Download now: The Downfall of Cable, and the Rise of 5G!

All Come to Look for America

Written by Briton Ryle
Posted January 11, 2021

Last week, 60 Minutes had a great piece about Maine’s former governor and current independent Sen. Angus King.

Like myself, the good senator is a Virginia native. Unlike myself, King left Virginia to join a law firm; I left Virginia to be a ski bum in Colorado.  

During the interview, King observed that Maine is a state of small towns.

Now, the first thing I thought was, Independent??? You got a hell of a nerve not taking sides these days. Depending on how you vote, you’re either God’s chosen or in league with Satan. That neighbor we once shared a beer with? All we share now is suspicion and contempt.

We’re all pretty disgusted with Congress these days. Seems to me they represent the American people pretty well: Neither side will compromise on a damn thing.

So anyway, Maine is a state of small towns. To clarify that remark, Mr. King said that, like in a small town, everybody depends on lifelong customers. You can’t afford to lose customers. And every family knows that at the end of the day, having good customers and being a good customer is not a luxury; it’s a matter of survival. 

And so there’s a willingness, maybe even an eagerness, to find the common ground, to find the things we share instead of the things that make us different.

Now, I get that Maine might be a pretty idyllic example of common ground. Still, we all share the fact that we are Americans. I wonder if that still means anything…

Everybody seems so certain these days. I’m feeling like I know less and less.

The Madness of Crowds

If you want a different take on what’s going on in the U.S. and the world, try Martin Gurri’s The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium.

Gurri talks about the impact of the digital age on information and content. He explores the idea that information and content are very directly tied to the power of the various institutions. He uses the example of the printing press and how that impacted the institution of the church. 

When you had all discussion of God and the Bible coming from the church, the church was all-powerful. Then the printing press opened the discussion up, and the church was fractured as a result. But it could've been worse because you still had to have the education to be able to enter the discussion. So the scope was still limited.

Fast-forward to today, when the internet has put literally billions of people into various conversations. The impact is that every institution we have is under attack. Government, journalism, the arts, academia, law enforcement, Wall Street — we are increasingly distrustful of them all.

Twitter and Facebook have put the conversation in the hands of the people. And as a group, all we can agree on is what we don't like, what we don't trust, and what we want to tear down.

The Fed’s Ring and Run

Stocks are expensive and the market is long overdue for a correction. COVID cases are still spiking, and new lockdown restrictions will push many countries back into recession. 

But, at the same time, the bulls are just relentless. 

Of course, the vaccine rollout is unequivocally good news. We can finally see some light at the end of this god-awful tunnel. But will that light also shine on stock valuations and the long-term economic damage from the pandemic? 

Investors have put all their eggs in the Fed's basket. Meanwhile, most economists say that the U.S. economy will not get back to 2019 levels until 2022 at the earliest.  

Now, of course, we have to take economists' forecasts with a grain of salt. After all, the only difference between an economist and a senile old man is that the economist has a calculator. (HA! Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week.)

I learned a long time ago that the market is rarely wrong. So if you find yourself railing that the market is wrong and that millions of investors are wrong, well, it's probably time to do a little soul-searching. And I have been doing just that — wracking my brain to figure out what I'm missing, why I'm not gung-ho bullish like so many investors seem to be.

Editor's note: I will never tell you that I am always right. Anyone who does tell you that is lying, and thinking you're always right as an investor is a recipe for disaster. Of course, you have to have confidence. And in my opinion, there's no greater show of confidence in one's ability than the capacity for honest assessment.

As I mull the conditions, as I feed reams of seemingly incongruous facts and figures into the black box that is my brain, I get a simple one-word answer: inflation. This market is betting on inflation. Inflation is the one factor that can bring this wacky telescope into focus. 

Wages rise, more hiring, higher asset prices, debt is suddenly cheaper to service, exports pick up — and if you put, say, 4% inflation into your earnings estimate models, well, forward P/Es start to look downright attractive. 

The only "problem" with forecasting inflation is that the Fed is supposed to step in and hike rates if inflation cracks 2%. And so if you follow the company line, stocks can't move on inflation because inflation means the Fed will hike rates. But what if the Fed doesn't hike and instead simply focuses on supporting Treasury bond prices with its QE purchases (which run $100 billion a month)?

Fed Chairman Powell has already told us he doesn't care about inflation. Seems to me he's planning to leave a flaming bag of inflation on the next Fed chief's porch, ring the doorbell, and run.

Until next time,

brit''s sig

Briton Ryle

follow basic@BritonRyle on Twitter

A 21-year veteran of the newsletter business, Briton Ryle is the editor of The Wealth Advisory income stock newsletter, with a focus on top-quality dividend growth stocks and REITs. Briton also manages the Real Income Trader advisory service, where his readers take regular cash payouts using a low-risk covered call option strategy. He is also the managing editor of the Wealth Daily e-letter. To learn more about Briton, click here.

Buffett's Envy: 50% Annual Returns, Guaranteed