Vedran Vuk here, filling in for David Galland. First today, I'll talk about adjusting your portfolio to minimize the damage from the political events around us. Then Bud Conrad will give us a comparison of today's market to the Nixon-era political turmoil – it's not pretty. Finally, I'll touch on the youth vote in the recent election and how the US's next generation is shaping up.
Never Worry About Another Election Again
By Vedran Vuk, Senior Analyst
"Woooooooooo! Wooooooooo!" That's what I heard all night from my neighbor's election-night party. If the last four years are any indicator of the next four, then I'm not really sure what there is to be so excited about. Sure, some might prefer Obama a little more than Romney, and that's fine. What confuses me is such excitement for an administration that has been such a failure.
Well, my neighbor might have kept me awake Tuesday night, but I surely got him back on Wednesday morning. When I saw the market plunging 345 points on the DJIA, I'm certain he was awoken by my "Arrrrrrrgggggggg!!!!" followed by "$%#!!! #$%#%, E#%%!!!!!" Jokes aside, what a way to start the next four years. With the market crashing hard, it was one of those days where I'm glad not to be living on the top story of a high-rise.
However, as the screen went red almost across the board, there was one ray of hope – gold. It was still holding its ground. With more problems ahead, the money-printing will continue and inflation will follow. And from there, gold will continue to rise. In a way, our obsession with gold at Casey Research is kind of weird. The same could be said of our readers who send us emails about inflation all the time.
Think about it. We're the ones always talking about the Federal Reserve and what the Fed is going to do next. We're way more worried about it than almost anyone else. But should we be worried? Probably not. Well, why not? BECAUSE WE HOLD GOLD!!!! Duh!
If the US experiences a hyperinflation, our subscribers are going to be the last ones in trouble's path. In fact, it might be the greatest time of your life. While everyone's paper assets turn into just that paper, you'll be one of the few sitting on real wealth.
The people who should be really freaking out are the ones who aren't holding gold in their portfolios – it's the portfolio owners who saw nothing but red after the election who need to worry.
Here's another worry to wipe out: gas prices. If you're in the middle or upper class, you shouldn't be complaining about gas prices. Why? Because you can do something about it! I'm going to come off as a bit of a jerk but I have to say this… every time WTI crude oil goes up, I'm a pretty happy guy. Why? Because the energy stocks in my portfolio went up as well.
Am I some sort of evil profiteer? No; I realize that there is an energy problem in our society. And I don't want to be a sitting duck when oil prices start rising yet again. I'm just doing what I have to do to protect myself – and that's owning shares of energy companies.
It's ridiculous to just complain about gas prices and inflation – you can actually do something about these problems. Buy gold and energy companies. While these assets won't guarantee keeping up with your personal expenses and gas prices and it can be a little tricky to match them exactly to your expenses, they are going to put you in a lot better position than those without them in the portfolio.
The same goes for this election. Do you think that the US is going downhill faster than a snowball headed to hell? Well, do something about it. Invest in defensive stocks with an international base, diversify your assets overseas, and hold multiple currencies. We're not sitting ducks here. You can take action to protect yourself from the meltdown.
Does buying these sorts of assets guarantee your protection? No not necessarily, but let's put it this way. When the economic hurricane comes rolling through, do you want to be the guy with a generator, plenty of diesel, ammo, flashlights, and weeks of food stocked up, or do you want to be the guy with three cans of tuna in the pantry and a single box of matches? When a natural disaster is coming, you have to prepare. What's true for hurricanes is true for financial crises as well.
On New Year's Day, when the confetti is scattered on the floor and everyone is recovering from their hangovers, what do we usually do next? Make our New Year's resolutions. Whether you're picking up the confetti from your Obama re-election party or recovering from drinking away your newfound worries of the next morning, I want you to make a post-election resolution – much like the New Year's one.
Here it is: I will organize my portfolio and finances in such a way that I will never again have to nervously wait for the results on election night. Your hard-earned money shouldn't depend on the voting decisions of a couple of bozos from Ohio and Pennsylvania. We can't control everything about the world around us, but we can control far more risks than most people realize.
How Far Could the Stock Market Fall?
By Bud Conrad, Chief Economist
We are heading back into a serious recession that will be similar to the crisis of confidence in 1974 with the Nixon impeachment. During Nixon's landslide victory for a second term and the ensuing Watergate impeachment, I lived in Washington DC and watched the ensuing chaos with a front-row seat. The break-in of the Democratic national headquarters in the Watergate complex occurred before the election, yet it did not stop Nixon's re-election.
The country and Washington DC became accustomed to cover-ups and deceptive practices. Anger over Vietnam and the assassinations of respected leaders manifested into mass protests and arrests. I still remember tear-gas canisters in the streets of Georgetown. In a second, we'll take a look at some charts showing just what this turmoil did to the stock market.
Nearly 40 years later, the cover-ups haven't stopped. Today, we have a cover-up of an assassinated ambassador and three others in Libya. If enough people ask questions – like Congressman Darrell Issa has been – about why there was weak security, we might even open a bigger can of worms, as this assassination is a bigger deal than most people realize. And again, much like with Nixon, the economic climate grows troublesome with high unemployment, growing future inflation concerns thanks to QE3, and the world economy slowing. As was the case back then, we're a powder keg ready to blow. Remember the explosion of bad government regulations the last time around – like wage and price controls? I remember them all too well, as I was a consultant to the energy division of the Nixon administration's Economic Stabilization Program Phase 2.
Obama's win gives a false sense of having resolved a key uncertainty. But the fundamental problems we face are bigger than one leader's capability to solve them. No good answers are on the table for our budget deficits and endless wars. European peripheral countries struggle with 50% youth unemployment, leading to worries of money-printing and currency crisis. If we add an environmental catastrophe, such as a crop failure leading to food shortages, the world could face much bigger downturns than purely financial analysis can predict.
The 1974 stock market crash was the second biggest compared to the crisis we went through in 2008. It was precipitated by political crisis more than financial difficulties. The Vietnam War and Johnson's expansion of social services created deficits that at the time that seemed too large. Today, of course, we have political problems as well as financial problems. And this time around, the deficits don't just seem large and unsustainable, they are too large and unsustainable. On top of that, Bernanke and Greenspan have spent every bullet in the arsenal to avoid short-term disaster. While in the '70s we still had a box of bullets, we're now running on empty – and the enemy is closing in on our foxhole.
Since 2000, we have had two crises – one being the dot-com bubble, and the latest is the housing bubble. As the financial crisis gets worse, so will the political backlash and the disruptions in society. This scenario suggests much higher inflation, disenfranchisement of workers, and government oppression to maintain control.
The chart below shows some of the effects of key moments of political turmoil on the stock market, as well as the relationship of those changes to the Purchasing Managers' Index. This Index is one of the most reliable indicators of the country's growth in manufacturing output and thus the growth of GDP. It comes from surveying purchasing managers as to whether the economy is improving or getting worse on a number of measures like orders, shipments, exports, prices paid, etc. The composite of these measures is provided monthly and is not revised. It is not a government number, so it is not vulnerable to manipulation to make the story fit the political agenda. It can provide an early warning of a slowing economy and can be useful for interpreting what might happen to the stock market.
(Click on image to enlarge)
The specifics of the Nixon-era stock collapse are shown in close-up in the chart below. It could happen again. The polarization of our factions is now back at the levels of that era, and there are no signs of it diminishing.
(Click on image to enlarge)
In the most recent issue of The Casey Report, I have an extensive piece on the importance of the Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) and other measures for the US and many others countries – some of the results may surprise you as they surprised me. The analysis led me to change my view of where our economy may be heading. For more on that, make sure to check out the latest Casey Report.
Besides our own political problems, there are a whole list of countries ready to erupt into turmoil, including Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Iran. Add the likelihood of an environmental destabilization of, say, some big crop failure to our recurring financial crisis, and the probabilities are even higher that the next year or two will be very bad on several dimensions.
And that's just half the problems on our plate. Here are a few more to consider over the next two years: the US fiscal cliff and continuing budget deficits; a collapse of the European currency union; and an Asian hard landing.
There are many links between politics and money. I fear we will see some serious problems ahead because we haven't fixed anything and the only actions our leaders seem to know how to take are to expand the money supply.
The worldwide money-printing by central banks to fund government overspending is close to reaching its conclusion. When governments run out of stimulus to prop up their financial sectors and to placate the masses, then things really start to unwind.
I am of the opinion that money will be inflated out of existence by corrupt governments and central bankers, so we should be buying physical assets like farmland, houses, commodities, precious metals, and energy. We should avoid bonds or any fixed-dollar return like bonds. In a way, one wishes that a single president or re-election could make all of these things go away, but that's just not going to happen. The world's problems are now much bigger than the presidency, and they continue to pile on in a similar way to what we witnessed during the '70s.
What's Going on with the Kids Today?
By Vedran Vuk
In looking to the future of the economy, we have to consider the next generation. Unfortunately, that generation just opted to vote for more government yet again, with about 60% of the youth vote (ages 18-29) going to Obama and 36% for Romney.
I'm not saying that Romney was some sort of economic messiah. In fact, he was terrible as well. Rather, what I'm trying to gauge here is if the kids are waking up to the fact that the policies of the last four years have been pretty ineffective. Apparently, many haven't caught on.
You would think that this age group – that has had it pretty rough in the recession, with double-digit unemployment rates – would be the last ones to vote for Obama. Furthermore, even the college kids who have jobs often aren't working in their fields of study. In this tough market, one would expect more angst toward the present administration.
That said, the vote has slightly changed. In 2008, 66% voted for Obama and 31% for McCain. So apparently, a few of them are connecting the dots that Obama has not made them better off; or those who have moved in to voting age are more economically aware than those who remained in it or moved out of it. The even smarter kids probably connected the dots that Romney wasn't going to do much for them either. Nonetheless, how do we explain the still-strong support for bigger government?
Since I'm on the far end of the youth age group, I still have the pulse of these things, so let me share what I see going on. First of all, the 18-23 age group – college kids – are as brainwashed as ever. It's the same story that has been around for years. They're idealistic kids who, with their professors holding their hands, are happy to pull the lever for the left. They just don't get how bad things are out there. It usually takes getting to the 300th résumé before that idealism behind "hope" and "change" starts to fade away.
But what about the young kids like myself who have been out there in the workforce… who did fill out hundreds of job applications… what are they thinking? This is the most interesting group. In many younger friends, I see something happening similar to the polarization of war veterans.
Have you ever noticed how polarized veterans' opinions become after coming back from war? They either come back more gung ho than ever, putting a flag in the yard and supporting the most pro-war candidate or they come back the complete opposite – they see the wars as complete BS and become lifelong anti-war advocates. There are some people in the middle as well, but more often than not, soldiers seem to go the extremes of each side. When faced with traumatic life experiences, people often deal with them by going to an extreme.
I see the same thing happening with this generation's reaction to vast unemployment – they have been shell-shocked into the extremes. When times got tough, one group of kids got tougher. Many of my friends have unbelievable work ethics; they could give Third-World sweat-shop workers a run for their money. Furthermore, they've hunkered down by saving money and living very frugally. Their lifestyles make their Baby Boomer parents look bad. The older generation always tends to demean the younger, but in this case, there's a portion of the current generation that's tougher and better than the one before it. I emphasize "portion" for a reason. There's the other portion to consider.
When you're filling out that 300th résumé, there are two ways to react. You either get tougher, or you start seeing the world as completely unfair. You can lose sight of the connection between effort and results. I understand how this can happen. There are lots of smart, hard-working kids out there who can't land jobs. I'm not talking about the C-student sociology majors here. To many, the job market now looks like a rigged game of connections, rather than a meritocratic system. If you're smart, hard-working, and still can't get a job, how are you supposed to develop an appreciation for the capitalist system?
These kids got tougher too, but in a much different way. They see the world as unfair. And since the world is unfair, they have no problem taking from others. Why feel bad about it? When your viewpoint has lost the connection between effort and results, everything looks like luck. To some extent, you can see their perspective. If one graduated even in 2006 or 2007, they are light-years ahead in their careers in comparison to those finishing school 2008 and later. The 2006 class got on the ladder with an entry-level job; the 2008 kids didn't. It's a hard case to make that the 2008 grads are lazier than the 2006 grads. The difference between the groups has a lot to do with luck.
Here's the problem with this. If wealth is seen as just the lucky circumstance of being born into better times rather than the result of effort and ingenuity, then it's easy to not feel bad about redistribution. Despite the Obama administration's failures thus far, this growing life philosophy is one of the reason for growing support for big government among the youth.
However, there's another side of the coin, like the Ron Paul movement. Guess who were the biggest supporters of Ron Paul's extremely free-market views? It wasn't the Reagan generation. An enormous amount of his support came from the youth. This is that polarization that I'm talking about. One part of the generation is Ron Paul crazy, the other is Obama crazy.
Is this a good sign for the country down the road? Yes and no. It really depends what faction wins. If the fiscally responsible and hard-working part of the youth takes over in 20 or 30 years, we might see administrations that would make Ronald Reagan look like a communist. If the other side gains dominance, we might look back at Barack Obama as a free-market champion. It's still up in the air; and the next few years are going to be instrumental in shaping this generation's experience.
This is hilarious. A local TV station gives its viewers a traffic report for driving to Canada after the election:
And now for a few funny political bumper stickers as we say goodbye to the 2012 campaign. I threw in a few Democrat ones and a few Republican ones, but all good enough for a chuckle.
One more thing before we go: there's a new Casey Phyle forming in Cafayate, Argentina. Anyone interested please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading and subscribing to the Casey Daily Dispatch. See you next week.
Casey Senior Analyst