Monday, December 13, 2021

 Inflation Nation

Nothing makes America poorer faster than inflation. Last Friday's annualized Consumer Price Index (CPI) number came it at a sizzling annualized 6.8%, the highest since Reagan had to go to work defeating the last remnants of the Carter's administration's handiwork. Reagan broke the back of inflation by jacking up interest rates to the point where inflation was tamed. The greatest Bull Market the world has ever witnessed soon followed. We might not have that luxury of both a prudent leader and the liquidity to tame inflation this time around.

Simply put, inflation is the by-product of a fiat fiscal and monetary policy run amok, too much paper money (fiat money) is created rather than actual value. Gold has well stood the test of time for literally thousands of years because it cannot be created by man. It must be acquired by toil. Not the case with Benjamins. The Treasury Department can keep on a-printing those bad boys all day long. In fact, with the modern marvels of blockchain and digitization 1s and 0s can now account for the actual "money." No need to even print it...just add a couple comas to the supply and viola, you have more money!

The Biden Administration is in a serious bind. There is tremendous demand for a limited set of real products; read housing, energy, food, education, healthcare, and hard goods. Consumers are not stupid. They are moving their digital paper money as quickly as possible into goods and services, hence simply via a classic supply & demand scenario prices go up with increased demand and diminishing supply.

Although the headline number of 6.8% annualized is bad, the reality is far, far worse dear farmers. The fact is the majority of Americans do NOT live in Megacities. As evidenced by the population density map of the USA below, the country is pretty well distributed with the East (loosely East of the Mississippi River) being at least 2X more dense than the West (up until you get to coastal California of course.) Why does this matter?

This matters financial farmers because both the CPI data set is a fallacy. The majority of Americans are seeing double digit inflation in everything that matters, and most importantly they're actually paying for it out of pocket. Let me explain. A significant portion of the residents of Megacities are subsidized in terms of housing, food, and healthcare. Meaning the government is picking up the tab. Whereas outside these areas, the median (not average) citizen is paying through the nose for higher gas prices, housing, food, healthcare, education, etc., etc.

The end result is a total theft of wealth from the very people who the Government SHOULD be focused on improving their opportunity in life with lower taxation, less regulation, and more opportunity for goods and services sold in the USA. The opposite is happening. The government is subsidizing cheap labor and goods overseas which then compete at a significant advantage against home-grown goods and services. The net result is the loss of market share, employment participation, and meaningful opportunity for the very citizens the government was elected to serve.

What is a hard-working financial farmer and patriot to do? First, keep calm and carry on. Second, look to circle the wagon(s) around physical goods and vital services. There is nothing "transitory" about the hordes of people competing for the same goods and services...lock up your share of real estate, blue chips (larger-cap monopolies paying a dividend, see "Rapko's Rules"), gold, education, and healthcare. Oddly enough having some cash might not be a bad idea, because even though its buying power decreases by the day (hour?) there is something to be said of "buying the dip" in terms of assets.

When will the ship turn around? It might not turn around. We have a timid Fed unwilling to buck the interests of the Biden Administration. An impartial Fed does not exist, if it ever did. So what this means is interest rate hikes will be milquetoast at best, especially if the "BBB Plan" is enacted by some unfortunate miracle. Part of the BBB Plan relies heavily on low rates, forever. As an investor this means 2022 doesn't look particularly bright in terms of upside as investors will be fighting for survival against the Fed.

2022 is all about finding assets which offer REAL growth in terms of capturing market share, increasing dividends, and raising their prices for goods and services. A great question to ask is "can this business pass along costs?" For companies without positive cash flow and living on the largess of zero interest rates it becomes a eloquent kabuki dance of finding investors willing to stomach volatility spikes. Only those that create and sell real value will survive.