BALTIMORE – “Tommy… who are you voting for?”
We put the question to a local bulldozer operator whom we’ve known for at least half a century.
Tommy, now 80 years old, is the last of a dying breed.
He grew up plowing the earth to grow tobacco on Maryland’s Tidewater, on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. In the 1970s, when tobacco farming became unprofitable, he switched from plowing the earth to moving it around.
He is still at it. And as near as we can tell, he will go on with it until his eyes give out… or his mind fails… and he knocks over a suburban house by accident.
In the meantime, he pushes dirt in the same spirit we write these Diary entries – with the happy nonchalance of a hen laying an egg.
It was Memorial Day weekend. Hot and humid already. We had asked him to come over to see about taking out some trees.
In Maryland, trees grow fast. If you leave them on either side of a field, pretty soon you don’t have any pasture left… just a shady spot between the tall trees.
Tommy’s family has been in this area for about 300 years. Like the few old-timers left in the area, he speaks with a distinctive accent – more like the Deep South than the Baltimore metropolitan area.
“Vote? I ‘ow know. None uv’em worth a damn, near’s I kin tel.”
Bloomberg has a “unity tracker” that tells us how well Donald Trump is doing at getting Republicans in line behind him. It is a survey of Republican politicians, large donors, and otherwise important “conservatives.”
So far, 65% are with “The Donald.” Only 1.8% are abstaining.
Our guess is the list of Trump’s supporters will grow. Elections, like lotteries, bring in the crowds. People know that you gotta play to win.
A Trump donor has about 50-50 odds that his investment will pay off. An abstainer will get nothing.
So, the cronies… the zombies… the Deep State operatives… contractors… suppliers – all are hitching themselves to the bright star of reality TV’s Donald Trump… or the twinkling of the coy Planet Clinton.
Roger Stone, Corey Lewandowski, Steven Mnuchin, Paul Manafort, and Laurance Gay – the Trump team overflows with hacks, lobbyists, and insider dealers already.
They are busy making promises to line up even more support: a new highway for one district… a new prison for another… more drones… more benefits for federal retirees… more drugs… more this… more that. All of it at someone else’s expense, of course.
Ms. Clinton has even more promisers on her team. Mr. Trump says his campaign team numbers only about 75 people. Ms. Clinton will have 800 grasping parasites to look out for if she wins the White House.
At the Diary, we favor lost causes, die-hards, and underdogs.
Neither Clinton nor Trump fill the bill. But Sanders?
Tommy rated the candidates:
“Bernie Sanders is prolly the best uva bad lot. His ideas are turrble, but he seems like a decent fella. And since nobody ever thought he’d git this fahr, I reckon he didn’t haf to make no promises along the way.
“Besides, dere ain’t no way Congress would do anything he wanted anyhow. The people who run things don’t care what he thinks. What’s more, he’ll prolly be dead in a few yeeahs. Then he won’t be able to do no more harrm.”
Tommy may be the only voter to see Sanders’ shorter life expectancy as a campaign plus. But he’s not the only one to see that it doesn’t matter what Sanders’ thinks or wants.
The Deep State calls the important shots. The only thing we’re pretty sure of is that the “people who run things don’t care what he thinks.”
The system changed in 1971, when President Nixon took the dollar off the gold standard. Since then, the powers that be no longer depended on Congress… or savers… or voters… to raise the funds they needed.
The feds could run huge deficits – no matter who was in office. Wall Street could earn huge fees, too, from lending out money that no one ever saved.
“I remember in the ’70s,” said Tommy, as the conversation turned to money.
“The banks used to want your binez. They’d give you a free toaster oven just for opnin an account. Now, they act like they don’t know me or evn want my money. If I had any money. I’m 80 yeeahs old, and I’m workin’ just like I did 50 yeeahs ago. ‘Cept now I got less money den I had den.”
Why don’t the banks want our money?
They no longer need it. When banks make a loan, they create new deposit balances on the spot, using nothing more than a few keystrokes on a computer. There’s no need for pre-existing savings.
But real resources – time and money – are limited. Pretending otherwise, by lending empty credit as though it were real savings, misled investors and consumers.
Instead of carefully applying their precious capital to projects that would pay off, they began throwing it around – on zero-down mortgages, executive bonuses, share buybacks, McMansions, and multimillion-dollar “art.”
The “seed corn” that should have increased productivity and higher wages was squandered. Instead, we have financially modified pseudo credit-corn; it looks just like the real thing, but it produces no crop.
“Misallocation of resources,” we said to Tommy, explaining why we are no richer today than we were 40 years ago… and how “free” money poisons an economy.
“I dunno ‘bout dat. But if ya want dem trees pooshed down, I’ll poosh ‘em for ya.”
By Chris Mayer, Chief Investment Strategist, Bonner Private Portfolio
Track records are one of the most misunderstood things in finance.
Many people think that a great investor is (or should be) great all the time by putting up great numbers. But that is not the case.
Berkshire Hathaway, the investment firm founded and run by legendary stock picker Warren Buffett, held its annual meeting in Omaha recently. And I was there. I mention it because I heard Larry Pitkowsky, the co-manager of the $277 million GoodHaven Fund, give a talk that touched on this idea.
“If you invest for decades, you will look like a fool on multiple occasions,” he said. “Get used to the concept.”
Then, he talked about an internal study GoodHaven did of great investors. These investors handily exceeded the market average over the last couple of decades, Pitkowsky said. But there was something else in the study that may surprise you.
GoodHaven found that these investors trailed the market roughly one-third of the time.
This mirrored a famous study by Eugene Shahan in 1986. Shahan looked at a number of great investors and investment firms and ranked them by their total annual return during their investing career (as of the 1986 study):
Those are numbers that any investor would be delighted to achieve. And yet, these investors under-performed the market average about a third of the time!
Pacific Partners had six years in a row in which it trailed the market. And yet, its total annual return was just a shade below Buffett’s.
This is not uncommon. Pitkowsky also mentioned the Templeton Growth Fund, a top-performing fund for 30 years, which underperformed 36% of the time. There are plenty more like it.
This reminds me of an example from Nassim Taleb’s book Fooled by Randomness. (If you haven’t read this book, buy a copy immediately. You can’t think seriously about markets until you understand the concepts in this book.)
He imagines a dentist who is also an exceptional investor. This dentist earns 15% per year with volatility of 10% per year. Statistically, this means his chance of earning money in any given year is 93%. (I’ll spare you the math.)
Over shorter time intervals, though, his odds of success drop a bunch, as Taleb showed:
The point is… investment results are, by their nature, uneven and fickle. Superior results come, not by trying to beat the market all the time, but by trying to find ways to tilt the odds in your favor and then by being patient. And not being afraid to look like a fool.
As Pitkowsky said, “Get used to the concept.”
Editor’s Note: Over the last decade, Chris has exceeded the market handily himself… His recommendations returned an average of nearly 29%, beating the market 3-to-1, and Warren Buffett’s returns 2-to-1. Chris’ stock-picking system is so impressive, Bill is putting $5 million of his family trust’s money into Chris’ latest recommendations.
Until midnight, you can access Chris’ brand-new investment advisory, Bonner Private Portfolio, for one full year — at a tremendous discount. To learn more about the elite system Bill trusts with his own money, click here…
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Today, some great feedback on Bill’s Memorial Day issue, “American Hero.”
Great story. Well written. Well done. Thank you for sharing it this Memorial Day Weekend. I never tire of your letters, not to mention your sage counsel.– Tad K.
I revisited Vietnam in April of this year, 48 years after my time there.
During the beginning of the Tet Offensive, I was in Dong Tam at our Brigade Headquarters and remember that first night of the Tet distinctly. Forty-eight years later, I was in Cai Bai visiting a local market, and my guide stopped and introduced me to five Vietnamese men sitting in the market together. One was a 65-year-old ex-Vietcong who had been in the area at the same time. He would have been 17 or 18 at the time and I was then 27.
They brought out a plastic bag of distilled wine “happy wine,” poured five glasses, and offered a toast. At that point, the old Vietcong gentleman poured two more glasses, gave one to me, and looked me in the eye. We drank together, no words exchanged. It was the highlight of my three weeks in the country.
Special things can happen years after a conflict.– Scott A.
You made me cry, Bill! What a beautiful thing it is defending freedom and getting to live free as a result. I hope my grandchildren have that opportunity.– Mike R.
What a great story. Thanks for sharing. I doubt a similar one is coming out of Iraq or Afghanistan. Different war. Different times.– Robert P.
A great story. Thank you!– Vic B.
This is Memorial Day and I am in my 90s waking up this morning thinking about the past – mostly about being in the South and North Pacific in the last years of World War II.
Going through my mind and heap of cluttered memories my thoughts return about some young men, boys really, at war, far away from home. One didn’t come back – a neighbor boy who lived on the other side of the hill.
On this Memorial Day I go back to visit the graves – mindful of our past, beloved individuals, and times.– Jer G.
Great story about colonel harper in France during WWII.
Unfortunately for the world, there aren’t many of these WWII heroes left. Keep up your good work. It’s important in the world that we are living in today.– Louis W.
What a wonderful story for Memorial Day! Semper Fi.– David F.
I loved your Memorial Day story! Thanks for sharing it with us. It’s encouraging to be reminded of the good things that still happen out there!– Craig T.
In just a few hours, one of Bill’s top stock pickers, Chris Mayer, will release his newest investment recommendation. It’s an industry giant whose stock price is a historic bargain right now…
To find out how you could easily double your money on this rare opportunity, watch Bill’s personal explanation of why Chris’ strategy is right for him… and you.
But don’t wait too long… this video comes down at midnight tonight. Watch here now.