White Swan came, Black Swan is coming

by Davidallencoen

Like many here, I’m trying to come up with an investment thesis and a strategy for these uncertain times. I’m currently Bearish – have gone largely to cash, but want to invest in defensive plays because I see much more uncertainty ahead. So this long and rambling post is going to try to play with some ideas I’ve been having about the future. For the record, I’ve been investing for 8 years, was primarily an ETF buy and hold investor, and am Canadian, with a background in Political Science. ( I mean, I’ve got an undergraduate degree and a long-time interest, I’m no expert or nothing.)

I’ve read Nassim Taleb’s Incerto series and have been mainly convinced, I think, and am surprised at the number of people who are calling this a Black Swan (BS) event; there’s a post from today where a guy points out that it’s not, and that Taleb himself says it’s not and he got downvoted to hell. So first off: the Covid-19 pandemic was not a Black Swan. The Covid-19 pandemic, or one like it, has been predicted by damn near everybody for decades. The Obama administration even used a similar pandemic as a war game to get the Trump administration up to speed during the transition, Bill Gates called this years ago, we had a similar outbreak in SARS and H1N1, etc. Even if that wasn’t the case, C19 would only be a BS for China – as a bunch of media sources have pointed out, there were US intelligence reports as far back as December saying this would be a huge deal, which were ignored by the administration. So all the suggestions that this is a BS event are really just pointing out how bad many governments, markets, and corporations are at predicting the future – they’re unable to predict or prepare, or respond appropriately for a predictable event and only capable of reacting (with the exception of some countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Germany…)

Now with the market rallying the bulls are all saying “it’s priced in, you can’t fight the Fed, etc,” and I’m thinking:

1) The emperor has no clothes; the US government is clearly incompetent. It couldn’t even listen to it’s own experts about the likely extent of the pandemic, had no plan or even seemingly the ability to be at all proactive. For example, an aircraft carrier had a port call in Vietnam, during the middle of a pandemic that started in Asia. Then, completely predictably, it had an outbreak of C19 and it’s capabilities were badly damaged and the administration couldn’t even properly help it’s own ship, nor manage the public relations fallout that resulted. I mean, do you have any idea how insane it is that that ship was allowed to dock during a pandemic? One of the most powerful military devices that ever existed got taken off line cause the administration couldn’t understand it’s own intelligence.

This incompetence isn’t limited to the US of course – the UK handled their initial response badly and had to switch horses mid-race, Canada lagged badly responding as well, Italy and Spain mismanaged their response – but I’d argue that the US, given their advantages in intelligence collection, should have been best positioned to deal with this crisis so I focus on them.

2) Because of this, I think the odds of a real Black Swan event have gone up considerably, and if one does occur, it will occur when the US is historically divided and weakened and where it’s economic system is out of ammunition to deal with a second crisis. I’ll explain:

We have been living at at time when major geopolitical disruptions have been absent – while proxy wars and minor terrorist attacks still occur, there’s been no wars between great powers for some time, and I think many have come to see this as natural; that the unipolar world will continue. But Russia is resurgent, China has a 50 year plan to grow its economy and eventually take a place as a hegemon, which may be entering end-game, and much of the Western international community has grown uncomfortable with US leadership, given the American tendency to elect incompetent Republicans. So we’re likely entering an era of uncertainty and increased instability as the contenders vie for status in the new international order.

This doesn’t mean war or open combat – it’s become a cliche that the new wars of the 21st century are economic ones, and, given nuclear proliferation that’s likely to continue. And I think we’re more likely to see significant economic combat in the next 6 months than at almost any time during the last decade, because: 1) Trump is incompetent (and here I should stop just shitting on Republicans… the Dems have picked a 77 year old half senile fool to go up against him. I mean, looking at the two guys contending for the leadership of the most powerful country that has ever existed, it’s hard to come away thinking that this is the sign of a healthy political system.)

2)America is weak (relatively speaking obviously, they’re still the undisputed big swinging dick) and divided.

3)Because of C19 hits to economy, Trump may not be re-elected. I suspect that if it looked likely that he’s re-elected, China at least would be content to sit quiet and wait for 4 more years of dumbasserry to take its toll on US hegemony – similarly with Russia. But if it looks like he’ll lose come November, they’ll take advantage.

What would that economic war look like? Lots of options that I see, and I’m curious if you guys see other ones. I mean, what would it look like if China dumped treasuries over the next 7 months? Or what would happen if China and Russia, or even OPEC+ decided to trade oil in non-US dollars? Or what if China leverages foreign aid to African and Asian countries hard-hit by C19 for long term trade deals designed to damage US interests? Iran and North Korea are additionally wild cards, and if either one is hard hit by C19 could go down flailing with unpredictable results. Any others I’m missing? Curious to hear other’s ideas.

Now, note I’m not saying that odds of economic war with China or any other US adversary are likely; I’m saying if the odds of a geopolitical Black Swan were usually 5% in any given year of the last twenty, I suspect the odds of a major BS have gone up 4 or 5 fold – so like 20-30%. And I’m wondering, given unlimited QE, zero interest rates almost everywhere, central banks everywhere supporting stock and currency markets, etc — what a defensive portfolio, preferably one that’s still exposed to positive black swans like a sudden cure, would look like. Is it gold or silver? Cash? Bitcoin? I’ve already got enough guns and bullets and a bunker… just kidding about the bunker.

But seriously, I’m thinking something like 10-20% PMs and miners, 20% cash, 20% bonds and the rest equity ETFs of some countries likely to benefit from a stronger and more dominant China, like South Korea and Australia. Given Chinese dishonesty and the opacity of the financial system, investing directly in Chinese companies makes me nervous, though I’ve been considering a stake in BABA. Canada, it seems to me, is too joined at the hip with the USA to do anything other than follow where it goes.

Anyways, if you stuck with me through all that, thanks and I’d love to hear other’s thoughts. I’m absolutely not a prepper nor prone to panic — I just think we’re living in real interesting times and the times are likely to get interestinger in the near future.

 

Disclaimer: This information is only for educational purposes. Do not make any investment decisions based on the information in this article. Do you own due diligence.