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Silent Warning for Investors

The man who is perhaps the greatest investor ever is silent and that should concern investors. Warren Buffett is the prime example of a long term, buy and hold investor who totally believes in the power of the US economy and the US stock market to grow wealth. Buffett’s net wealth was about $10,000 in the middle of the 20th century and today he vies with Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates for the title of the richest person in the world with more than $80 Billion in net wealth. Buffet would, in fact, be the richest person if he had not given away $34.5 Billion over the last few years! And, Buffett has made his money by applying the concept of intrinsic stock value. He looks for companies with the potential to grow and reliably produce income year after year. And, he looks for companies that are underpriced. Thus, over the years, Buffett has always been making investments and now he is not! We should pay attention to this silent warning for investors as it has implications for all of us.

Should You Hold Your Investments Forever, or Not?

Buffett has been quoted as saying that when he purchases stock in a strong company with strong management that favorite length of time to hold that investment is forever. And now, according to the most recent Berkshire Hathaway quarterly report, they are holding $122 Billion in cash while in normal times they would be holding something like $30 Billion. This is because in almost four years Berkshire Hathaway has not made any major stock purchases or acquisitions. And, in the first two quarters of this year, Buffett has be a net seller of stocks. The two parts of intrinsic stock value are the likelihood of a stock making money over the years and the current price of the stock, or any investment. What is happening with Buffett’s company is that they are not seeing any investments these days that combine growth and money-making potential with reasonable or low prices. This is the silent warning for investors.

Why Is Buffett Not Buying Back as Much Berkshire Hathaway Stock?

A third piece of the silent warning for investors is that Berkshire Hathaway has reduced its stock buybacks as well. Buying back your stock is done to increase share price and put excess cash to the best use possible. According to company reports, stock buybacks went from $1.7 Billion in the first quarter to $400 Million in the second quarter. We recently wrote about the potential dangers of stock buybacks. In the case of Berkshire Hathaway, the company has not been trying to artificially raise its share price and has rather been putting its cash to the best use. The fact that they are now keeping a large hoard of cash implies that the “better use” of this money will be in invest in the near future after a substantial market correction or even a crash. The likelihood of the trade war becoming permanent is such that smart investors will do well to hold a large amount of their portfolio in cash until the future becomes clearer and until the prices for stocks and other investments become more realistic.


Investing During a Permanent Trade War

In the last year and a half we have looked at the evolving trade war between the US and China and, to a degree, between the US and everyone else. As the situation has evolved, we are now looking at investing during a permanent trade war. Here is how our thinking has evolved. To begin with, we appear to have been overly optimistic. In March of 2018 we asked what can you invest in and not get hurt by a trade war. At that time our belief was that companies in entertainment, like Disney, are generally safe from tariffs and other effects of trade wars and that companies that have little or no business in China, like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google are reasonably safe bets. Since that time Disney is up about 50%, Amazon is up by about 33%, Facebook is even, Netflix is about even, and Google (Alphabet) is up a percent or two. Here are more of our thoughts about how this has evolved and investing during a permanent trade war.

Investing in the Trade War That Was Not Resolved

Just a year ago, in a fit of optimism, we looked at what happens to your investments when the trade war is resolved. At that point we predicted a surge in the stock market and all sorts of success for companies that were being threatened by the trade war. Our rationale, at that time, was to look for stocks that would capitalize on reduced trade tensions and, perhaps, better investment opportunities in places like China. Of course, none of that has happened as China, and the USA, have dug in for a long struggle for global dominance.

Reasons for the Protracted Trade War

Last September we seem to have come to our senses and started to consider what happens to your investments if the trade war becomes permanent. We worried about US multinationals that would suffer more from a slower global economy that from a trade war with China. And, we suggested that companies like utilities, which are purely domestic, would be safe havens. However, the larger part of that article was devoted to looking the why the USA and China are having a trade war, the effects of trends like automation on employment, social unrest, and global politics. Anyone who wants to understand what is going on and how the trade war will very likely be a permanent fixture, should look at our comments about the rise and decline of US economic power and the rise of China. As we noted at that time, a major factor is the grip that the Chinese Communist Party has on power in China and its desire to hold onto that power no matter what.

We also looked briefly at social unrest in the West due to automation and other factors and how that is giving voice to demagogues with the potential for social, political, and military disasters!

The bottom line, as we saw it, was that the trade war would be very protracted until at long last the USA and China would come to some sort of mutually unsatisfactory agreement. We are no longer so sure about that.

Tangible Trade War Damage

Still last year, we looked at the trade war’s effect on investment in US agriculture. The loss of China as a market for US soybeans has undercut investments in places like South Dakota where farmers and investor poured money into storage and shipping facilities to sell soybeans to China. Many farmers and businesses will never recover. And, despite China’s assurances that they will buy soybeans again, they are still using it as a bargaining chip to allow them to keep stealing technology from the US or extracting technological secrets as a price for doing business there.

Winning the Trade War and Losing on Investments

Last February we speculated that a trade war “win” would be combined with reduced global trade, a lower trade deficit, and losses in the stock market. This though came from an article in Market Watch which in turn cited economic figures. Thus we could win the trade war and lose on our investments. Because the major concern of the government in this is long term competition with China for economic, technological, and military dominance, this may be a price that the USA will be willing to pay.

Will We Have Protracted Trade War or a Permanent Trade War?

In June we had come to believe that trade war would be very long term. In this view of a protracted trade war, we considered how trade between the USA and China and China versus the rest of the world could be reshuffled and where to invest and what investments to avoid. In this world, issues arise such as China being a major processor of the so-called rare earth minerals use in high tech devices and the reapportioning of global outsourcing to a ABC (anywhere but China) approach. As we noted, these are long term investment approaches and are reminiscent of dealing Russia and the entire Communist block for decades during the Cold War. As with the Cold War, the issue is not specifically a trade war but rather trade warfare for global economic, military, technological, political, and social dominance on the planet for centuries to come.


Are Stock Buybacks Dangerous?

Much of the windfall that U.S. corporations experienced with the Trump tax cut went into buying back their stock. The stock buybacks accomplished their intended purpose which was to support or drive up stock prices. This has helped keep the stock market rally going. But, is there a dark side to all this? Are stock buybacks dangerous at some level?

Stock Buybacks

Investopedia poses the question, why would a company buy back its own shares?

The most visible result of share buybacks is that it preserves or increases share price. But, there are three other good reasons to buy back shares.

Consolidation of Ownership
Reduction of Dividend Costs
“Remedy” for Undervalued Shares

Companies issue shares to raise equity capital to fund expansion, but if there are no potential growth opportunities in sight, holding on to all that unused equity funding means sharing ownership for no good reason.

Businesses that have expanded to dominate their industries, for example, may find that there is little more growth to be had. With so little headroom left to grow into, carrying large amounts of equity capital on the balance sheet becomes more of a burden than a blessing.

Shareholders demand returns on their investments in the form of dividends which is a cost of equity – so the business is essentially paying for the privilege of accessing funds it isn’t using. Buying back some or all of the outstanding shares can be a simple way to pay off investors and reduce the overall cost of capital. For this reason, Walt Disney (DIS) reduced its number of outstanding shares in the market by buying back 73.8 million shares, collectively valued at $7.5 billion, back in 2016.

Another major motive for businesses to do buybacks: They genuinely feel their shares are undervalued. Undervaluation occurs for a number of reasons, often due to investors’ inability to see past a business’ short-term performance, sensationalist news items or a general bearish sentiment.

Therefore, a company that is not growing as fast as it used does not need to share ownership in order to raise capital to expand. It can reduce dividend costs by having fewer shareholders. And, the boost in stock price caused by share buybacks can fuel a bullish sentiment for their stock and further boost the share price.

Stock Buybacks Did Not Lead to Job Expansion in the USA

Part of what sold congress on the Trump tax cuts was the idea that US companies would bring offshore capital back to the USA and invest it. There was supposed to be lots of job growth as companies “invested in America.” The fact that much of the repatriated money went to buy back shares has not been appreciated by those in congress who thought they were essentially voting for job creation back home and not support of corporate share prices.

Are Stock Buybacks Dangerous?

The responsibility of a corporation is to its shareholders. As such, stock buybacks may well take precedence over R&D, expansion, or raising salaries. But, is there a risk to you, the shareholder? If you are seeing the share price of your favorite stock go up and up, what is there to complain about? The risk is that a company may be building a “house of cards” by artificially raising share price when business is not all that good. The answer to whether your company is doing this comes from an assessment of intrinsic stock value. The long term value of your investment will depend on its ability to make money with its business plan well into the future. If this part is solid, you can rejoice in your share price going up. If you do not see a happy future for the company, then stock buybacks are dangerous and simply being used to hide long term problems. At that point, you should start to sell and find other long term investments.


Annuities Pros and Cons

One of the safest ways to save for retirement is with an annuity. This is a contract offered by an insurance company. You pay them in installments or with a single lump sum and they pay you back on a regular basis, usually starting when you retire. Your investment in the annuity is boosted by interest paid by the insurance company. This investment vehicle usually belongs in our list of choices for how to invest without losing any money. If the idea of annuities appeals to you, you need to know the annuities pros and cons.

Annuities

Annuity contracts offer investors a safe means of saving for retirement with a low but reliable return. There are two basic choices. The first is to take your savings and make a lump sum payment for an annuity contract. You do this at retirement and the insurance company makes steady payments until the annuity is exhausted or until you die. In general, if you pass away before the annuity is used up, the residual can go to your spouse or estate but this needs to be spelled out in the contract.

The second choice is to make payments over the years into the annuity and defer payments to you until a later date, such as your retirement. Like the first choice, you receive payments until the annuity is used up or you pass away in which case the residual money typically goes to your estate.

In each case, you can choose when to start taking payments, either immediately or at a later date. When you go looking for an annuity, you will be told this a tax-deferred investment vehicle. The money you put it gains interest, so you receive more in the end than what you put in. However, your taxes are due on receipt of payments when you are retired and in a lower tax bracket. (Similar to an IRA or 401k)

Types of Annuities

There are three types of annuities. These are fixed, variable, and indexed. Fixed and variable are the most common. Indexed annuities are a hybrid and also called equity-indexed annuities or fixed-index annuities. Variable annuities are considered securities and subject to regulation by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Depending on who you purchase an annuity from, you may pay a commission as high as 7% as well as administrative fees. There are commonly surrender charges, mortality charges, and “expense risk” charges as well.

Fixed Annuities

A fixed annuity is an insurance product. You put in your money and receive a guaranteed rate of return. This return is based on your life expectancy, age, and the current interest rate. Other factors may also come into play, depending on who you are dealing with.

Variable Annuities

Although a variable annuity has insurance features attached, it is an investment product. You will choose from a wide range of investment choices including mutual funds. In this case, your payments will depend on how well the investment vehicle does over the years. And, this is why variable annuities are regulated as securities.

Indexed Annuities

You may like the idea of a variable annuity because of the potential of a better return than for a fixed annuity. But, then you worry that the investment (and your retirement savings) could be wiped out. Indexed annuities provide a guaranteed minimum interest rate return on your annuity capital as well as a higher rate which is typically market index-linked.

In regard to annuities pros and cons, indexed annuities may be the best option. But, they come in all shapes and sizes so they can be difficult to understand. And, when you are investing your retirement savings in something, you need to understand it!

Annuity Taxation

A common approach to retirement savings using an annuity is to use one in your IRA. When you do that, the IRA rules apply. This is “pre-tax” money so taxes on the initial investment, as well as earnings, are due upon withdrawal. Like with other IRAs, you are taking the money in your retirement years so your tax rate will be lower. Unfortunately, annuity payments are subject to normal taxes and not taxed as capital gains. The good side will be your low tax rate at the time.

If you put previously taxed money into your annuity, only the income from the annuity is taxable upon withdrawal.

It is a good idea to run this by your tax preparer before choosing an annuity and before withdrawing money.

Annuity Exclusion Ratio

Here is where an annuity may or may not work to your benefit but also gets complicated. Because an annuity is in total or in part an insurance vehicle, the exclusion ratio applies. For example, you put $50,000 into an annuity. You receive $5,000 a year for ten years (simply getting your money back) and this money is not taxed. When you start receiving payments the next year, this is considered income and is taxable. Again, discuss this with your tax preparer.

Annuities Pros and Cons

If what you want for retirement is a totally safe investment vehicle that will not crash with the stock market or real estate, a fixed annuity is a good choice. You can put it in the same class as a bank CD, US Treasury or AAA corporate bond. The only concern is the health of the insurance company.

If you want to stay in this kind of investment but get a better return, then things get a little murky. You will start seeing rather high fees and commissions and will get tied into investment vehicles like mutual funds that have commonly not done as well as the S&P 500 in recent years.

The fact is that you don’t need to go with just one investment approach in your earning years or in retirement. Rather, you could choose the totally safe route of CDs, bonds, or fixed annuities for a part of your investment portfolio. Then, other passive investment options include ETFs which have a much lower carrying cost than mutual funds.

Low Risk High Return Investments

You invest for two reasons. First of all, you want to put money aside for some future need instead of immediately spending it. Secondly, you want that money to make money over the years. You obviously don’t want to get into dumb investments and lose your invested money or you would have had a better time spending it! And, because there are things you want to do with that money eventually, you would prefer to see a healthy return on that invested capital. Many investors choose to split their investments into those with more growth potential but not a lot of safety and those with lower growth prospects but a lot of safety. The ideal portfolio contains low risk high return investments that both safety and growth.

Lowest Risk Investments

Some time ago we wrote about how to invest without losing any money.

Yes, there are ways that you can do this. You will have to settle for lower returns, but for a person nearing retirement, for example, this is a safe way to preserve capital and see and earn a little extra as well. These are the four categories we listed with the addition of dividend stocks.

Bank deposits with Federal Deposit Insurance
US Treasury Bills, Notes, and Bonds
Investment Grade AAA and AA Bonds
Long term value investing, intrinsic value including high-value dividend stocks

Bank Deposits with Federal Deposit Insurance

Every time that we write something about how to start investing, we note that your first task is paying off the credit cards and putting enough money in the bank to cover several months of expenses. This is a great idea at any stage of your investing career. And, bank deposits are covered by federal deposit insurance. According to the FCIC, you get $250,000 of insurance for each deposit category.

Single accounts (accounts not falling into any other category)
Certain retirement accounts (including Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs))
Joint accounts (accounts with more than one owner with equal rights to withdraw)
Revocable trust accounts (containing the words “Payable on death”, “In trust for”, etc.)
Irrevocable trust accounts
Employee Benefit Plan accounts (deposits of a pension plan)
Corporation/Partnership/Unincorporated Association accounts
Government accounts

And, this insurance is good for each bank at which you have deposits.
(Wikipedia, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation)

US Treasury Bills, Notes, and Bonds

Interest rates have been historically low ever since the Financial Crisis. And, the Fed may again lower rates. Nevertheless, the next safest investments, after your bank deposits, are US Treasuries. Bonds mature in 30 years. Notes mature in two to ten years. Bills mature in a year or less. Any of these, when held to maturity, is about as safe an investment as you can make. As with your bank CDs, these are for absolute security and for money that you will need in a few years.

AA and AAA Bonds

There are only two US companies these days that have AAA bonds. They are Microsoft and Johnson and Johnson. Both of these are very solid companies that are leaders in their fields. As with US Treasuries, the best way to guarantee safety is to purchase one of these bonds and hold it to maturity. Of course, if interest rates fall, you can sell the bond for a higher price, but what do you invest in then?

There are a lot more AA bonds available and many are nearly as secure and the AAA ones. They typically have a little bit higher return as well.

Microsoft AAA bonds are low risk high return investments
Invest in Microsoft AAA Bonds

Stocks Chosen Using the Intrinsic Value Calculation

The concept of intrinsic stock value goes back more than 80 years to the era following the Great Depression. The first part of this approach is that you will select investments with the potential for excellent cash flow and thus stock appreciation. If they are dividend stocks, so much the better! The second part is that you will only purchase these investments when they are underpriced by the market and not when they are overpriced. Thus, you will be making low risk high return investments. Read our article about intrinsic stock value to get you started in this direction. The reason to include dividend stocks in this grouping is that many have excellent intrinsic value and when you use dividend reinvestment plans, you bypass the broker and don’t pay any commissions on reinvested dividends or on new stock purchases.

Investing in Your Home

The Federal tax deduction for mortgage interest makes investing in your home a sweetheart deal that no one should pass up. However, as many learned to their dismay a decade ago, you need to look at the market, interest rates, resale value, and the stability of your employment. Here is also where having enough money in the bank to cover expenses, like your mortgage, for a few months is so important. But, the bottom line is that you want your monthly payment to be going toward creating long term value for you and your family and not for the person from whom you are renting!

Tax-Deferred Investments

IRAs and 401 Ks are excellent ways to get low risk high return investments. You can choose investment vehicles with lower risk because of the spectacular advantage of not having to pay taxes on dividends, capital gains and the rest during the time your retirement investment is within its plan.

Investing in What You Know and Understand

No less of an authority than Warren Buffett, one of the outstanding investors of all time, only invests in companies when he understands their business plan and how that business plan will make money over the years.

None of us are necessarily the next Warren Buffett, but we all have areas of expertise. This can come from our education and work or from other life experiences. The point is that computer techies are more likely to spot the next Microsoft or Apple and folks in the medical profession are more likely to recognize a good opportunity in the medical products or services sector. The list obviously gets quite long when you look at all combinations of experience and study. The point is that you can find higher returns on your investments by investing in things that you know about and reduce your risk as well.

Is Ford a Good or a Bad Investment?

Henry Ford invented the automobile assembly line a century ago and his company has been a major automaker ever since. But, how about today? Is Ford a good or bad investment as carmakers need to invest hundreds of millions in new technologies or fall by the wayside? This thought came to mind as we read an article in The New York Times about how Ford and VW are set to cooperate in developing both electric and self-driving cars.

Battery powered, self-driving cars have the potential to eliminate tailpipe emissions and avoid accidents caused by human error. But a rapid shift toward these technologies could be perilous for established carmakers like Ford and Volkswagen.

They must invest hundreds of billions of dollars in coming years or risk becoming irrelevant. And they face new competitors like Google and Uber with access to enormous financial resources. Investors have been much more willing to back Silicon Valley companies than the dinosaurs of Detroit or Wolfsburg, where Volkswagen is based.

Car sales are going down everywhere. This is because cars are more complicated to make and thus more costly to produce than even. Even streamlined assembly processes with lots of robots cannot make automobiles affordable for many people. Detroit’s first response was to lease cars which they have been doing for years. But, now it is so easy to rent a vehicle, even for a few hours, that many folks in cities only use an auto for family vacations and pay for the use of a car for a few hours for weekend shopping.

The end result, if nothing else were going on in the auto industry, would be fewer cars being sold. But, the story is more complicated. Self-driving cars and electric cars are truly the wave of the automobile future. Those who get there first with the best technology will win and others will, painfully, fade away. We recently asked if it is time to invest in GM as they seem to be coping with the issue. But, how about Ford. Is Ford a good or bad investment today?

Investing in Ford

Today Ford stock trades for just over a dollar a share. If you bought a share 40 years ago in 1979 you paid about $1.79 and you purchased that share in 1981 you paid about $0.81 so today looks pretty good. On the other hand, Ford traded for $34.79 in May of 1999 and traded in the $17 range as recently as the summer of 2014. Then, your $10 for a share does not look so good. Ford, like GM, has thrived over the last decades when gasoline prices were low and they could sell lots and lots of high-end pickups and SUVs. Those vehicles with their healthy profit margins were life-savers. But, when times change, profits go away. And, now the world is changing.

Earlier this year we asked how to invest in artificial intelligence. In that article we looked at how AI can be applied to products that we use in the real world. Self-driving cars are a prime example but companies like Waymo (Alphabet subsidiary) are more likely to attract investment capital than the “Detroit Dinosaurs” like Ford, GM, or Chrysler.

A serious problem for Ford, as well as other large automakers, is that they will need to find the capital to continue funding research in high tech vehicles at a time when more and more people are just using Uber or renting cars by the hour.

We leave it for you to decide is Ford a good or bad investment but from our perspective, the venerable automaker has its work cut out for itself.

Investing During a Protracted Trade War

Investing During a Protracted Trade War

China and the USA have both hardened their positions to protect their national interests in the ongoing trade war. China is increasingly talking about not being humiliated as during the European Colonial Era and the USA is increasingly talking about China as a threat to US technological and economic leadership. What you need to consider is how to go about investing during a protracted trade war.

How Will the Trade War Affect Investments?

To the extent that you are invested in China, you may need to worry about the companies that will be sanctioned or cut off from high tech American products. The New York Times writes that the USA blacklists more Chinese tech companies over security concerns.

The Trump administration added five Chinese entities to a United States blacklist on Friday, further restricting China’s access to American technology and stoking already high tensions before a planned meeting between President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China in Japan next week.

The Commerce Department announced that it would add four Chinese companies and one Chinese institute to an “entity list,” saying they posed risks to American national security or foreign policy interests. The move essentially bars them from buying American technology and components without a waiver from the United States government, which could all but cripple them because of their reliance on American chips and other technology to make advanced electronics.

The entities are one of China’s leading supercomputer makers, Sugon; three subsidiaries set up to design microchips, Higon, Chengdu Haiguang Integrated Circuit and Chengdu Haiguang Microelectronics Technology; and the Wuxi Jiangnan Institute of Computing Technology.

US policy makers have worried for years about China moving past the mass production of products to becoming dominant in ultra high tech. This is seen as a concern for US national security seems to have been the red line that China crosses when it set its sights on dominating supercomputing, artificial intelligence, and other ultra high tech areas.

For investing during a protracted trade way you will need to look at who loses markets and sales because of these restrictions. US chip makers are still at the forefront of manufacturing the highest quality of the fastest and most powerful chips. To the extent that they lose their markets, it will hurt anyone invested in these companies. To the extent that you are invested in a company like Huawei which seeks to dominate the newest and highest tech levels of telecommunications, you need to be concerned about the US and perhaps the Europeans banning their products and technology outright and continuing to do so for years. Then, a smart investor will look around to see who else is working in these echelons of high tech to see where to invest next.

The Trade War and Investment in Raw Materials for High Tech

We recently wrote about investing in non-Chinese rare earth producers. As we noted, the rare earth minerals that go into computer chips and other high tech products are not really rare. But they don’t exist in concentrated amounts that make mining economically feasible in most areas. China has invested in mining these minerals because it can do so cheaper than companies working in the West. And, they are doing it to control the market. To the extent that mining rare earth minerals outside of China because a defined national security concern, look to see government subsidies and support for these types of operations and more profits for investors.

Investing and Manufacturing Anywhere But China

There is a belief now that ABC is the best place for supply chains. “ABC” means anywhere but China. However, much of the manufacturing in Asian nations outside of China is taking place by Chinese companies setting up shop in places like Vietnam. Beware of investments in these countries if the USA starts looking closer at who owns a company, where the profits are going, and how much control the Chinese government is still exerting. To the extent that manufacturing is taking place in countries like Mexico, and the Trump administration is not applying punitive tariffs, these might be safer investments.

As you will note, we have not made any specific investment recommendations, which we rarely do. But, we hope this article has provided “food for thought” as the trade war goes forward and even lasts for another generation or two. We suggest that you read an article in the South Morning China Post about prolonged tensions with the US. A better way to view this subject is perhaps not to think in terms of trade but to look at who wants to dominate the planet for centuries to come and how much suffering they will inflict on their own people in order to achieve that goal.

How Could War with Iran Affect Your Investments?

Depending on whom you talk to we are at the brink of war with Iran in the last few weeks or have been at war with the Islamic Republic for several years. Most recently the U.S. president ordered an air strike in retaliation for Iran shooting down a U.S. spy drone. He allegedly called it off at the last minute because of not wanting to kill 150 people and said that such a response would have been out of proportion. As the world frets of a possible war with Iran, we are concerned about the flow of oil coming out of the Persian Gulf being shut off, Saudi oil fields and others in the area being damaged as well as shipping and storage facilities. The question for an investor is, how could war with Iran affect your investments?

Your Investments in the Stock Market Could Suffer

Forbes suggests that an all-out Iranian conflict could torpedo the stock market.

Aside from the perfectly reasonable fear that a raging (and possibly radioactive) regional conflict with a rabid and likely already nuclear-armed foe should inspire, the economic risks – unlike those engendered by the tanking Chinese economy – are fairly limited to oil price effects.

Not to discount the damage an intense war in the tightly-wound Middle East that could ensnare arch-enemies Iran (and satellites like Syria and Lebanon) on one side, and major non-US players like Israel and Saudi Arabia on the other.

Such a flashpoint could engender untold and unholy consequences that might poison human culture for decades, or longer.

They note the problems that conflict in the region might cause if the flow of oil is interrupted and, even worse, if the infrastructure is damaged for years to come.
On the other hand, both the USA and Russia are bigger oil and gas producers than all of the Persian Gulf. Perhaps, investing in oil companies that work outside of the Middle East could lead to substantial profits.

War, Recession, and Your Investments

The Post Millennial writes that war with Iran will sink Canada into a recession.

Canada still buys a bulk of its oil from Saudi Arabia and doesn’t have enough capacity to be self-sufficient. If Iran’s navy shuts down the Strait of Hormuz, through which of the world’s oil and gas trade occurs, it would spell disaster for not just Canada, but the entire world.

The price of oil would explode. Gas prices, already at a high due to Trudeau’s carbon tax, will skyrocket. It is highly likely that Canada, currently only growing at a meager 0.1%, will enter into a major recession.

While the oil shock may help in Canada’s oil exports, it could reduce demand and dampen the effect of the price surge.

While Canadian oil producers would do well, the Canadian economy would tank if Persian Gulf oil were cut off. And, the Millennial has a lot of other concerns about Canada being dragged into such a conflict, such as Canadians dying in combat.

Our opinion is that the US economy may be ready to cool off a bit and an armed conflict anywhere would not help. The US stock market is still overbought and does not need one more dose of uncertainty. And, while the US is juggling a trade war with China, picking fights with everyone else, and locked in a red state blue state fight to the political death, this may not be the best time to go to war. The problem is that governments have long used foreign adventures to distract from their problems (and inadequacies) at home. As such, take a close look at your investments and consider what happens if fighting breaks out in the Persian Gulf.

How Politics Will Affect Your Investments

The trade skirmish between the U.S.A. and China threatens to become a permanent trade war. Many investors have come to realize that the trade war is really not about the balance of trade but rather about global economic and technological leadership. We discussed this issue in our article about the trade war becoming permanent. The decline of U.S. power after the post-World War II era was predictable as the Japanese and European economies mended. And, it was hastened by ill-advised military involvement from Southeast Asia to the Middle East. Along the way, the “Asian Tigers” became technological and economic powerhouses throughout Asia and then there was the rise of China. The Americans and the Europeans were naïve in believing that if they gave China greater access to global markets that the country would gradually liberalize and the Communist Party would give way to a mixture of Capitalism and Socialism. That did not happen. And, as we noted in our permanent trade war article, China is aiming for global dominance on all fronts and does not intend to return to the “turning inward” of the European Colonial Era. Political concerns are now dominant both with the U.S.A. and China. So you need to wonder, how will politics affect your investments?

Best Places to Invest Money in a Prolonged Trade War

Market Watch suggests which stocks to buy if the trade war worsens and becomes permanent.

Goldman’s analysts, led by chief equity strategist David Kostin, are recommending that investors target services firms, which they describe as less exposed to trade policy (including retaliatory moves) and have better corporate fundamentals, as a group that could help to insulate investors from tariff-fueled volatility.

Goldman expects companies within services to outperform those that provide goods, including consumer products and hardware, like iPhone maker Apple Inc. AAPL, +0.88% and Johnson & Johnson JNJ, +0.64% for example. Shares of Apple have gained nearly 30% this year, while those for J&J are up 8.8%.

In addition, they suggest Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon as good choices.

Although the big tech companies that have led the market since the Financial Crisis would seem to have over-extended their rallies, their strength in services, as opposed to products (think of Boeing, Caterpillar, and Deere), is a reason to stay with these investments. Good returns on investments will be more likely to come from the services sector as the trade war drags on and gets worse.

In regard to national defense and reducing American dependence on Chinese products we might consider the ABC (anywhere but China) movement of production facilities to continue. We recently wrote about investing in non-Chinese rare earth producers as such businesses may end up benefiting from subsidies or other forms of government support to avoid a Chinese embargo on the elements so critical to high tech these days. This sort of niche investment may be particularly vulnerable to how politics will affect your investments.

What Happens to Your Investments if the U.S.A. Caves in and Makes a Bad Deal?

When political decisions are so critical to your investments, you need to worry about when the politicians will do things simply to get themselves re-elected. This fact has been a huge contributor to the ever-expanding U.S. budget deficit. Politicians know that when the economy is doing well and employment is strong that people are happy and that they, the politicians, are more likely to remain in office. So, they pass bills to increase spending, putting off things like repaying the national debt to the next generation. If Trump believes that he needs a “trade war victory” to get reelected, will he cave in and let the Chinese win? If that is the case, the stock market will be happy, stocks will go up, and U.S. economic and technological leadership will gradually dwindle over the years. It that is the case, you need to start looking at long term investments in China in hopes that the Chinese Communist party will throw a few scraps your way.

When you find yourself looking at the front page headlines more than at the business pages, you are wondering how politics will affect your investments. Good luck.

How politics will affect your investments is that  trade war could be devastating to the farm implement manufacturer, Deere.

Deere Combine Harvesting Soybeans

FANG Investments at Risk

Government regulators are taking a look at FANG stocks in regard to monopolistic and anti-competitive practices. This realization just took the stocks down by several percent each. In fact, all of the FANG darlings are substantially off from their highs a year ago. Are your FANG investments at risk? If so, what are the factors to consider when deciding to ride it out, sell to lock in some of your gains, or buy more shares in hopes of a comeback? CNBC looks at FANG stocks, their recent losses, and what is in store for them.

Fears of increased government scrutiny just crushed FANG stocks.

Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet tanked Monday, shedding nearly $130 billion in market cap collectively. Those losses sent Facebook, Netflix and Alphabet into a bear market, having dropped at least 20% from recent records.

The drop came on the first trading day after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department is readying an antitrust investigation against Google over its search practices and other issues. Alphabet declined to comment.

They go on to say that having to deal with regulators takes management away from making effective decisions for company growth and, by itself, could be damaging.

Gina Sanchez, CEO of Chantico Global, says just the threat of increased regulatory oversight could stymie the FANG trade for some time.

“These companies will be very, very mired in the process of being scrutinized,” Sanchez said during the same segment. “They could actually keep these companies so involved in this process over the next two years that they won’t be able to effectively run and do the things that growth companies do.”

And, of course, the look at anti-competitive practices could end up with any of these companies getting broken up as happened to the venerable AT&T in the 1980s.

Are Your FANG Investments at Risk for Other Reasons?

Regulatory concerns are not the only reason that the FANG stocks have cooled off. The group has led the bull market to higher and higher levels since the economy emerged from the financial crisis and Great Recession. There is always a point at which the market price of a stock exceeds its intrinsic value so much that even the most optimistic investor will sell a few shares. The trade war with China affects some of these stocks but not others. And, there is no guarantee that their prices will continue to rise as they may not continue to buy back shares indefinitely.

Are All FANG Stocks in the Same Boat?

To the extent that passive investors are investing in FANG stocks through an ETF, it makes no difference which FANG stock is most strongly threatened by the risk of government regulation. However, Alphabet (Google) is a different business than Netflix and Amazon.com is different than either. Facebook is a totally different animal as well. However, all of these companies have grown large and have the capacity to limit competition in various ways. As such, they become targets for regulators. It seemed such a shame when the old AT&T was broken up but, in fact, the breakup ushered in a great new era of telecommunication in which the better companies with better ideas succeeded and the one who continued in the staid ways of AT&T failed and were absorbed by the competition.

 

Are FANG investments at risk from regulators?

FANG Stocks

 

Google is far and away the leading internet search engine. Because of the importance of internet searches in an era where no one used the yellow pages or phone book anymore, it is a major concern for society that this system be fair to all users and not meant to manipulate to hide information.

Facebook has become a major social force and also a hiding place for terrorists and crazy people. This will be regulated at some point as we discussed in our article about FANG regulatory risk.

Netflix is essentially a monopoly but always runs the risk of a newer technology passing it by. Just think of how video cassettes were such a big deal and how Blockbuster controlled the content on movies that it rented. Then everything went to disk and then it was downloaded and then Blockbuster just went away. We are not sure what technology might make Netflix obsolete but there is probably one out there. To give Netflix credit, they have become a movie production and content generator which will always give them something to sell even if they are not the major viewing platform.

Amazon.com is unique in how they have displaced so many brick and mortar businesses but they have also followed the John D. Rockefeller approach of undercutting competition until there is none and then they have the capacity to raise prices. At some point, this behavior will be broken up or regulated.

In the end, we think the FANG investments at risk include all of them. This is a doomsday scenario of these great companies going out of business but the world changes and that simply makes yesterday’s winners change or fade.

 

Of the FANG investments at risk, Alphabet is perhaps the safest as they diversify into things like autonomous vehicles.

Waymo Self-driving Car


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