Go big or go broke.
– Earl Butz, U.S. secretary of Agriculture (1971 to 1976)
OUZILLY, France – Nothing much to report from the markets.
Earnings down for five straight quarters. Stocks up for five straight quarters.
What is going on?
Do stock market investors know something the rest of us don’t?
Or are stock prices being manipulated higher by central bank policies… especially ultra-low and negative lending rates?
NIRP (negative-interest-rate policy) encourages yield-seeking investors to move money out of supposedly “risk free” assets – government bonds – and into riskier stocks.
Stocks, for example… which now in many cases carry higher yields than bonds.
But the manipulation only works as long as stock prices don’t fall, which they could do at any time.
Today, we meant to write about politics.
The U.S. presidential race has captured imaginations all over the world.
Every get-together here in France seems to bring the inevitable question: “What’s going on in the U.S.? Is Donald Trump really as crazy as he seems?”
We have developed a response, designed to change the subject:
“Crazy? Oh… he’s much crazier than he seems. But at least he’s not Hillary. Both candidates are horrible. But that’s the way it works. You don’t get the candidates you want; you get the ones you deserve.”
But why do Americans deserve such bad candidates for the top job?
More on that tomorrow. Today, more miscellanea:
Dear readers responded to our recent remarks on farming with shrewd insights and personal experiences. [See more reader comments on farming in today’s Mailbag below.]
One reminded us that nothing much has changed, at least since Earl Butz made the comment above four decades ago. The family farm has been disappearing for at least half a century, maybe longer.
Poor Mr. Butz is remembered today for having made a racist joke that cost him his job… and later serving a month in jail for tax evasion. But he was right about farming: You had to get big or get out.
Here in France – at least in this area – the process has taken longer.
Large farms dominated the countryside until the 1960s and 1970s. Then inheritances and taxes carved them into smaller units.
With lavish subsidies and new equipment, family farmers earned a decent living for decades. But now, the smaller farms – of between 100 and 300 acres – no longer make financial sense.
“It’s not just that young people don’t want to become farmers,” explained a neighbor.
“I tell my children not to go into farming. Even if you rent the land, you still need about $1 million worth of equipment… more if you’re into cattle. So, you’ve always got a big loan to someone.
“And if you have a bad year or two… you go broke. That’s why the banks don’t want to lend to farmers anymore. So, you often owe the money to your family.
“But it’s crazy to carry that kind of debt… and all you get for it is the chance to earn a living. It’s not like starting a business where you might actually make some money.”
The Back-to-Earth Life
“Do those French farms represent an investment opportunity yet?” asks a dear reader.
We put the question to our farmer neighbor.
“This land is poor. We get about 110 quintaux per hectare planted in wheat. And the land is selling for, say, $10,000 a hectare. After all your costs, it doesn’t work.”
We did some calculations. A quintal (the singular of quintaux) of wheat is 3.7 bushels. So, that’s about 400 bushels of wheat per hectare (about 2.5 acres).
At $4 a bushel, that’s gross revenue of $1,600. That seems like a decent annual income for an investment of $10,000. Hmm… Either the operating costs are higher than we think… or we did the math wrong.
More investigation required…
Another reader was thinking like a consumer, rather than a producer.
Appalled by the industrial methods of raising cattle and the high chemical use of modern agriculture, he had a suggestion: If you want good food, grow it yourself.
Here at Ouzilly, we have a vegetable garden. Tomatoes, lettuce, string beans, zucchini, potatoes, onions, raspberries, cucumbers – we get it all from our own garden.
The garden at Ouzilly
We also eat wild game, when we can get it – typically boar or small deer.
Yes, we like being as self-sufficient as possible… self-reliant… independent… able to take care of ourselves.
Whenever possible, we do it ourselves.
Ah… the simple, wholesome, back-to-the-earth life! The feel of the rich soil beneath your feet… the fresh air in your lungs… the sun at your back… and a hoe in your hands… Real labor for real food! Real work for real wealth!
Yes, dear reader, you don’t need much to live well. You just have to embrace the simple life… with its honest toil for honest rewards.
People say they don’t have time for a garden… they say it’s “too much work”… or they “don’t know what to do.”
But it’s remarkably easy to produce good, real food, directly from your own garden. Just tell your gardener what you want him to plant. See how simple it is?
Then, just watch the string beans appear on the table…
That’s what we do.
Times Have Changed
While in miscellanea mode, we happily report that our youngest son has finally gotten his driver’s license.
So, if you are on the roads of South Florida today… watch out!
Times have changed.
We got our first driver’s license in 1964, right after we turned 16. By then, we had been driving tractors and farm trucks for years.
The driving test was a breeze. We knew cars. We liked them. We had spent hours working under the hood of a 1937 Plymouth, preparing for the moment when we got our license and could go out on the road.
And back then, getting a driver’s license was an important ritual of growing up; it meant that we were able to come and go as we pleased… get jobs in the summer… go on dates… and join the adult world.
Now it is different.
Our youngest son is already 22 years old. Raised mostly in the city, he saw no need to get a driver’s license. He has no interest in automobiles. And he had no desire to drive one.
He got his driver’s license reluctantly and only out of necessity – so he could get around.
We worried that he wouldn’t pass the test.
“How did it go?” we asked.
“No problem. They liked me. I was the only one who spoke English.”
Editor’s Note: For today’s Market Insight, we bring you some expert commentary about a simple way to make money in the stock market.
Tom Dyson (Founder, Palm Beach Research Group): People in power treat the economy and the markets like they’re a bunch of levers and knobs that you twist and get everything just right and everything will work. But it doesn’t work like that at all.
It’s based on humans making decisions about stuff. About money. Which they really don’t want to lose, and so they act a little crazy, and things never turn out as the people who manage things want or expect.
Teeka Tiwari (Editor, The Palm Beach Letter): And how do you mine that for opportunities?
Tom: Well, you be a cynic and you just watch for people doing stupid things and try not to get carried away with it.
Brexit is a perfect example.
It’s just a big story that comes out. And people don’t really understand it and make snap decisions around it, and it’s very political.
The market fell, like 10%, and then two days later it recovered like nothing had happened. So if you can just stand back and just look at the big picture and understand really what’s happening, it’s very easy to make some cool, hard decisions to benefit from people just being a little crazy.
On the day of Brexit, the S&P was below 2,000. But it was some vote by a bunch of people 4,000 miles away on whether they should remain part of the European Union. Who knows what happens down the line with that decision?
So why would it cause all these American or global corporations to lose 10% of their value? The two things are unrelated, to me anyway. This is what it’s about.
Teeka: Yeah. I would say one of the things I’ve learned from you is you are an excellent trader of sentiment. You know when sentiment’s too bearish or where sentiment is too bullish.
I remember you calling me late last year and saying, “Yep, these internet stocks are too high, I’m going short the whole internet market.” I said, “I agree with you.”
Tom: That trade worked out really well. I think we did six positions and all six of them made money. Some of them went up 100%. It was really good. And it was lucky too. And maybe it might not the next time.
Teeka: But you did the same call with the dollar. Everybody and their mother was negative on the dollar a few years ago. And you said, “Nope, sentiment’s too bearish, time to go long the dollar.”
Tom: Yeah, well, there was a really long period where the dollar went into a bear market. I think 2000-2001 was the top of the dollar market.
At the time, everyone was bullish on the dollar. And I went bearish.
That lasted for a few years until everyone got bearish on the dollar, and I changed my mind and went bullish on it.
And that’s just a good illustration of what I look for. When everyone’s saying one thing, you just do the other.
Editor’s Note: Over the last few months, Tom and Teeka have been working behind the scenes to provide their readers with investment ideas never meant for “common” ears. It’s concentrated investment research, leveraging their connections deep inside the global elite – in technology, finance, government, natural resources, and more. And now you can hear what it’s all about.
Tom and Teeka’s research isn’t for everyone. But if you want to level the moneymaking playfield and invest the way the experts do… watch here now.
Just How Overvalued Is the U.S. Stock Market?
You’re probably aware that the U.S. stock market doesn’t offer much value right now. But did you know that it is more overvalued than it was at almost every bull market peak over the past 100 years?
This Irishman Manages the World’s Biggest Mutual Fund
Ever heard of Gerry O’Reilly? Not many people have. But he manages the world’s biggest mutual fund and the world’s third-largest exchange-traded fund. Total assets under management: $800 billion.
Why the Fed Must Kill the Dollar
The Fed’s reckless actions have completely doomed our financial system… And the only escape may be to trash the dollar. But that will have a major impact on gold.
Bill definitely hit a nerve with his issue on the decline of farming communities. Another big batch of reader feedback on this subject in today’s Mailbag…
As Wendell Berry has written, we are growing children who can make a baby by the time they reach puberty, but can’t grow a potato by the time they are 40.
Any other “industry” would be declared in decline if it had its producers going out of business the way farmers have been for decades. But the labor stats simply gloss it all over by giving numbers only on “non-farm jobs.”
Of course, these people don’t count; the thing they do just happens to be absolutely essential. I advise anyone who wants to eat – and especially to eat well and know what you’re eating – to grow your own.
You can take trunks of money, and truckloads of gold, to the grocery store… but if the shelves are bare, they won’t get you anything.
– Martha Y.
Oh, please, dear Bill, grab that potential French CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] farmer by the shirttails and clue him into the reality of CAFO farms.
There are several in our state. Without fields to roam in and anchored to milking machines, the life of the cows (or lack thereof) is so unnatural. Also, the ensuing liquefied manure fertilizer that is sprayed into the air and onto the fields and surrounding areas pollutes streams, kills fish, and harms innocent inhalers along the way.
Where is our humanity?
– Jean K.
Just finished reading your post about the situation in France. Well, visit American agriculture – the smaller operators, that is – and you will find much the same thing happening.
It takes a couple that is dedicated to the farm and to each other and willing to delay upgrades in things like equipment, housing, vacations, etc. until all the farm related more critical needs are covered.
Too bad that everyone cannot read your article and reflect upon what will happen to them if all the farmers have to quit someday. Where would we ever get a truly fresh egg or a tomato picked just a couple of minutes ago?
You are pointing out the huge disconnect between most of the world’s population and the once large and thriving agricultural community around the world. This should be shared with all of our city dwelling brethren in the U.S… and the world for that matter!
– Janice W.
As a farmer, I have always wondered why there is no money in agriculture right across the world. Like the finance industry, it’s heading back to subsistence levels… but maybe not with the crash I see coming for the moneychangers.
How about you get your brains on to the farm problem – with solutions?
– Michael L.
In Case You Missed It…
Our friends at Palm Beach Research Group say they’ve uncovered a secret government signal that indicates when a specific stock is going to take off.
It’s called an FDA “short letter,” and our friends say the next one is due out in 9 days.