The Daily Mission

Greg Saurenman

Independent, straightforward take on life mission, life planning, financial planning, investing, the psych of money, communication around finances, things that troll Ye Olde Wall Street. By: Mission Advisory Group, a fiduciary-led Registered Investment Adviser, not beholden to any big bank or advisory firm. Relevant. Knowledgeable. Contrarian. Quant meets Qual. Algos. Humans. Access for all. This is not investment advice. For more information and to see disclosures, please visit: https://www.followthemission.com https://www.linkedin.com/in/gregsaurenman/ https://twitter.com/motion2action read less
BusinessBusiness

Episodes

An update on the US $ and it’s hegemonic role as the world’s preferred reserve currency
Aug 16 2023
An update on the US $ and it’s hegemonic role as the world’s preferred reserve currency
An update on the US $ and it’s hegemonic role as the world’s preferred reserve currency The U.S. is 26% of the global economy, as measured by annual GDP. US$ is still 58% of global reserves. It was already declining pre-Covid & pre-UKR War. Despite the massive $$ creation, mismanagement of Fed debt, and abuses of the dollar, it’s still in place for years ahead.  I don’t see how it’s unseated without at least these conditions being present: 1. The emergence of a strong, proven, gold-backed alternative reserve currency, which will also require significant trust, deeper and more liquid capital markets than the U.S., and an open capital account (those last two are critical). 2. An emerging dominant world economy that has sufficient working population AND population growth, that can produce most of its own food, energy resources, and is protected by natural borders. 3. The ability for the lead country of that alt system to project power globally at a moments notice which would require: A. both superior naval & air power B. superior satellite & recon capabilities  C. a fleet of nuclear powered air carriers D. a fleet of nuclear powered deep sea subs E. deep experience operating elite units in counterinsurgency scenarios 4. Given all of the above conditions, there would need to be a major war resulting in an uncontested unseating of the current reserve status position country In addition to all of the above, it would require the development of global financial centers of trade to rival the West. For instance it might require Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Dubai to collectively displace New York, London, and Tokyo. And all would have to be "off" of the US$ as primary mode of exchange/trade settlement, and reserves. Remember that trade is settled and reserves are held primarily in US Treasuries, as they represent a nearly risk-free option. We have by far the deepest, most liquid capital markets and transparency. What happens from here though with the amount of Fed debt we're racking up through PRINT+CTRL & Spend is up for debate. One could argue that a certain amount of "inflating our way out" will occur, as has been the pattern throughout history (American Revolution, Civil War, World War II). I have also noted the following order of events proposed recently by an anonymous (but learned) financial pundit: 1) Credit downgrade so nations dump US treasuries 2) Rapidly raise rates 3) Restrict swap lines causing US dollar shortage 4) Stage "incident" 5) Dollar skyrockets 6) Panic spreads to financial system 7) Nations collapse 8) Print trillions & buy your cheap debt Let's call that last sequence "just for fun".  It's one that I'll save and reflect on later. Welcoming all ideas, opinions, challenges, arguments, etc.
A note on mortgage rates & inflation
Aug 15 2023
A note on mortgage rates & inflation
A note on mortgage rates & inflation This is where mortgage banking and residential real estate overlap w/macroeconomics & money mgt.  First, a disclaimer. I am not a real estate agent or broker.  However, understanding some basics around calculating risk, probability, and applying to personal money management/financial decisions: 1. I wouldn't be buying a house right now until prices adjust from the shock of the RATE OF CHANGE of the moves in rates. Understand the magnitude. 2. I would not be taking out 3/1 or 5/1 ARM's (Adjustable-Rate Mortgages) for a 25-50bp (basis points) discount (0.25%-0.50% discount) banking on the idea that mortgage rates have to be lower in 3-5 years (b/c Fed is going to pivot & lower rates ad infinitum). Inflation: We don't know what the 3-10 yr effect on inflation will be, given this massive shift in globalization, supply disruptions (see the latest in rice & grains) + moves in oil production + geopolitical unknowns in the face of current cold & hot wars on multiple fronts w/multiple "adversaries". It's simple thesis to believe that "well, we tamed inflation! rates will go down now. time for deflation!". And it's a thesis that serves one's own book (aka the need to be right, aka intertwined with ego). We're likely to see a higher inflation print for July given higher prices in things like copper, oil, grains (data will come in Aug, so let's revisit). And while probability has inflation cooling again + the possibility that we could get Fed rate cuts into '24 if economic conditions continue to weaken (stock markets are not "the economy"), we cannot rule out continued inflationary pressures later. No, this is not the 1970's. However, inflationary periods tend to move in waves. Think of head-fakes and rebounds. I would not stake a 3/1 or 5/1 on paying this higher fixed rate thinking that you're saving money for now and surely getting a lower adjustable in a few years. This also leads to the sort of money behavior that says "well if we just stretch this budget to afford...". Lenders will factor your lower payment into your DTI (Debt-To-Income). But thus can get you into trouble by spending above your means. 3/1's and 5/1's can work if you're not planning to live in the home longer than those time frames. And you can refinance, although you should factor in the fees/costs associated. Wait it out if you can. Prices haven't fully realized the shock of more expensive lending. Many people are sitting in their homes with low mortgage rates and have no options as replacement. More inventory is coming in the form of new builds. And then we have the issue of investment homes that were purchased for short-term/AirBnB rentals, but are sitting empty most of the time not generating revenue. People took out HELOC's to purchase them. If you can't wait, find a payment that works at fixed. You can refinance later if rates come down considerably. Others will disagree & take issue. There's no right or wrong way. It depends of course on your situation.
Tax Cuts & Jobs Act Sunsets in 2025 - What does that mean for Roth conversions?
Aug 15 2023
Tax Cuts & Jobs Act Sunsets in 2025 - What does that mean for Roth conversions?
You have 28 months before the 2018 TCJA (Tax Cuts & Jobs Act) sunsets. ▶ If it expires, we roll back to prior tax brackets 📈 or ▶ It could be extended and remain as-is or ▶ It could be replaced w/a new act and higher tax rates 📈 2/3 of outcomes lead to higher taxes ❗  Roth conversion?  Maybe.  ▶ Depends on your tax situation, your current income bracket, your ability to pay the taxes on the conversion, your understanding of all conditions that apply including the NIIT(Net Investment Income Tax) if it raises your MAGI (Modified Adjusted Gross Income). ▶ Depends on your future vision of taxes. Will they be higher or lower 10, 15, 20 years from now? ▶ Depends on whether you anticipate being in a higher or lower tax bracket based on income. Are you advancing in your career and expecting to have a higher standard of living, thereby taking more in income from assets in retirement? Is your income projected to stay relatively flat, with adjustments for inflation? Are you looking to take less in income when you get older? Take from non-taxable sources first, then taxable? Remember that partial conversions can be done. For instance, if you have a $200,000 Traditional/Rollover IRA and you want to convert part of it. The amount you convert will add to taxable income. So you'd work with the #'s and determine what you're comfortable moving this year and next that doesn't cause a serious impact to you by moving you into higher tax brackets. If you have say $1mm in Trad IRA $$, it's going to be a more careful calculation, as a $200-250k conversion could put you into the highest tax brackets at 35-37%. Consider that the biggest jump in the current tax bracket happens for single filers right at the $182k mark. That's for MAGI. It's a 6% jump. A tax torpedo if you're not careful. Does not apply to married couples filing jointly, as you can see. In short, work the math. Keep yourself from jumping too much in terms of tax bracket, with the addt'l amount from a Roth conversion, because the amount you pay at a higher tax rate on that conversion could work toward negating the incentive. Nevertheless it may work out for you to do partial conversions this year and next, in advance of the tax situation changing in 2025.
An Astonishing Recent Shift in Money & Wealth in America. Do The Rich Keep Getting Richer?
Aug 10 2023
An Astonishing Recent Shift in Money & Wealth in America. Do The Rich Keep Getting Richer?
There are different ways to measure wealth. In this case, we’re talking about money and assets. You can look at income. You can look at overall wealth, or holdings, or assets. You can also zero in on cash deposits.  After all, cash is king when you need it. When the prices of goods and services go up. When you have to feed your kids and get them school supplies. When opportunities arise and you hope to level up your own state of financial security. A massive move happened from 2019 to 2022, according to official data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis, via their FRED data system. When we look at all of the cash deposits held by individuals in the US., we see something extraordinary. Knowing that it happened is one thing. Explaining it is another. I’m also going to zoom way out and give some #’s over the years. I isolated these for 10 year periods, starting in 1989, then 1999, then 2009, then 2019, then the end of 2022 since that’s the last batch of data. And of course it gives us a pre-and-post forced shutdown/lockdown view. Looking into this was inspired by the work of James Eagle, who creates excellent visuals of econ and market topics, usually in graphics and video form. I encourage you to follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. So first, the #’s. And if you’d like references to the charts I’ll put those in the description section. They are screen shots from James Eagle’s work. 1989 Top 1% held 7.6% Next 9% held 44.5% Middle 40% held 34.5% Bottom 50% held 13.3% 1999 Top 1% held 20% Next 9% held 28.5% Middle 40% held 38.8% Bottom 50% held 12.2% 1999 was when the major world protests around the WTO, or World Trade Organization, like the Occupy movement, about the 99% and 1% began. These protests were mainly situated around Seattle. It was also the beginning of more pronounced divisive, identity politics that would carry through to today. Said differently, there are many economic issues, commonalities, shared by a large # of people in this country. It is the divergence of social views, and the focus on them, the exacerbation of these differences that keeps stoking division. 2009 Top 1% held 18.5% Next 9% held 30% Middle 40% held 40% Bottom 50% held 11% 2019 Top 1% held close to 19% Next 9% held 36% The middle 40% held 35% And the bottom 50% held 10% 2022 Top 1% hold 30.5% Next 9% hold 35.5% Middle 40% holds 27.5% Bottom 50% holds 6.5% (more in episode) (link to article w/graphs included)
Market Madness continued! (or “Markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent”)
Jun 23 2023
Market Madness continued! (or “Markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent”)
Consumers are getting squeezed, cash levels are growing short, credit card usage is way up at a time when the average APR is 21%, and we now know that globally consumers, and not manufacturing, are carrying the economy. The global economy seems to be cruising on one engine as it relies on services for momentum. Meanwhile, we’re in an industrial & manufacturing recession as factories slow production. We’re seeing contraction across major economies in the latest #’s with the US index hitting its low for the year so far. And the euro-area has reached its lowest level in more than three years. As consumers have shifted their focus to services, the goods side of the economy now finds itself with excess inventories. And interestingly this is happening while we’re seeing purchasing power decline in many world economies. Add in big interest-rate hikes by the Fed and the ECB in a very short timeframe and consider what that has done to make capital raising and spending much more expensive. We’ve talked about this in content and on podcasts many times. The cost of capital has gone up significantly in the short period of time and this WILL have ramifications. Just as a pandemic put the brakes on the global economy by the decision-making of large central governments, so too will the magnitude of change in the cost of capital hit global markets. These things have lag time. 8 stocks are responsible for 90% of the return this year while everything else is flat to negative. And a subset of those have run up to pretty extended levels of valuation. I was in the industry during the sunup of the tech boom and Y2K. Back then every portfolio manager owned Cisco, and every happy hour had people talking about owning it in their Scottrade account. Liquidity goes up, asset prices go up. Liquidity comes out, asset prices deflate. But, but we also had that bank run thing in March, remember? And the mini-bailout of those banks. So, another liquidity pop into markets. We’re seeing that cool off, and more money being drained from the system, albeit money flows are still higher than they were pre-pandemic.  By now you may have heard that becuae the debt celing was raised, and because money from the Treasury was used to backstop bank failures, Treasury Secretary Yellen will be refilling the TGA, or Treasury General Account, and that has an effect of pulling more liquidity from markets. Add to this that there will be significant Treasury Bill (or T-Bill) issuance in the coming months, and at yields that we haven’t seen in a generation.  With much uncertainty in the global economy and markets, the idea of getting yield at an essentially risk-free-rate has a strong appeal. Meanwhile central banks are still signaling that they will keep raising rates in an attempt to to control inflation. This is further exacerbating the inverted yield curve. You can find more discussion of that in previous podcasts.  US two-year yields are over 1% above the 10-year Bond rates as of today.  The S&P 500 has experienced a down week, and it is possible that the economic gravity is setting in. S&P Global US manufacturing PMI dropped to 46.3 in June, well below the 50 mark that signifies the dividing line between expansion and contraction. But, the consensus now is that the US will dodge a recession this year.  We probably align a bit more with Bloomberg’s Chief U.S. Economist, Anna Wong, who “Amid the most rapid Fed hiking cycle in four decades, Bloomberg Economics has long forecast a recession in the 2nd half of 2023. With the economy exhibiting a bit more momentum at mid-year than anticipated, we now think a downturn is more likely to begin later in the 2nd half than earlier.” China also continues to show economic contraction, which is a major force upon demand for raw good and natural resources. According to the probabilities we follow, the GDP growth rate of China is going to be cut by half. The question now is, how much will the consumer keep things afloat via services spending.
Current thoughts on Bitcoin as trade vs buy-and-hold
Jun 3 2023
Current thoughts on Bitcoin as trade vs buy-and-hold
Some have asked our view on crypto. Crypto market cap, minus BTC and ETH, is -60% since cycle peak in Nov 2021. BTC still trades like a high-beta asset.  (Comments on Bitcoin further below, if you want to TL;DR and jump ahead) 🔹 I would not feel comfortable in a fiduciary role commenting on crypto, positive or negative, beyond what I've posted and put into a podcast to say that we're not in. 🔹 The amount of additional analysis needed at this point, not just to understand: 1. what it is that is being traded, but how it's trading while having to... 2. add "CYA" (Cover Your *ss) provisions and being able to document prove... 3. plenty of "KYC" (Know Your Customer),  not to mention... 5. the regulatory actions currently being taken (and proposed/anticipated) and... 6. lack of trust in trading platforms, several of which have imploded in dramatic fashion 🔸 Makes it time, cost, energy, and risk prohibitive for us. That's a 6x-no, when the daily focus is on actively risk-managing your hard-earned assets, most often employing investment vehicles where transparency and liquidity are key. That said, in regards to Bitcoin... We have at times engaged Bitcoin as a trade. Here is the thinking... Bitcoin has traded like a high-risk, high-beta asset, further out on the risk spectrum than emerging markets. It's important to view it through this lens, b/c you want to understand how institutional money would view it. When institutional money moves, it can create large waves. Based on 120-day BTC correlations: 🔸 Correlation to gold is high. That’s fine. 🔸 Negative corr to USD. That’s fine. 🔸 Nil/zero corr to 10Y breakeven. Ok. 🔸 An interestingly negative corr to VIX. ⛔ But… waiting to see if corr to Nasdaq will ⬇️ over time.  (Corr to S&P is also high, but corr to Nasdaq is even higher.) That’s the issue. Until then, it’s a trade. 🤷🏻‍♂️ I see it as investing in a growth opp. So a % has to be taken from other growth opps for it to make sense. It's an opportunity cost. ➡ If and when correlation to stocks starts to decline.  ➡ And if it holds value and doesn’t dip wildly. ➡ And if use-cases grow... Then I would revisit the story. ⛔ But if it starts to trade with high volatility again, I’d pause. If BTC is truly what its proponents say, it would, in theory, be in such high demand that the price will be high enough that these current levels won’t matter.  🔑 The key (for us, b/c of how portfolio mgt is approached) will be correlation. That is when institutional money would start treating it differently. If that doesn’t happen, you may not be missing out on anything. If it does happen, you’ll still have time, because of demand due to it proving itself. Think of it in terms of asymmetric risk/reward. How much downside risk are you taking (given that it could go to zero/become irrelevant), versus the upside potential of a similar risk-profile idea. Put it out on a risk spectrum and determine what you are comfortable with owning in terms of that risk. As always, we're open to ideas and opinions that completely flip this thinking upside down.
Psychology Of Money Chapter 2: Luck & Risk
Mar 17 2023
Psychology Of Money Chapter 2: Luck & Risk
Have you ever looked at a situation, or a person, and wondered if and how luck plays into success? Luck is real, as is risk. And these two factors show us the reality that every outcome in life has forces that exist in addition to, and beyond our individual effort. Fact is, they both play a role in life and must be respected. We don’t know how much luck plays into anyone’s success. As Housel says, “when judging others, attributing success to luck makes you look jealous and mean. Even though we know it exists. And when judging yourself, attributing success to luck can be too demoralizing to accept.” (end quote) If we try too hard to pick apart what is due to luck and what is due to risk, versus what is do to the decisions and actions a person takes we find it far too complex. As I like to say, you’ll never truly understand another person’s situation fully. The influences, motives, all of the variables that went into a person’s upbringing and adult life. We’re all trying to learn what strategies work best, with money, business, getting wealthy (or financially independent). We try to make it simple by looking at what someone did and copying it. By reading a checklist of these 5 things or 7 things or 50 things that one must do. But we can’t see clearly what was brought forth by decisions and repeatable actions and what things have been affected randomly by luck and risk. “The difficulty in identifying what is luck, what is skill, and what is risk is one of the biggest problems we face when trying to learn about the best way to manage money.” And remember along the way, nothing is as good or as bad as it seems.