A Fine Kettle of Fish

By Edward A. Studzinski

“There is no such thing as a former KGB man.”

          Vladimir Putin, 2004

Another month passes and we make the discovery that our current bout of inflation is not going to be as transitory as the Administration and the Federal Reserve were telling people at the beginning of summer. Paying $45 to fill up the car with gas or a turkey that costs 50% more than it did a year past was hard to ignore. Some commentators, me included, think that this will go on for at least fifteen to eighteen months. An issue that impacts adjusting

“We tend to use [ transitory] to mean that it won’t leave a permanent mark in the form of higher inflation. I think it’s probably a good time to retire that word and try to explain more clearly what we mean.” Jerome Powell, 11/29/2021

to it is that those under forty have not seen anything like this before and have been conditioned to believe a smiling face standing behind a podium and giving a press briefing. I however can remember an IRA investment in the early ’80s that was paying a 12% interest rate (which compounded would double the investment over six years).

In the background, one hears the gentle beating of war drums, as hints of an armed conflict with China over a potential invasion of Taiwan keep surfacing in the mainstream press. It matters not that in every wargaming scenario that has been played out at places like the Naval War College, such a conflict has resulted in disaster for United States forces. Given that the Chinese always take the long view of things, with time as one of their main allies, I am in the camp that thinks that such a conflict would not be an armed conflict, but rather an economic one. China continues to be a large purchaser of gold bullion every year. At this point, they are thought to have accumulated somewhere between 20,000 – 40,000 tons of gold. Our holdings in Fort Knox are thought to be somewhere between 8,000 – 9,000 tons of gold. Can we maintain our status as a reserve currency if China decides to back its currency with gold? For those countries not believers in modern monetary theory it will present an interesting question.

And then there is the question of energy. Germany shuts down all its nuclear power generating stations as France embarks on a building campaign to increase its dependency on nuclear power. Germany looks to replace nuclear with Russian gas coming through a pipeline, no mind the political risk thereof. Nuclear power is in many respects the green solution to global warming except for a bias against nuclear power. How to reconcile that dichotomy?

The United States has gone in a little more than a year from being a major exporter of oil and liquified natural gas, to needing to import energy. The solution – release petroleum from our strategic energy reserve. A release is announced, in conjunction with the actions of several of our allies to also release petroleum. We released an amount equal to two days of our oil consumption in this country. OPEC, rather than increasing production will keep it flat. Ergo, the release of our strategic reserves is at best a political gesture having the equivalent effect of a fart in a windstorm. Add to that a Federal Reserve Chair who finds his voice and starts to speak about the need for a continued tapering of bond purchases (read as – “rates must go up”) and it becomes apparent that cash is in, equities and bonds are not.

The New Variant

Our hope is that Omicron does not prove to be the genesis of coal in everyone’s stocking this Christmas. And one hopes that the message that can be imparted will be based on science AND a correct exposition of the statistics involved. We now have vaccines developed with multiple methodologies of acting and producing an immune response to the Covid virus. We are also seeing new therapeutics. One hopes that the New Year brings an appreciation of how best to live with this virus, as with other viruses, over the long term. Roosevelt was prescient and did speak for the ages when he said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

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About Edward A. Studzinski

Ed Studzinski has more than 30 years of institutional investment experience. He was a partner at Harris Associates in Chicago, Illinois. Harris is known for its value-oriented, bottom-up investment approach that frames the investment process as owning a piece of the business relative to the business value of the whole, ideally forever. At Harris, Ed was co-manager of the Oakmark Equity & Income Fund (OAKBX). During the nearly twelve years that he was in that role, the fund in 2006 won the Lipper Award in the balanced category for "Best Fund Over Five Years." Additionally, in 2011 the fund won the Lipper Award in the mixed-asset allocation moderate funds category as "Best Fund Over Ten Years. Concurrently Ed was also an equity research analyst, providing many of the ideas that contributed to the fund’s success. He has specialist knowledge in the defense, property-casualty insurance, and real estate industries, having followed and owned companies as diverse as Catellus Development, General Dynamics, Legacy Hotels, L-3, PartnerRe, Progressive Insurance, Renaissance Reinsurance, Rockwell Collins, SAFECO, St. Joe Corporation, Teledyne, and Textron. Before joining Harris Associates, over a period of more than 10 years, Ed was the Chief Investment Officer at the Mercantile National Bank of Indiana, and also served on their Executive and Asset-Liability Committees. Prior to Mercantile, Ed practiced law. A native of Peabody, Massachusetts, he received his A.B. in history (magna cum laude) from Boston College, where he was a Scholar of the College. He has a J.D. from Duke University and an M.B.A. in marketing and finance, as well as a Professional Accounting Program Certificate, from Northwestern University. Ed has earned the Chartered Financial Analyst credential. Ed belongs to the Investment Analyst Societies of Boston, Chicago, and New York City. He is admitted to the Bar in the District of Columbia, Illinois, and North Carolina.