So Many Reasons For Optimism: Here’s Just One

Never Been Here Before…
I attended a webinar yesterday where Stephanie Kelton was being interviewed. Kelton is/was a Bernie advisor and a HUGE proponent of the Modern Monetary Theory of economics. She will have a new book coming out which you can pre-order here.

Now, I’m unequivocally opposed to Bernie Sanders and the silliness behind the push for the “Green New Deal” BUT there is some common ground one can find with the Kelton’s of the world:
Deflation is coming.

And what Professor Kelton said in yesterday’s webinar is concerning to me. She said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If we don’t get inflation in 18 months, we could be in big trouble.”

This, my friends, is a fundamental shift in everything we’ve been taught for nearly 100 years, that inflation, i.e. the continual decline of purchasing power, is the risk. It’s actually sacrosanct among investors for years, you need to invest in order to at least keep up with inflation.

But what if there is no inflation, but rather DEFLATION? How does that change one’s thinking?

Interestingly enough, if we go back in time, starting in the 1870s through the end of that century, we see significant DEFLATION, year after year.

We can also look at 1927 through 1940 and see the same thing.

While there are no instances of deflation in my, or your, lifetime, it actually happened not too long ago. Can we use any of that previous information to at least get an idea of what investing and retirement planning might look like?

Well, yes and in fact, I did a set of videos on this exact thing.
Investing During the Deflation (1870-1900) is here.
Investing During the Great Depression is here.
5% Withdrawals During Deflation is here.

As you’ll notice having a sizable cash holding was a critical aspect to a successful investing/retirement strategy. The reason for that is quite simple, cash INCREASES in value during deflation!

Your cash need do nothing other than sit in a Mason Jar and it will gain value simply because the price of goods is DROPPING.

You must remember money is nothing more than a way to purchase goods. In of itself, money/cash is an inanimate object, it’s meaningless

But, because it’s used to transfer one product, food for instance, to you in exchange for it, it has an intrinsic value.

If a dollar today can buy a hotdog but tomorrow that same dollar can buy a hotdog and a drink, that is deflation. And my dollar is inherently worth MORE than it was yesterday.

I hope that makes sense. As it’s such a fundamental shift in thinking I worry a lot of people will get it wrong.

Did that dollar increase in value because I invested it in some strategy? No! It increased in value due to the price of goods dropping. I need not be Warren Buffet to increase my purchasing power, and thus my wealth, with that dollar. I just needed to have a dollar. And that’s it.

Now, while deflation may sound like a fun thing, I make money by taking no risk??? SIGN ME UP! The problem is that if my dollar will buy a hotdog today, but tomorrow I expect it will buy a hotdog and a drink, then what’s to say in two days it won’t be able to buy me a hotdog, drink AND some french fries?

If that is my expectation, then I’m going to hold onto my dollar for dear life as I can buy more and more products later. And thus the deflationary cycle. As I hold onto that dollar waiting for prices to continue to drop it is removed from the economy and the velocity of money screeches to a halt. When velocity of money declines…look out below! Economic activity slows wayyyyy down. This is what we need to be thinking of today.

What happens when that occurs? It’s such a foreign concept to us raised post-Great Depression.

Japan gives us a glimpse of what may happen. Which is why RIchard Koo’s book, The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics is so critical to read.

We really need to be studying Japan more. As I truly believe that’s where we are going as a nation.

I’ll be doing more videos looking at Japan through a microscope. I haven’t done it much yet. But just you wait.

If Kelton is right, and despite her politics, I think she is, it’s going to be a whole new day in economics, investing and retirement planning.

22 MILLION people filing for unemployment. Let that sink in. And that’s just the beginning. Untold business operations being shut down. Untold furloughs. Untold investments in future growth not being made.

I don’t think we’ve anywhere near the idea of how bad this is going to be. And a $1200 “stimulus” check for the privilege of being forced to be under house-arrest simply won’t cut it.

It’s going to be ugly. I could be wrong, obviously. In fact, never a bad idea to bet AGAINST me… but if I’m even partly right, prepare accordingly.

Build up cash.

I Refuse…

To follow the Doom and Gloom that seems to me is an addiction for many. Be it 2.2 million deaths due to Coronavirus*, Millenials are snowflakes, CO2 will destroy us all or the one I want to address today, the “stock market” is a house built on sand.

I can’t tell how many times I’ve heard this since I started investing in 1994. The “stock market” is gambling.  The markets are propped up by the Fed.  The government spending will doom us all.

And yet in 1994 when I was all of 24 years old the S&P 500 stood at the low, low price of 472.99.

Two years later, Alan Greenspan uttered his immortal words “irrational exuberance” when the S&P 500 stood at 735.67.

At market close last night (3/30/2020) the S&P 500 stood at 2626.65, which is 22.6% off its all time high of 3393 just a few short weeks ago.  (Of course, this is 19.8% ABOVE its low on March 20th.)

But never mind all that.  What’s important is EARNINGS.  Earnings drives prices.  So, depending on who you read earnings for the SP 500 in 2019 were between 133 and 163.  I actually like the folks at Ed Yardeni research so we’ll use them and their 163 earnings number.

Let’s then take the close of the SP 500 on 30 Dec which was 3221. Divide that by Yardeni’s estimated 2019 earnings of 163 and we get a P/E ratio of 19.76.  If that seems too low for you we can take the 133 earnings instead and come up with a P/E ratio of 24.21.

Either number you use is considerably higher than historical averages of 15.5.  This is where the negative Nellie’s among us will scream “this is unsustainable!!! See the Shiller CAPE ratio!!!!”

Going forward, a couple estimates I’ve read suggest earnings decreases of HUGE proportions in 2020 because of the Coronavirus.  33% is what Goldman Sachs says. Yardeni himself is thinking 26%.

Using Yardeni’s numbers again, he has earnings dropping to 120 for 2020 for the S&P 500.   Current price is 2626.  So, if Yardeni’s earnings projections are correct and he does have a good history of this, right now the FORWARD P/E of the S&P 500 is all of 21.88.  Not cheap, mind you, but certainly not a depression.

If we use the 133 2019 earnings of the SP 500 and Goldman Sach’s 33% decline that puts earnings for 2020 at 89.11.
Divide 2626 by 89.11 and we have a forward PE of 29.
Again, not cheap, but nowhere near any kind of Depression level.

The issue is there are still EARNINGS for the SP 500 even after a 20% or more decline in GDP!

Let’s say the SP 500 stays flat over the next 24 months but earnings go back to Yardeni’s 2019 estimate of 163.  Where does that put the PE ratio? At 16.11, which, of course, is right in line with historic norms.

However, not to mention the current 10 Year Treasury yield is all of .67% would be silly. Investing is always about choosing the most efficient use of your capital.

There are competing investment opportunities for your hard earned money. Stocks are just one.  But bonds, government bonds in particularly, real estate, gold, cash, paying down debt are others.

(Investing in one’s own business seems to be an afterthought for many. But man oh man, do I wish more people would pursue that path.  A society of entrepreneurs is inherently a FREE society and will likely remain so.)

You have to choose among your investing options.  Pay down your debt, buy government bonds, investing in real estate, going to the bank or staying in stocks. What looks best to you?

Well, for me, as is always the case, it’s being an owner, a very small owner I recognize, of the best companies in the world, the companies I frequent EVERY SINGLE DAY as do you.  As their earnings get back to normal, once the insanity of the Coronavirus dissipates, they will profit and I will too.

This is my belief. It’s not a fact. I can not prove this will happen. But I believe it will and as such I remain a very confident investor in the best companies in the world. Because to me, there is no alternative.

That’s my $.02. You are welcome to disagree. I don’t care if you do frankly. It’s YOUR money. Do with it as you must.

Blessings,

Josh

* There are those who say the Imperial College folks only used the 2.2 million if we did nothing…but because we are doing something that number is no longer accurate.  They say this in defense of the scaremongering.

However, these defenders obviously did not read what the Imperial College actually said.. so here you go.

Social distancing of the entire US population, isolation of anyone infected with coronavirus and quarantines for their household members may be the only way to stem the pandemic – and these measures may need to be in place for 18 months, a new study suggests. 

Researchers at Imperial College London say that if the whole population doesn’t hunker down, between 1.1 million and 1.2 million Americans will likely die of coronavirus, even if they are treated.  

Their study, published Monday, predicts how the coronavirus pandemic is likely to pan out, depending on how the US and UK respond. 

If the US and UK did nothing, they estimate that 81 percent of each population would become infected, and 2.2 million Americans would die, along with 510,000 Britons.”

NOTE – quarantines need to be in place for 18 months is literally what they said. NO ONE is saying quarantine 18 months. And yet, somehow, the 2.2 million number as well as the 500k UK numbers have been DRASTICALLY reduced.

Interesting, is it not?

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