4Lv5
Paul (@Ellands_road) May 25, 2021
Credit: As the always-on-point MN Gordon observed this week, “When housing prices are factored into the inflation adjustment, real interest rates are minus 5.47%. Real negative interest rates are a product of Fed intervention; this is Financial Repression 101. By pegging short term rates below the inflation rate, Washington is able to extract wealth from your bank account and future earnings; they’re stealing economic growth through zero interest rates and money printing to inflate away government debt.” Imagine that.
I thought the most watched inflation measure at the fed was whatever was most conveniant to the narrative?
7SeasJim (@SevenSeasJames) May 28, 2021
Youll never be rid of him if u do….
Zach Spindle (@SpindleZach) May 28, 2021
Credit: Meanwhile, Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Shiller says that, “In real terms, home prices have never been higher — and my data goes back over 100 years. But I don’t think the whole thing is explained by central bank policy; there’s something about market sociology that’s happening.” No; sorry, Robert. It’s entirely due to the Fed. If they were to normalize rates, the market would crater. And those brainless home-flipping shows would disappear too. Just don’t say that to this guy …
Credit: Bank of America’s Chief Investment Strategist, Michael Hartnett, says the current economic cycle is eerily reminiscent of the period between 1967-69. Like today, that period was marred by low interest rates, large budget deficits — courtesy of LBJ’s Guns & Butter program — a complicit Fed, and inflation rising to multi-year highs — all culminating with a painful bear market in 1969. Yes, it’s all true; but this time around we have a Plunge Protection Team! Right perma-bulls? Or should I say, perma-parrots …
Debit: Of course, what followed was a decade that saw the US dollar’s last tether to gold “temporarily” broken, debilitating stagflation and a close brush with hyperinflation that was only avoided because the Fed raised interest rates to 20%. The difference this time is that America’s debt load is too high to tolerate interest rates much above the zero-bound. Oh, yeah … it was also still a manufacturing powerhouse that made its own goods. And Americans had a much better grasp on the value of money too:
Debit: Then again, back in the 70s the Fed was still honest enough to include food, energy and housing costs in the CPI. In fact, they were considered so important at the time — and rightfully so — that they made up more than 50% of the index. Today, they aren’t counted at all. Huh. Strange, isn’t it?
In cognito (@Cognito133) May 28, 2021
Debit: Unfortunately, the Fed is going to ride this horse until it can’t go any further, so relying on them to save our broken monetary system — and keep you financially whole — is a fool’s errand. A reckoning is near, but there’s good news: You can minimize the pain by stacking physical precious metals to protect your long-term savings, as well as by storing food and non-durable consumer goods to front-run inflation and reduce supply-chain disruption impacts. Or you can trust the clowns at the Fed.
By the Numbers
Based on the average annual wages in the US, the cost of an American passport requires just four hours of work. But in many nations, passports can be very expensive when taking local earning power into account. Here are the ten nations with the most expensive passports in terms of hours worked:
10 Haiti (134 hours)
9 Yemen (142 hours)
8 Benin (170 hours)
7 Mozambique (200 hours)
6 Rwanda (260 hours)
5 Sierra Leone (370 hours)
4 Burundi (508 hours)
3 Antigua & Barbuda (833 hours)
2 Congo (974 hours)
1 Malawi (983 hours)
The Question of the Week
Last Week’s Poll Results
How high would bank interest rates have to be to entice you to save more cash?
- 5% (28%)
- 4% (24%)
- 3% (23%)
- 6% (10%)
- 8% or higher (8%)
- 7% (7%)
More than 2200 Len Penzo dot Com readers responded to this week’s poll and it turns out that 1 in 4 say they need savings account interest rates to be 6% or higher before they’ll consider saving more cash. Now here’s the rub: With inflation running at 10% or higher, even an offer of 9% interest ends up robbing depositors of their purchasing power (if only slightly).
If you have a question you’d like me to ask the readers here, send it to me at Len@LenPenzo.com — and be sure to put “Question of the Week” in the subject line.
Useless News: The 19th Hole
Two guys grow up together, but after college one moves to Georgia and the other to Texas. They agree to meet every ten years in Florida to play golf and catch up with each other’s stories.
At age 32 they meet, finish their round of golf and head for lunch.
“Where you wanna go?”
“They have those servers with the big boobs, tight shorts and gorgeous legs.”
At age 42, they meet and play golf again. When the round ended, it was time once again to hit the 19th hole.
“Where you wanna go for lunch?”
“They have cold beer, big screen TVs, and side action on the games.”
“Yeah, boy! Let’s do it!”
At age 52 they meet and play again. When the round was over, it was time to eat.
“So, where you wanna go for lunch?”
“The food is pretty good and there’s plenty of parking.”
At age 62 they meet again. After the round of golf, one says, “Where you wanna go?”
“Wings are half price and the food isn’t too spicy.”
At age 72 they meet again. Once again, after a round of golf, one says, “Where shall we go for lunch?”
“They have six handicapped parking spaces right by the door and they have senior discounts.”
At age 82 they meet and play again.
“Where should we go for lunch?”
“Because we’ve never been there before.”
“I can’t argue with that. Let’s give it a try!”
More Useless News
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(The Best of) Letters, I Get Letters
Every week I feature the most interesting question or comment — assuming I get one, that is. And folks who are lucky enough to have the only question in the mailbag get their letter highlighted here whether it’s interesting or not! You can reach out to me at: Len@LenPenzo.com
This week I got a message from long-time reader Dan who sent me this note after getting my weekly blog round-up in his mailbox last Monday:
Len, I can’t find Black Coffee. It’s usually the best part.
Sorry about that, Dan. There was a … hey … wait a minute. What do you mean “usually”?
If you enjoyed this, please forward it to your friends and family. I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.
Photo Credit: stock photo