Anyone can make fun of the past because hindsight is 20/20 and humour is the coldest form of truth.
George W. Bush (GWB) proclaimed the now infamous and exalted statement, “Mission Accomplished” aboard an Aircraft Carrier in the Pacific Ocean on May 1, 2003 about six months before his re-election.
It was great! He flew in on a fighter jet. His command of the world was unquestioned. Twelve days later a bomb ripped through the US Forces base in Riyadh Saudi Arabia killing 26 service members.
The timing of the two events could be easily reversed, the events could be mutually exclusive, but one cannot deny that sometimes we may proclaim victory, but not have the enemy’s agreement.
GWB’s pronouncement that the war with Iraq was won really signalled the beginning of Gulf War 2. That war ended December 18, 2011. Eight years later, George survived the election of 2004 because the war against terrorism was too important. Today the leader of the US says too many “great people like me” have worked too hard to lose it all.
Here are Trump’s actual words:
“I created, with a lot of other very talented people and the people of our country, the greatest economy in the history of the world. The greatest that we’ve ever had. And then one day they said, ‘we have to close our country.’ Well, now it’s time to open up.” “The people of our country are warriors.”
I feel so much more confident.
I’m not too sure that come this January Mr. Trump will be posing with three of the remaining Presidents for any reason but, it seems equally premature to claim the Great Virus War (GVW) over.
Last weekend, Warren Buffett held what, under normal circumstances, is usually a love-fest, Berkshire Hathaway’s annual general meeting.
“HE” once again claimed one should “not bet against America”. This has been a great bet! But when asked, what he had done in the past 90 days, responded, ‘nothing’ but add to his pile of cash and Buffett meekly added, to an empty room, that he basically just wasn’t sure that he would ‘bet’ just yet.
Mr. Buffett is clearly giving a wide birth of respect to the Virus. Clearly, his thinking toward his personal distancing decisions as expressed by remote annual meeting, and his vacant investment appointments calendar speak volumes.
Some may say, once again, he has lost his touch. I would respond that anyone sitting on $137 billion CASH at this time looks pretty smart. He is irritated (as a billionaire with a lot of cash in a rising market would feel) because, just as his phone was beginning to ring, the “feds” bailed
everyone out on better terms than he would have offered. Win some loose some.
Buffett still has his cash and, as GWB learned, it’s easier to say Mission Accomplished than concurring with the enemy. Politicians have agendas; facts, science and random events follow their own path, and no one knows, nor can predict the algorithm toward the future. Not Mr. Buffett, Trump, nor anyone.
Recently, I watched a relative youngster (78 years old to Buffett’s 89),Sam Zell, a legendary investor being interviewed on Bloomberg. Sam was asked what he was doing these days, to which he smiled and said, “Not much. Not much is happening these days”.
Boom! Basic interview over. Really, if you want the Coles Notes of ‘what is really going’ version, he nailed the whole story line in eight words. Beautiful mastery of the ART of investing. Distil chaos and information down to basic facts (which he did beautifully in the next 30 minutes) and then act or think some more.
Zell was pressed, “So are you a bear then?”
“I don’t think you need to think like a bull or a bear. The facts are no one is taking a ‘view’ in the real world. Real world transactions are being canceled. The stock market is not the real world,” Zell said.
He continued to the effect that all of this stimulus is a stop gap measure “that’s good for about 60-90 days” (consensus view) and we can’t just keep writing checks” (well, we can, but it doesn’t end well).
Investors like Buffett and Zell are usually a step ahead. What they are saying by doing nothing is there is not enough incentive for them to bet. We would agree.
It seems to me that a percentage of the population wants to ‘get on with it’. Not surprisingly guns and other first amendment rights are getting involved. Everything is quickly becoming black and white. It’s not just getting back to work but, we are now in the assignment of blame phase.
Its election time. Trade war talk is morphing into cold war talk. Risk is rising. Mission Accomplished! The higher prices go the riskier, as it may embolden aggressive action by the Commander in Chief to strike out at anyone who doubts his ability to lead four more years.
Some want to proclaim victory. They may be right! But, their definition of victory may be different than yours. It may have differing motivations. It may be concerned for your wellbeing or not. We just don’t know.
Recently, investors have been cheered with trillions of loans and subsidies while Main Street waits and is told, the check is in the mail. Increasingly the command is “get back to work!”
If its Mission Accomplished and the bell rings all clear, how much longer till the stimulus wears off and/or the effects of social caution (the reason for the modicum of good news) are but distant, fond memories?
As Mr. Zell answered in the late stages of his interview, “the biggest misperception in my mind is the thinking that this recovery will be quick and that the old normal will be the new normal.”